- Symphony No. 6 (Nielsen)
The "Symphony No. 6" by
Carl Nielsen, written in 1925, is a work in four movements:
#Proposta seria: Adagio
#Tema con variazioni: Allegro
It was premiered later that year in
Copenhagenwith the composer conducting.
He gave it the title "Sinfonia Semplice". According to Robert W. Simpson, from the second edition of his book on Nielsen (but not the first — this represents a revision of an earlier opinion) this work may be partially autobiographical; the composer had just experienced a tremendous success with his "Fifth symphony", but had also suffered a series of heart attacks. He was to write several more works, some of them substantial, in the remaining six years of his life, including the Three Motets and "Commotio" for organ solo, but around this time the atmosphere of his works began to change somewhat.
As with many other works by Nielsen starting as early as his first symphony, this symphony uses "progressive tonality", not only starting in one key — G, here — and ending in another (B-flat) but making the change part of the drama of the work (this was one of the main theses of Simpson's book).
G majorhere, opening with bell sounds followed by what is, indeed, a "simple" and peaceful melody in strings — followed in turn, though, by active and very characteristic figures in the winds. As in the fifth symphony there is an early hint of the key B-flat in which we will eventually close, since the wind response hits that B-flat as an on-and-off note in an otherwise G major passage. The mood of the opening gives way to fugal unrest and, eventually, two chaotic and disturbing outbursts (Simpson believes these reflect Nielsen's heart attacks, in a manner of speaking, though he does not claim that the piece is pictorial or otherwise programmatic) before again quieting, to a lightly-scored but unsettled close in A-flat.
The "Humoreske" is for winds and percussion alone, almost athematic/tuneless and depending on rhythm. The composer, in notes he wrote for the first performance of the work, said of this movement that the wind and percussion "quarrel, each sticking to his own tastes and inclinations"; Nielsen went on to liken this to the musical world of the time.
"Proposta seria". To paraphrase Simpson, again, several passages in this movement circle around as though snakes chasing for-the-moment lost tails.
Fanfare, theme and variations, fanfare-reprise and coda, on a fairly unstable theme in B-flat. The ninth variation, just before the fanfare-reprise and coda, has a sound and affect like that of the "Humoreske" — Simpson likens it to a grinning skeleton; it is preceded by a "minore" variation before that, as in many variations sets (a variation in the parallel minor), but one that is so protracted that when its last minor cadence arrives it is difficult to grasp as one whole variation. Layton describes it as a lament and that is a closer description.
The last note of the piece is a sustained low B-flat played loudly on bassoon, well-described as a raspberry.
Simpson, Robert Wilfred Levick. "Carl Nielsen, Symphonist". London: Kahn & Averill Publishers, 2004. ISBN 0-900707-96-8.
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