Carl (August) Nielsen


Born in Sortelung, Carl Nielsen was to become the most famous Danish composer of the century, if not the most famous Danish composer of all.  Between 1884 and 1886 he studied at the Copenhagen Conservatory, eager to make up any shortcomings his rural background might have left in his education, both musically and in all other cultural spheres.  In 1889 he became violinist at the Royal Chapel.  The following year a scholarship allowed him to travel Europe and compose.

Nielsen's first publically performed work was his String Quartet in F, which was put on in 1888.  He completed his first symjphony in 1892; it was the first of six, arguably one of the most important symphonic cycles of the time, and certainly a body of work which sustained interest in the genre.  It was a good base on which to build a reputation as a composer, and throughout the following decade his standing grew.  An occasional career as a conductor, begun late in 1888 in Odense, led to deputising at the Royal Chapel.  When the primary position became available in 1914 and Nielsen was not offered it he resigned in disgust, returning to freelance work.  He conducted in Sweden and taught at the conservatory, eventually becoming director there shortly before his death. 

As well as his symphonies, Nielsen wrote chamber music, tone poems and songs, the last of which he imbued with a nationalist influence not immediately obvious in his other work.  His major works take their cue from the late-Romantic style, but progressively tend towards a piquant twist in melody and phrasing eventually in alignment with concurrent neo-Classical ideas.

Show more