Classical Music Playlist, June 7, 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 own 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.”

Liner notes from this new recording cycle describes the Symphony No. 3 “Sinfonia expansiva”:

In 1905, Nielsen gave up his orchestral position as a violinist in order to devote all his time to composition, and Symphony No. 3 “Sinfonia espansiva” (1910–1911) marked his breakthrough as a symphonic composer. For Carl Nielsen, the work represented development, growth and humanity’s infinite potential. The irregular sharp whipcracks at the beginning of the symphony sling the music out with so much energy that the first movement unfolds from its own impetus, developing in a remarkable way and even including a giddy waltz. In the second movement, one finds oneself in unspoilt nature and a paradise-like serenity. Nielsen adds the voices of a man and a woman, who wordlessly blend with the vegetative music as if they are some kind of Adam and Eve. The stark contrast to this elevated passivity comes in the form of the agitation and restlessness of the third movement, before the symphonic development concludes in the fourth movement, which pays homage to human activities here on Earth. “A paean of praise to labour and the healthy development of daily life,” as Nielsen himself formulated it.

The Symphony No. 3 “Sinfonia espansiva” 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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