Symphony No. 2 (Nielsen)

Symphony No. 2 (Nielsen)

The "Symphony No. 2 "The Four Temperaments"" (Op. 16, FS 29) is the second symphony by Danish composer Carl Nielsen written in 1901 to 1902 and dedicated to Ferruccio Busoni. It was first performed in 1 December 1902 for the Danish Concert Association, with the composer himself conducting. As indicated in the subtitle, each of its four movements is a musical sketch of a humour of the four temperaments: choleric, phlegmatic, melancholic, and sanguine. Despite its apparent concept of program music, the work is a fully integrated symphony in traditional symphonic structure.

Its movements and their respective temperament illustrated are as followed:
#Allegro collerico (Choleric)
#Allegro comodo e flemmatico (Phlegmatic)
#Andante malincolico (Melancholic)
#Allegro sanguineo - Marziale (Sanguine)Notice that the composer misspelt the word "malinconico" as "malincolico" in the third movement.

The composer's inspiration for the symphony came from a four-part comical picture of "the temperaments" in a village pub in Zealand during a visit with his wife and friends. In his account of the symphony, Nielsen gave a detailed outline of his vision for each temperament in each of his four movements. For example, in the phlegmatic temperament of the second movement, the composer visualized a young teenager who is loved by all:

His real inclination was to lie where the birds sing, where the fish glide noiselessly through the water, where the sun warms and the wind strokes mildly round one's curls. He was fair; his expression was rather happy, but not self-compacent, rather with a hint of quiet melancholy, so that one felt impelled to be good to him... I have never seen him dance; he wasn't active enough for that, though he might easily have got the idea to swing himself in a gentle slow waltz rhythm, so I have used that for the movement, "Allegro comodo e flemmatico", and tried to stick to one mood, as far away as possible from energy, emotionalism, and such things.

Whereas the finale symbolizes a cheerful man:

I have tried to sketch a man who storms thoughtlessly forward in the belief that the whole world belongs to him, that fried pigeons will fly into his mouth without work or bother. There is, though, a moment in which something scares him, and he gasps all at once for breath in rough syncopations: but this is soon forgotten, and even if the music turns to minor, his cheery, rather superficial nature still asserts itself.

Progressive tonality is demonstrated in the symphony; the first three movements are in descending thirds: B minor, G major, and E flat minor, and the final movement springs out the D major chord. The second symphony, as in the first, still belongs to the tradition of Brahms and Dvořák, but more compact and concentrated with simple but powerful finishing by an A major march.


*cite book| last = Simpson | first = Robert | authorlink = Robert Simpson (composer) | title = Carl Nielsen, Symphonist, 1865-1931 | publisher = Hyperion | date = 1989 | location = USA | page = 25-44 | isbn = 0-88355-715-0

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