3 Jul 2013

Curtain Raiser: Nielsen - Symphony No 5

From the collecton Curtain Raiser
Carl Nielsen

Carl Nielsen Photo: Public Domain

Nielsen’s Fifth Symphony is probably his masterpiece: a powerful, mysterious work whose themes are tightly woven into a stream of music that evolves organically from start to finish.

Nielsen gave one explanation for the symphony in an interview published in a Danish paper the day before its 1922 premiere at the Concert Society in Copenhagen.

“My first symphony was nameless... But then came “The Four Temperaments”,  “Espansiva” and “The Inextinguishable”, actually just different names for the same thing, the only thing that music can express when all is said and done: the resting powers as opposed to the active ones. If I were to find a name for this, my new fifth symphony, it would express something similar. I have been unable to get hold of the one word that is at the same time characteristic and not too pretentious.”

This nameless symphony, which is clearly about something, was written between 1921 and 1922, when Nielsen was 56. Memories of the First World War are fresh in it, judging by the role Nielsen gives to a martial side-drum pattern in the first half of the symphony.

Nielsen also said the work represents a conflict between good and evil, order and chaos, or active and vegetative states of mind.

Introduced by Erica Challis.

Get the RNZ app

for easy access to all your favourite programmes

Subscribe to Curtain Raiser

Podcast (MP3) Oggcast (Vorbis)