NIELSEN, C.: Violin Concerto / Clarinet Concerto / Flute Concerto
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First Symphony, anearly example of his use of 'progressive tonality': finishing in a differentkey to that at the start of the work. This technique was to become a commonfeature of his compositions.
Nielsen began to conduct at this time and in 1908 became the conductorof the Royal Opera, a post he held until 1914, when he left to concentrate moreon composition. From 1915 he was the conductor of Copenhagen's PhilharmonicOrchestra and the director of the Copenhagen Conservatory, where he taughttheory. Nielsen retired from the Conservatory in 1927. He died of a heartattack on 3rd October, 1931.
Nielsen was the leading Danish composer of his generation with sixsymphonies, two operas, three concertos and other orchestral works to his name.
Other works include choral works and songs, a wind quintet, three violinsonatas, some piano pieces, five string quartets and one string quintet.
The Violin Concerto was started in the summer of 1911 on a visitto the home of Nina Grieg, the widow of Norwegian composer Edvard Grieg.
Nielsen composed in an idyllic setting at Grieg's hut in Troldhaugen, nearBergen. He completed the work in December of that year and conducted its firstperformance in February 1912. Nielsen had wanted the concerto to be 'popularand showy without being superficial': the result is a work that is relaxed andaffable. It eschews the conventional three-movement form in favour of twomovements, each of which starts with a slower section. The first movementbegins with a Praeludium (Largo). This is largely improvisatory inflavour with its cadenza and gypsy-like flourishes, but a period of repose endsit and leads into the noble Allegro cavalleresco. The Poco adagio ofthe econd movement takes on the role of a classical concerto's slow movement.
It pays tribute to Bch, the oboe playing the notes E flat, A, C, E natural (B AC H in German nomenclature). Nielsen considered the Rondo, markedAllegretto scherzando, that follows to be 'vacillating, almost aimless,but nice and charming like an earnestly smiling layabout on a better day'.
The concertos for flute and clarinet are the only fruits of Nielsen'sdesire to write a work for each member of the Copenhagen ensemble for which hehad produced the Wind Quintet in 1922. Nielsen knew the players well,and each of their personalities was recorded for posterity in the respectiveconcerto.
The Flute Concerto was originally written with Paul Hagemann inmind, but Gilbert Jespersen inherited it when he replaced Hagemann in theCopenhagen Wind Quintet: it is Jespersen's meticulous, refined nature thatpermeates the piece. A trombone plays the fool throughout in contrast to the politeflute. As Nielsen had played the trombone in his military band days, this mightbe considered to represent the composer himself. The concerto is in twomovements. Nielsen described the beginning of the first movement (Allegromoderato) as being gently dissonant and 'if anything, kept in a free,improvisatory style, and the solo instrument moves about as if seekingsomething, until it takes hold of a more decisive motive'. The amiable secondmovement (Allegretto) was changed after the first performance in Parison 2lst October 1926, now giving the trombone one final expression of crudity.
The Clarinet Concerto was instigated at the request of Nielsen'sfriend Carl Johan Michaelsen in 1928 and written for the Copenhagen WindQuintet's Aage Oxenvad. Nielsen apparently considered the clarinet to be aninstrument of almost schizophrenic personality, being both warm-hearted andgentle, and hysterical and troll-like. Oxenvad himself was an irasciblecharacter. The resultant concerto has a roughness not found in the FluteConcerto. Oxenvad said that Nielsen must have been able to play theclarinet himself, or he could not have found all the hardest notes to play. Theconcerto is in one movement but this is broken up into a number of parts:nevertheless, the overall pattern is in keeping with the quick-slow-quickregime of a classical concerto. The weighty and peasant-like theme heard at thestart makes a number of appearances in various forms, thus helping to giveunity to the work throughout its various sections. A side drum plays animportant r??le in a kind of mini-battle with the soloist. Nielsen's son-in-lawEmil Telmanyi conducted the first performance on 14th September 1928. Thestrange bleak landscape inhabited by the concerto prompted Telmanyi to refer toit as 'music from another planet'.