Carl Nielsen

Carl Nielsen
Carl Nielsen in 1910

Carl August Nielsen (Danish pronunciation: [kʰɑːl ˈnelsn̩]), (9 June 1865 – 3 October 1931), widely recognised as Denmark's greatest composer, was also a conductor and a violinist.[1] Brought up by poor but musically talented parents on the island of Funen, he demonstrated his musical abilities at an early age. While it was some time before his works were fully appreciated, even in his home country, Nielsen has now firmly entered the international repertoire.[2] Especially in Europe and the United States, Nielsen's music is ever more frequently performed, with interest growing in other countries as well.[3] Carl Nielsen is especially admired for his six symphonies, his Wind Quintet and his concertos for violin, flute and clarinet. In Denmark, his opera Maskarade and a considerable number of his songs have become an integral part of the national heritage.[4] While his early music was inspired by composers such as Brahms and Grieg, he soon started to develop his own style, first experimenting with progressive tonality and later diverging even more radically from the standards of composition still common at the time. For many years, he appeared on the Danish hundred-kroner banknote.[5][6]



Early years

Carl Nielsen's childhood home

Nielsen was the seventh of 12 children in a poor peasant family in Nørre Lyndelse near Sortelung south of Odense on the Danish island of Funen. His father was a house painter and amateur musician who, with his abilities as a fiddler and cornet player, was in strong demand for local celebrations. Nielsen's own description of his childhood in his autobiography Min Fynske Barndom (My Childhood in Funen) written in his later life appears to be a rather over-romanticised account. His mother whom he recalls singing folk songs during his childhood was in fact the daughter of a well-to-do family of sea captains and his uncle was a composer and performer of popular music.[7] Nevertheless, Nielsen's own account of his introduction to music where he tells us: "I had heard music before, heard father play the violin and cornet, heard mother singing, and, when in bed with the measles, I had tried myself out on the little violin" is probably authentic.[8]

Nielsen aged about 14 in Odense.

Nielsen learned the violin and piano as a child and wrote his earliest compositions at the age of eight or nine: a lullaby, now lost, and a polka which the composer notated in his autobiography. He also learned how to play brass instruments, which led to a job as a bugler and alto trombonist in the 16th Battalion at nearby Odense. He studied at the Royal Conservatory in Copenhagen from the beginning of 1884 until December 1886. Though not an outstanding student there and composing little, he progressed well in violin under Valdemar Tofte and received a solid grounding in music theory from Orla Rosenhoff, who would remain a valued adviser during Nielsen's early years as a professional composer. He also studied composition under Niels Gade, Denmark's revered composer, whom he liked as a friend but not for his music.[2] Contacts with fellow students and cultured families in Copenhagen, some of whom would become lifelong friends, would become equally important. The patchy education resulting from his country background left Nielsen insatiably curious about the arts, philosophy and aesthetics. But, as David Fanning writes, it also left him "with a highly personal, common man's point of view on those subjects".[9]

By September 1889, only three years after graduating from the conservatory, Nielsen had progressed well enough on the violin to gain a position with the second violins in the prestigious Royal Danish Orchestra which played at Copenhagen's Royal Theater. This position would sometimes cause Nielsen considerable frustration but he continued to play there until 1905. In between graduation and attaining this position, he gave violin lessons, made a modest income as a teacher and enjoyed continued support from patrons. Some of Nielsen's string chamber works were performed at this time, including a Quartet in F which he considered his official debut as a professional composer. However, the greatest impression was made by the Suite for Strings, which was performed at Tivoli Hall on 8 September 1888. Nielsen would designate this work his Opus 1.[9]


Nielsen's wife Anne Marie

After less than a year at the Royal Theater, Nielsen won a scholarship of 1,800 kroner (£90[a]), giving him the means to spend several months traveling in Europe. During this time he discovered and abandoned Richard Wagner's music dramas, heard many of Europe's leading orchestras and soloists and sharpened his opinions on both music and the visual arts. While revering the music of Bach and Mozart, he remained ambivalent about much 19th century music. In Paris, he met the Danish sculptor Anne Marie Brodersen, who was also traveling on a scholarship. They toured Italy together, marrying in the English Church of St Mark's in Florence on 10 May 1891 before returning to Denmark.[10]

"As well as being a love match," Fanning writes, "it was also a meeting of minds. Anne Marie was a gifted artist.... She was also a strong-willed and modern-minded woman, determined to forge her own career."[11] This determination would strain the Nielsens' marriage, as Anne Marie would spend months on location during the 1890s and 1900s, leaving Carl to raise their three young children in addition to composing and coping with his duties at the Royal Theater. While Carl suggested divorce in March 1905, the Nielsens remained married for the remainder of the composer's life. Carl sublimated his anger and frustration over his marriage in a number of musical works, most notably between 1897 and 1904, a period to which he sometimes referred as his "psychological" period.[11] Fanning writes, "At this time his interest in the driving forces behind human personality crystallized in the opera Saul og David and the Second Symphony ("De fire temperamenter") and the cantatas Hymnus amoris and Søvnen.[11]

Mature composer

Carl Nielsen at his childhood home (1927)

At first, he did not gain enough recognition for his works to be able to support himself. During the concert which saw the premiere of his first symphony on 14 March 1894 conducted by Johan Svendsen, Nielsen played in the second violin section. However, the symphony was a great success when played in Berlin in 1896, contributing significantly to his reputation. Nielsen became increasingly in demand to write incidental music for the theater and cantatas to mark special occasions, both of which provided a welcome source of additional income. "A reciprocal relationship grew up between his programmatic and symphonic works," Fanning writes; "sometimes he would find stageworthy ideas in his supposedly pure orchestral music; sometimes a text or scenario forced him to invent vivid musical imagery which he could later turn to more abstract use."[11]

Beginning in 1901, Nielsen received a modest state pension—800 kroner at first, growing to 7,500 kroner by 1927—to augment his violinist's salary. This allowed him to stop taking private pupils and left him more time to compose. From 1903, he also had an annual retainer from his principal publisher, Wilhelm Hansen Edition. Between 1905 and 1914 he served as second conductor at the Royal Theatre. From 1914 to 1926, he conducted the orchestra of Musikforeningen or the Music Society. In 1916, he took a post teaching at the Royal Danish Academy of Music in Copenhagen, and continued to work there until his death, in his last year as director of the institute.

The strain of dual careers and constant separation from his wife led Nielsen to more than one extra-marital affair. When the last one came to light, between Nielsen and his children's governess, the result was an eight-year breach in his marriage. During much of this time Carl and Anne Marie lived apart. The period led to a creative crisis for Nielsen, bringing about a powerful reappraisal of himself as a composer. This, along with World War I and professional developments in his life, would strongly influence his Fourth and Fifth Symphonies, arguably his greatest works.[12]

For his son-in-law, the Hungarian violinist Dr. Emil Telmányi, Nielsen wrote his Violin Concerto, Op. 33 (1911).

After suffering a serious heart attack in 1925, Nielsen was forced to curtail much of his activity, although he continued to compose until his death. In 1927, he wrote My Childhood on Funen (Min Fynske Barndom), a delightful memoir of his childhood . He also produced a short book of essays entitled Living Music (1925). Both have been translated into English, and Min Fynske Barndom was made into a docu-drama in 1994. Nielsen died in Copenhagen in 1931.


Odd Fellows Mansion in Copenhagen where many of Nielsen's compositions were premiered

Nielsen is best known for his six symphonies. Other well-known pieces are the incidental music for Adam Oehlenschläger's drama Aladdin, the operas Saul og David and Maskarade, the three concertos for violin, flute and clarinet, the Wind Quintet, and the Helios Overture, which depicts the passage of the sun in the sky from dawn to nightfall.

The music initially had a neo-classical sound but became increasingly modern as Nielsen developed his own approach to what Robert Simpson called progressive tonality, moving from one key to another. Typically, he would end on a different key, sometimes as the outcome of a struggle as in his symphonies. His frequently blended melodic passages inspired by folk music with more complicated stylings including counterpoint and modern variations.[13]

Like his contemporary, the Finn Jean Sibelius, he studied Renaissance polyphony closely, which accounts for much of the melodic and harmonic "feel" of his music.

Nielsen's works are sometimes referred to by FS numbers, from the 1965 catalogue compiled by Dan Fog and Torben Schousboe.


Nielsen is perhaps most closely associated with his six symphones, which were written between 1892, when he was an aspiring young composer, and 1925, when he was already beginning to suffer from poor health. The works have much in common: they are all just over 30 minutes long, brass instruments are a key component of the orchestration, and they all exhibit unusual changes in tonality, which heightens the dramatic tension.[14]

From its opening bars, Symphony No. 1 in G minor (1890–92), while reflecting the influence of Grieg and Brahms, shows Nielsen's individuality. Surprisingly, it begins in C major and hints at what Robert Simpson calls evolving or progressive tonality or the practice of beginning a work in one key and ending in another.[15][clarification needed] The composer, who was playing in the second violins at the work's premiere must have been gratified at the work's highly enthusiastic reception.[16] From his manifestation of personal strength in the First Symphony, in the Second Nielsen embarks on the development of human character. Inspiration came from a painting in an inn depicting the four temperaments (choleric, phlegmatic, melancholic and sanguine).[17] The first and the third movements are reminiscent of the doleful style of Mahler.[citation needed]

The Sinfonia Espansiva is understood by Robert Simpson to mean the "outward growth of the mind's scope". It fully exploits Nielsen's technique of confronting two keys at the same time and includes a peaceful section with soprano and baritone voices, singing a tune without words.[14] Symphony No. 4, "The Inextinguishable", written during the First World War is perhaps the most popular. In the last movement two sets of timpani are placed on opposite sides of the stage as a sort of musical duel. Nielsen described the symphony as "the life force, the unquenchable will to live".[1][18] Almost as popular is the equally dramatic Fifth Symphony, presenting another battle between the forces of order and chaos. A snare drummer is given the task of interrupting the orchestra, playing ad lib and out of time, with the intention of destroying the music. Performed by the Danish Radio Symphony Orchestra conducted by Erik Tuxen at the 1950 Edinburgh International Festival, it caused a sensation, inspiring interest in Nielsen's music outside Scandinavia.[14][19] Finally, the Sixth Symphony, written 1924–25, is less aurally accessible than the previous five. The tonal language is similar to Nielsen's other symphonies, but the symphony soon degenerates into a number of cameos, some sad, some grotesque, some humorous. Even Robert Simpson was confused.[20][14]

Operas and cantatas

Carl Nielsen with the cast of Saul og David, Stockholm 1931

Nielsen's two operas are in very different styles. The four-act Saul og David (Saul and David), written in 1902 to a libretto by Einar Christiansen tells the Biblical story of Saul's jealousy of the young David while Maskarade (Masquerade) is a comic opera in three acts written in 1906 to a Danish libretto by Vilhelm Andersen, based on the comedy by Ludvig Holberg.[21][22] While Saul og David is one of Denmark's most important musical works for the theatre, it is difficult to stage as the really dramatic episodes are often separated by longer, less dynamic sequences. The choral scenes are certainly among the opera's highlights. The music, which is both dramatic and lyrical, is free of any late Romantic effects.[23] The much lighter Maskarade, on the other hand, is considered to be Denmark's national opera as a result of its lasting success and popularity. Its many strophic songs and wonderful dances have great appeal for Danish audiences as has its underlying "old Copenhagen" atmosphere. The ensembles such as the striking wind quartet at the end of the first act are full of life while the orchestration is the most balanced in all of Nielsen's works.[24]

Nielsen wrote a considerable number of choral works but most of them were composed for special occasions and were seldom repeated. Three fully-fledged cantatas for soloists, orchestra and choir have, however, become part of the modern repertoire. Hymnus amoris (Hymn of Love) (1897) is inspired by Titian's painting "The Miracle of a Jealous Husband" which Nielsen saw on his honeymoon in Italy in 1891. On one of the copies, Nielsen wrote: "To my own Marie! These tones in praise of love are nothing compared to the real thing."[25] Nielsen composed the work after studying the choral style of the old polyphonic masters. Its premiere at the Music Society in April 1897 was a great success.[16] Søvnen (The Sleep), Nielsen's second major choral work, sets to music the various phases of sleep including the terror of a nightmare in its central movement which, with is unusual discords, came as an unwlecome shock to the reviewers at its premiere in March 1905.[26] Fynsk Foraar (Springtime on Funen), completed in 1922, is often cited as the most Danish of all Nielsen's compositions as it extols the beauty of Funen's countryside.[27][28]


Nielsen wrote three concertos: the Violin Concerto is a mature work, from 1911, which lies within the tradition of European classicism, whereas the Flute Concerto of 1926 and the Clarinet Concerto which followed in 1928 are late works, influenced by the modernism of the 1920s and the product of "an extremely experienced composer who knows how to avoid inessentials."[29] Unlike Nielsen's later works, the Violin Concerto has a distinct, melody-oriented Neo-Classical structure. Unusually, there are three movements. The calm "Praeludium" is followed by a catching tune for the orchestra providing opportunities for tricks by the violin. The long, slow Adagio leads to the final Scherzo which, as Nielsen commented, "renounces everything that might dazzle or impress."[30][31] The Flute Concerto was written for the flautist Holger Gilbert-Jespersen, a member of the Copenhagen Wind Quintet who had performed in Nielsen's Wind Quintet (1922).[32] In contrast to the rather traditional style of the Violin Concerto, it reflects the modernistic trends of the 1920s. The first movement, for example, switiches between D minor, E flat minor and F major before the flute comes to the fore with a cantabile theme in E major.[33] Similarly, the Clarinet Concerto was specifically written for a member of the Copenhagen Wind Quintet, namely the clarinetist Aage Oxenvad. Nielsen seems to have had an uncanny understanding of the clarinet, stretching its abilities to the utmost. Unusually, the Clarinet Concerto has just one continuous movement and contains a struggle between the soloist and the orchestra and between the two principal competing keys, F major and E major.[34]

Orchestral music

One of Nielsen's earliest works for orchestra is the immediately successful Suite for Strings (1888), rather reminiscent of Scandinavian Romanticism as expressed by Grieg and Svendsen. The waltzing Intermezzo develops an appealing sparkle leading into the Finale where Nielsen demonstrates his mastery of form by cleverly reintroducing the opening theme.[35] The work marked an important milestone in Nielsen's career as it was not only his first real success but it was also the first of his pieces he conducted himself when it was played in Odense a month later.[36]

The Helios Overture (1903) stems from Nielsen's stay in Athens which gave him the inspiration of a work depicting the sun rising and setting over the Aegean Sea.[37] The score is written for three flutes, two oboes, two clarinets, two bassoons, four horns, three trumpets, three trombones, tuba, timpani, and strings. A great showpiece for orchestra, it has been one of Nielsen's most popular works ever since.[38] Saga-Drøm (Saga Dream), sometimes known as Gunnar's Dream, is a tone poem for orchestra based on the Icelandic Njal's Saga. In Nielsen's words: "There are among other things four cadenzas for oboe, clarinet, bassoon and flute which run quite freely alongside one another, with no harmonic connection, and without my marking time. They are just like four streams of thought, each going its own way — differently and randomly for each performance — until they meet in a point of rest, as if flowing into a lock where they are united."[39]

At the Bier of a Young Artist (Ved en ung Kunstners Baare) for string orchestra was written for the funeral of the Danish painter Oluf Hartmann in January 1910. The four-minute piece in E flat minor was first performed by the Gade Quartet at Oluf Hartmann’s funeral on 21 January in the chapel at Holmen’s Cemetery in Copenhagen and was also played at Nielsen's own funeral.[40] Pan and Syrinx (Pan og Syrinx), a vigorous nine-minute symphonic poem inspired by Ovid's Metamorphoses, was particularly well received at its premiere in 1911, Charles Kjerulf of Politken commenting: "For each note that was added it became more and more sublime."[41]

The Rhapsodic Overture, An Imaginary Trip to the Faroe Islands (En Fantasirejse til Færøerne), is an occasional work which depicts a sea voyage from Denmark to the Islands. It draws on Faroese folk tunes but also contains freely composed sections.[42]

Among Nielsen's orchestral works for the stage are Aladdin (1919) and Moderen, Opus 41 (1920). Aladdin was written to accompany a production of Adam Oehlenschläger’s fairy tale at The Royal Theatre in Copenhagen. The complete score, lasting over 80 minutes, is Nielsen's longest work apart from his operas but is now often performed as the shorter orchestral suite consisting of the Oriental March, Hindu Dance and Negro Dance.[43] Moderen, written to celebrate the reunification of Southern Jutland with Denmark, was first performed on 30 January 1921 at the Royal Danish Theatre where it was well received. The text was basically a collection of generally patriotic verses written by Helge Rode for the occasion.[44]

Chamber music

Nielsen composed a number of chamber music works, some of them still high on the international repertoire. The Wind Quintet, one of his most popular pieces, was composed in 1922 specifically for the Copenhagen Wind Quintet. Robert Simpson writes, "Nielsen’s fondness of wind instruments is closely related to his love of nature, his fascination for living, breathing things. ... He was also intensely interested in human character, and in the Wind Quintet composed deliberately for five friends; each part is cunningly made to suit the individuality of each player."[45]

The Fantasy Pieces for Oboe and Piano (Fantasistykker for obo og klavier) consists of two pieces which were first performed at the Royal Orchestra Soirée in Copenhagen on 16 March 1891. The oboist was Olivo Krause (to whom they are dedicated) and the pianist Victor Bendix. Transcriptions by Hans Sitt for violin and piano and for violin and orchestra have also remained popular.[46] Nielsen's four string quartets are all part of the current repertoire. The First String Quartet No. 1 in G minor (1889) was innovative in the "Résumé" section which Nielsen included in the finale, bringing together themes from the first, third and fourth movements.[47] The Second String Quartet No. 2 in F minor (1890) provides evidence of Nielsen's early experiments with tonality.[48] The Third String Quartet in E flat major (1898) has remained one of Nielsen's more popular works, particularly in Denmark. The Fourth String Quartet in F major (1904) was initially criticised by the reviewers but is now recognised for its innovative approach.[49]

Keyboard works

Although Nielsen came to compose mainly at the piano,[b] he only composed directly for it occasionally over a period of 40 years, creating five major works and several others, often with a distinctive style which slowed their international acceptance.[50] One of his most successful compositions for piano is Chaconne, Opus 32, which Nielsen qualified as "a really big piece, and I think effective". It was premiered by Alexander Stoffregen on 13 April 1917 and was generally well received by its reviewers. On 11 February 1918, Christian Christiansen received an ovation when he played the piece during a concert of Nielsen’s orchestral works. Charles Kjerulf described the work as "a genuine Carl Nielsen piano-experiment".[51]

All Nielsen's organ works were late compositions. Danish organist Finn Viderø suggests that this reflects the relative neglect of the organ during most of his life.[52] This situation changed with the Orgeltagung (Organ Meeting) in Hamburg organised by Hans Henny Jahnn in 1925,[53] which was a major stimulus for the Orgelbewegung (Organ reform movement), and the renewal of the front pipes of the Schnitger organ in the St. Jacobi Church by Karl Kemper from 1928–1930.[53][54][52] Nielsen's last major work, Commotio, Opus 58, a 22-minute piece for organ, was composed between June 1930 and February 1931. The composer considered it to be one of his most important works.[55]

Songs and hymns

Over the years, Nielsen wrote the music for over 290 songs and hymns, most of them for poems written by well-known Danish authors such as N.F.S. Grundtvig, B.S. Ingemann, Poul Martin Møller, Adam Oehlenschläger and Jeppe Aakjær. In Denmark, many of them are still popular today, both with adults and children.[56] Among the more popular ones are Farvel min velsignede Fødeby! (1914), Havet omkring Danmark (1907), Hvem sidder der bag Skjærmen (Jens Vejmand) (1907), Jeg ved en Lærkerede (c. 1924), Op al den Ting, som Gud har gjort' (c. 1914), Som en rejselysten Flaade (1921), Spurven sidder stum bag Kvist (1914) and Vi Sletternes Sønner har Drømme i Sind (1908).


The Carl Nielsen memorial sculpted by his wife Anne Marie

Unlike his contemporary, the Finn Jean Sibelius, Nielsen's reputation abroad did not start to evolve until after World War II. For some time, international interest was largely directed towards his symphonies while his other works, many of them highly popular in Denmark, have only recently started to become part of the world repertoire.[3][57]

Writing in the New York Times on the occasion of Nielsen's 125th anniversary in 1990, Andrew Pincus explained that 25 years earlier Leonard Bernstein had believed the world was ready to accept the Dane as the equal of Sibelius. He had spoken highly of "his rough charm, his swing, his drive, his rhythmic surprises, his strange power of harmonic and tonal relationships — and especially his constant unpredictability." But even in 1990, despite sporadic performances of his works, this "constant unpredictability" was still a bit too much for foreign tastes.[58]

In London, the symphonies at least now appear to be well accepted. Paul Driver comments enthusiastically on the Colin Davis and London Symphony Orchestra performance of the Inextinguishable in May 2010: "Movement boundaries have become fluid; the expressive raison d’être is an evolving structure articulated by its emotional necessities rather than an externally valid architecture; and the journey from harmonic ambiguity at the opening to a stable key at the end is no mere vehicle for carrying ideas, but the whole point of the piece."[59]

Within two months of its successful premiere at the Odd Fellows Concert Hall in Copenhagen on 28 February 1912, the Third Symphony was in the repertoire of the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra in Amsterdam, and by 1913 it had seen performances in Stuttgart, Stockholm and Helsinki. The symphony was the most popular of all Nielsen's works during his lifetime and was also played in Berlin, Hamburg, London and Gothenburg.[60]

An international breakthrough was made in 1962 when Leonard Bernstein recorded the Fifth Symphony with the New York Philharmonic Orchestra for CBS. This recording helped Nielsen's music to achieve appreciation beyond his home country, and is considered one of the finest recorded accounts of the symphony.[61][62][63]

Historical recordings

Nielsen did not record any of his works as he did not believe in the medium. However, three younger contemporary conductors who had worked with him, Thomas Jensen, Launy Grøndahl, and Erik Tuxen, did record his symphonies and other orchestral works, and their recordings are therefore considered to be the most "authentic" Nielsen available.

  • Symphony No. 1: Thomas Jensen - 1952 (Decca)
  • Symphony No. 2: Thomas Jensen - 1947 (EMI)
  • Symphony No. 3: Erik Tuxen - 1946 (Decca)
  • Symphony No. 4: Launy Grøndahl - 1951 (EMI)
  • Symphony No. 5: Erik Tuxen - 1950 (EMI); Thomas Jensen - 1954 (Decca — first LP recording)
  • Symphony No. 6: Thomas Jensen - 1952 (Tono, a Danish label)

These recordings are all with the Danish Radio Symphony Orchestra, and all have been re-released on CD by Dutton Records (GB), except No. 6 which was transferred to CD by Denmark's DANACORD Records.


By this term Nielsen meant an aesthetic approach wherein the instruments, or the players operating them, are given leave to assert their individual intentions, as interpreted by the composer. At the time Nielsen was writing the Fifth Symphony, with its sometimes violent disruption by the snare drum, he also produced the Wind Quintet, Op. 43 for a group of wind players whom he knew well personally. He resolved to write a concerto for each man, but completed only the ones for flute and clarinet. The latter (1928) immortalizes a clarinettist known for being irascible, and uses this character as a means of commenting on the anxious world condition at the time.

Carl Nielsen's students

From 1915, Nielsen taught at the Royal Conservatory where he became director in 1931, shortly before his death.[57] He also had a number of private students in his earlier days in order to supplement his income. As a result of his teaching, Nielsen has exerted considerable influence on classical music in Denmark. Among his most successful pupils were:

  • Thorvald Aagaard (1877–1937), who collaborated with Nielsen and Thomas Laub in publishing Folkehøjskolens Melodibog, a highly popular work grouping melodies for hymns and folksongs.[64]
  • Emilius Bangert (1883–1962), who assisted Nielsen in notating and transcribing a number of his compositions, wrote a symphony, overture, string quartet, sonatas, choral works and songs.
  • Jørgen Bentzon (1897–1951) who composed a considerable number of works ranging from chamber music to a symphony.
  • Nancy Dalberg (1881–1949), who was the first Danish woman to compose a symphony, helped Nielsen with orchestration and notation work, especially in connection with Fynsk Foraar. Her chamber music has become part of the Nordic repertoire.
  • Knud Jeppesen (1892–1974), a composer and internationally recognised musicologist, who did much to promote Nielsen's music outside Denmark.
  • Herman Koppel (1908–1998) who wrote 13 symphonies, numerous concertos, and 20 string quartets.
  • Rudolph Simonsen (1889–1947), a disciple of Nielsen's, who became chairman of the Conservatory after Nielsen's death in 1931.
  • Mogens Wöldike (1897–1988), one of Denmark's most influential conductors and choirmasters in the late 20th century, who made recordings of many of Nielsen's works.

Carl Nielsen concerts today

Carl Nielsen's music is frequently performed not only at a host of venues around Denmark but also throughout the world, especially in Finland, Germany, Spain, Sweden, the United Kingdom and the United States.

On the basis of information from the Carl Nielsen Society, the works currently most often performed are:[3]


Carl Nielsen and his family at Fuglsang Manor, c. 1915
Carl Nielson headstone in Vestre Cemetery.

Nielsen's parents were Maren Kirstine Jørgensen, née Johansen (9 April 1833 – 28 January 1897) and Niels Jørgensen (22 January 1835 - 22 November 1915). He was one of 12 children. The brothers and sisters were Jørgine Caroline (1854–1879), Mathilde Sophie (born 1856), Karen Marie (1857–1876), Jørgen Peter (born 1859) emigrated to Australia, Johan Sophus (1861–1942) emigrated to USA, Christian Albert (born 1863) emigrated to USA, Carl August (1865–1931), Anders Jacob (born 1867) emigrated to USA, Helene Christine Louise (born 1869) emigrated to USA, Valdemar Emil (1871–1965), Julie Christine (born 1872), Anna Dusine (8 January to 2 April 1875).[65]

He and his wife Anne Marie had two daughters and a son. Irmelin, his eldest daughter, had studied music theory with her father. In December 1919, she married Eggert Møller (1893–1978), a medical doctor who became a professor at the University of Copenhagen and director of the polyclinic at Rigshospitalet, the national hospital. Anne Marie, who graduated from the Copenhagen Academy of Arts, married the Hungarian violinist Emil Telmányi (1892–1988) in 1918 who contributed to Nielsen's music, both as a violinist and a conductor. Nielsen's son, Hans Børge, was handicapped as a result of meningitis and spent most of his life away from the family. He died near Kolding in 1956.[66]

Shortly before Carl Nielsen met his wife, he had a son Carl August Hansen (8 January 1888 - 4 April 1963) with housemaid Karen Marie Hansen (4 September 1865 - 17 March 1949). Mother and son emigrated in December 1901 to New York, where Carl August qualified as a pharmacist. Although he returned to Denmark for a few years, he returned to the United States in June 1921 where he resumed his career as a pharmacist. He had three children by two different wives. There are living descendants.[65]

See also

  • Serenata in vano


  1. ^ Converting at a rate of Kr 20 = £1.
  2. ^ Nielsen at first composed by writing piano arrangements or short scores. For Saul og David during his visit to Italy (1899–1900) he learned to write full scores straight away while still using the piano to hear his ideas.[67][68]


  1. ^ a b "LSO celebrates Nielsen". Embassy of Denmark, United Kingdom. Retrieved 16 October 2010. 
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  8. ^ Nielsen 1927, p. 23 (Danish), Nielsen 1953 (English).
  9. ^ a b Fanning 2001, p. 888.
  10. ^ Lawson 1997, p. 58.
  11. ^ a b c d Fanning 2001, p. 889.
  12. ^ Fanning 2001, p. 890.
  13. ^ Ashley, Ray (2000). "Carl Nielsen Danish Composer (1865-1931)". Retrieved 21 October 2010. 
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  16. ^ a b "Symphonist and opera composer". Carl Nielsen Society. Retrieved 17 November 2010. 
  17. ^ Simpson 1979, p. 25.
  18. ^ Ross, Alex (25 February 2008). "Inextinguishable: The fiery rhythms of Carl Nielsen". New Yorker. Retrieved 16 October 2010. 
  19. ^ "Symphony No.5, Op.50 – The Danish Radio Symphony Orchestra Erik Tuxen conductor – (recorded 29 August 1950, Edinburgh Festival)". Retrieved 17 November 2010. Review. 
  20. ^ Simpson 1979, p. 113.
  21. ^ "Saul and David". Carl Nielsen Edition. pp. xi–xxx. Retrieved 30 December 2010. 
  22. ^ "Maskarade (Masquerade)". Carl Nielsen Edition. pp. xi–xxxvii. Retrieved 30 December 2010. 
  23. ^ Schepelern 1987, pp. 344–345.
  24. ^ Schepelern 1987, pp. 346–351.
  25. ^ "Hymnus amoris". Carl Nielsen Edition. pp. 1–80. Retrieved 30 December 2010. 
  26. ^ "Sleep". Carl Nielsen Edition. pp. 81–132. Retrieved 30 December 2010. 
  27. ^ "Springtime on Funen". Carl Nielsen Edition. pp. 135–202. Retrieved 30 December 2010. 
  28. ^ Wise, Brian. "Fynsk foraar (Springtime on Funen), for soloists, chorus & orchestra, FS 96 (Op. 42)". Retrieved 29 December 2010. 
  29. ^ Rosenberg 1966, p. 49.
  30. ^ "Carl Nielsen: Violin Concerto, FS61, Op.33". Classical Archives. Retrieved 19 October 2010. 
  31. ^ "Concerto ...". Carl Nielsen Edition. pp. xi–xlvii. Retrieved 30 December 2010. 
  32. ^ "Art and consciousness". Carl Nielsen Society. Retrieved 19 October 2010. 
  33. ^ "Carl Nielsen: Flute Concerto, FS119". Classical Archives. Retrieved 19 October 2010. 
  34. ^ Reisig, Wayne. "Clarinet concerto, Op. 57 (FS 129)". Retrieved 17 November 2010. 
  35. ^ Lawson, Jack. Nielsen String Quartets Volume 1. Chandos Records. 
  36. ^ "Suite for String Orchestra ...". Carl Nielsen Edition. Retrieved 30 December 2010. 
  37. ^ "Helios ...". Carl Nielsen Edition. Retrieved 30 December 2010. 
  38. ^ Hodgetts, Jonathan. "Helios Overture". Salisbury Symphony Orchestra. Retrieved 30 December 2010. 
  39. ^ "Saga Dream ...". Carl Nielsen Edition. pp. 1–22. Retrieved 30 December 2010. 
  40. ^ "At the Bier of a Young Artist". Carl Nielsen Edition. pp. 23–26. Retrieved 30 December 2010. 
  41. ^ "Pan and Syrinx". Carl Nielsen Edition. pp. 39–66. Retrieved 30 December 2010. 
  42. ^ "Rhapsody Overture. A Fantasy Voyage to the Faroe Islands". Carl Nielsen Edition. pp. 67–102. Retrieved 30 December 2010. 
  43. ^ "Aladdin". Carl Nielsen Edition. Retrieved 30 December 2010. 
  44. ^ "The Mother". Carl Nielsen Edition. pp. xi–xxviii. Retrieved 30 December 2010. 
  45. ^ "Carl Nielsen: Quintet for Wind Instruments, Op.43 (1922)". Program Notes. Sierra Chamber Society. Retrieved 10 November 2010. 
  46. ^ "Fantasy Pieces ...". Carl Nielsen Edition. pp. 81–90. Retrieved 30 December 2010. 
  47. ^ "Symphonic Suite ...". Carl Nielsen Edition. pp. 12–35. Retrieved 30 December 2010. 
  48. ^ "Carl Nielsen: String Quartet No.2 in f minor, Op.5". Edition Silvertrust. Retrieved 30 October 2010. 
  49. ^ "Preludio e presto ...". Carl Nielsen Edition. Retrieved 30 December 2010. 
  50. ^ Skjold-Rasmussen 1966, p. 57.
  51. ^ "Chaconne". Carl Nielsen Edition. pp. 52–68. Retrieved 30 December 2010. 
  52. ^ a b Viderø 1966, p. 69.
  53. ^ a b "Der Orgelbauer: Näheres zur Geschichte der Restaurierung der Jacobi-Orgel in Hamburg [The Organbuilder: More about the History of the Restoration of the St. Jacob Organ in Hamburg]" (in German). Retrieved 17 October 2010. 
  54. ^ "Hamburg, Jacobikirche". Retrieved 17 October 2010. 
  55. ^ "Commotio". Carl Nielsen Edition. pp. 203–237. Retrieved 30 December 2010. 
  56. ^ "Register over Carl Nielsens 324 sange [List of Carl Nielsen's 324 Songs]" (in Danish). Carl Nielsen Edition. Det Kongelige Bibliotek. Retrieved 30 December 2010. Most titles with English translations. 
  57. ^ a b Edwards, Robert. "Carl Nielsen". Find a Grave. Retrieved 21 October 2010. 
  58. ^ Pincus, Andrew L (10 June 1990). "A Composer Whose Time Never Seems to Come". New York Times. Retrieved 21 October 2010. 
  59. ^ Driver, Paul (16 May 2010). "Let there be life". London: Sunday Times. Retrieved 21 October 2010. 
  60. ^ "Symphony No. 3". Carl Nielsen Edition. Retrieved 30 December 2010. 
  61. ^ Barker, John W (1994). American Record Guide 57 (4): 54–59. ISSN 0003-0716. [Full citation needed]
  62. ^ Fanning 1997, p. 92.
  63. ^ Burton, Anthony (4 November 2006). "Nielsen: Symphony No.5, Op.50". CD Review: Building a Library Recommendations. Retrieved 23 July 2010. 
  64. ^ "Thomas Aagaard" (in Danish). Retrieved 15 November 2010. 
  65. ^ a b "FAQ's", Knowledge Carl Nielsen & Anne Marie Carl-Nielsen, Odense City Museums. Retrieved 18 November 2010.
  66. ^ "Family life". Carl Nielsen Society. Retrieved 18 November 2010. 
  67. ^ "Saul and David". Carl Nielsen Edition. p. xv. Retrieved 30 December 2010. 
  68. ^ Meyer & Petersen 1947.
Encyclopedia entries
  • Schousboe, Torben (1980). "Nielsen, Carl (August)". In Sadie, Stanley. The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians. London: Macmillan. ISBN 0-333-23111-2. 
  • Latham, Alison (1994). "Nielsen, Carl (August)". In Sadie, Stanley. The Grove Concise Dictionary of Music. New York: W W Norton. ISBN 0393037533. 
  • Bourne, Joyce (1996). "Nielsen, Carl". In Kennedy, Michael. The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Music (Fourth ed.). Oxford University Press. ISBN 019280037X. 
  • Fanning, David (1992). "Nielsen, Carl (August)". In Sadie, Stanley. The New Grove Dictionary of Opera. London. ISBN 0-333-73432-7. 


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