Monday, November 1, 2010

Sinfonia Semplice - Carl Nielsen


Carl Nielsen is a central figure in late romantic Danish music. He was born into a poor family of fourteen children. During school holidays, he supplemented the family income by looking after geese. Music was an early interest. He used to bang out tunes on different lengths of firewood. He was also interested in literature, philosophy and languages.
Leonard Bernstein was enthusiastic about Nielsen's music and this symphony. He actually introduced Nielsen's music in America in the sixties for much later after Nielsen's death, his music was not known to the American audiences. The Sinfonia Semplice is the strangest of his six symphonies. At the time it was written, Nielsen was suffering from a heart ailment.
The work is a meditation on the transcience of life in the opening tempo giusto movement. In the Humoresque, there is sardonic humour and brooding. Occasionally, there is pure grotesquerie. Nielsen may be poking fun at the atonal music of Schoenberg and his followers. The woodwind instruments make rude noises and the trombones make loud glissandos representing yawning. The slow movement is dark and sombre. The finale is a bizarre theme and variations. The main theme goes through a chaotic series of grotesque variations. At one point, the theme becomes a waltz. The brass and percussion then batter it with brutal dissonant outbursts. The movement ends in glee. Nielsen may be dying but he is laughing at death with the bassoons.
This symphony was written in 1925. The structure and tonality of this symphony are both individual and unorthodox. The Danish critics called it an enigmatic work. This is a bitter and ironic work to complete his symphonic oeuvre. Nielsen was never able to make a decent living out of his compositions. When Nielsen began composing his last symphony, he wrote, "As far as I can see it, it will on the whole be different from my other symphonies; more amiable and smooth, or how shall I put it, but it is impossible to tell as I do not know at all what currents I may run into during the voyage."
Notable performances are by Michael Schonwandt, Leonard Bernstein and Herbert Blomstedt.

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