150th Anniversary: Carl Nielsen

Wednesday 10th June 2015

The Danish composer Carl Nielsen is one of the most unusual romantic composers of all time. If you think of Denmark, then the beautiful landscape and the almost romantic way of living come to mind, but nothing at all ostentatious. So why is it that Carl Nielsen’s symphonies are praised and performed by so many renowned conductors including Herbert von Karajan, Simon Rattle or Leonard Bernstein?

As you can hear on the latest recording with the New York Philharmonic and Alan Gilbert, but not so much about the music’s length, but the brilliant way in which Nielsen understood how to compose big symphonies. The 5th and 6th symphony were both recorded live in Avery Fisher Hall in October 2014 and are seen as a “battle between good and evil”, says Alan Gilbert. On the occasion of the composer’s 150th Anniversary on June 9th, they are included in the New York Philharmonic’s concert cycle. As Carl Nielsen is regarded as one of the most underappreciated composers we should pay all the more attention to his works. In their recording, the New York Philharmonic brilliantly interprets his music, which often consists of simple melodies and harmonies.

If you try to compare Carl Nielsen to his contemporaries, you’ll be a long way off. Even though Gustav Mahler is only five years older than Nielsen, they could not be more different from each other. Although he is sometimes rather overshadowed by Mahler, Nielsen’s soft, often simple melodies, which Alan Gilbert expertly performs with his orchestra are extremely relaxing. So is it just simple chords and harmonies that made Carl Nielsen to one of Scandinavia’s most important and influential composers? We believe that it is the combination of the music being both light but not superficial. We have come full circle by agreeing with Gilbert’s statement that these symphonies combine good and evil, bright and dark.

Is it really that easy? Yes it is, because both the 5th and 6th symphonies seem to be formed of many small pieces, but result in a homogenous, beautiful and perfectly balanced work. So the New York Philharmonic, under Alan Gilbert, dignifies the Danish composer by both lightening and darkening his music in such a skillful way.

Carl Nielsen - Foto: The Royal Library/Department of

Carl Nielsen – Foto: The Royal Library/Department of