Classical Music Playlist, June 5, 2023

At age 24 in 1889 Carl Nielsen began his 16-year position in the second violin section of the Royal Danish Orchestra. Five years later he performed in the orchestra for the premiere of his First Symphony. He would become a Danish national hero, eventually composing six symphonies that to this day are among the core repertoire of the Danish National Symphony Orchestra who have recently released a 3-CD set of all six symphonies led by Principal Conductor Fabio Luisi. Each day this week, we’ll feature one of Nielsen’s first five symphonies from this new cycle with the Fifth on his birthday, June 9.

“Carl Nielsen has his own, personal language,” Fabio Luisi says. “At times, it is highly unusual, but it is also witty and profound, and it is highly obvious that the Danish National Symphony Orchestra is extremely familiar with its distinctive characteristics.”

In 2015, NPR’s Tom Huizinga wrote that “Quirky” could be an apt descriptor of Nielsen’s music. “Sample almost any spot in his symphonies and you’ll find Nielsen up to something just a bit unusual, from harmonies and melodies that don’t quite align to ambiguous phrases, seesawing from major to minor keys.” Huizinga includes this brief description of Nielsen’s First Symphony:

Nielsen quickly found his own voice as a composer, a style that drew on the natural sounds of his childhood in the country and on his ear for forceful ideas. Michael Steinberg says you can tell Carl Nielsen’s First Symphony is Nielsen’s right from the first notes, where the harmony and the opening tune are not quite lined up.

The Symphony No. 1 by Carl Nielsen, from the new cycle recorded by the Danish National Symphony Orchestra conducted by Fabio Luisi, is today’s Midday Masterpiece.

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