Symphony No. 4 (Nielsen)

Symphony No. 4 (Nielsen)

The "Symphony No. 4", "The Inextinguishable" (Danish: "Det Uudslukkelige"), by Carl Nielsen, was completed in 1916. This symphony is among the most dramatic that Nielsen wrote, featuring a 'battle' between two sets of timpani.

The title "Inextinguishable" does not apply to the symphony itself, but rather 'that which is inextinguishable'. In his notes for the symphony, Nielsen refers the 'the elemental will to live" ('inextinguishable' is not an exact translation of "uudslukkelige", which itself suggests the life-force). It is scored for 3 flutes, 3 oboes, 3 clarinets, 2 bassoons, contrabassoon, 4 horns, 3 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, 2 sets of timpani, and strings.

It is in four movements played without breaks. The first movement begins with a fierce tutti pitting D minor against its flat seventh, C, in an almost antiphonal manner. After the tutti, the clarinets introduce in A major the lyrical theme that will culminate the work. The second movement, for woodwind in G major, is more an intermezzo than the expected adagio. This function is fulfilled by the third movement, which opens with a "cantilena" from unison violins, then builds to a climax before concluding with a single oboe playing over trills in the upper strings. The clashes of the first movement reappear in the final movement, in which two sets of timpani duel from either side of the orchestra. This passage unusually calls on the two timpanists to change the pitch of the timpani while playing. At the very end E major emerges as the key to conclude the work.

The most recorded of Nielsen's symphonies, No. 4 presents some unique problems to the interpreter. In his book "Carl Nielsen: Symphonist", Robert Simpson devotes nearly a page to "features that can lead the exhibitionist conductor astray", mostly relating to matters of tempo.


#Allegro —
#Poco allegretto —
#Poco adagio quasi andante —


Notable recordings include:

* Danish Radio Symphony Orchestra/Thomas Jensen (Danacord)
* Danish State Radio Symphony Orchestra/Launy Grøndahl (Dutton)
* Royal Danish Orchestra/Igor Markevitch (Deutsche Grammophon)
* Chicago Symphony Orchestra/Jean Martinon (RCA)
* San Francisco Symphony/Herbert Blomstedt (Decca)
* Royal Scottish National Orchestra/Bryden Thomson (Chandos)
* Halle Orchestra/Sir John Barbirolli (D Classics; EMI)
* Berliner Philharmoniker/Herbert von Karajan (Deutsche Grammophon)
* Göteborg Symphony Orchestra/Neeme Järvi (Deutsche Grammophon)


* [ BBC Proms 2007] Accessed 1 August 2007.

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