Danish composer. His works combine an outward formal strictness with an inner waywardness of tonality and structure, best exemplified by his six programmatic symphonies 1892–1925.
Being poor as a youth, he joined a military band at the age of 14, but at 18 succeeded in entering the Copenhagen Conservatory as a pupil of Niels Gade. In 1891 he entered the royal orchestra and was its conductor 1908–14. He also became conductor of the Music Society and director of the Conservatory.
He was one of the most remarkable late Romantic symphonists, combining traditional forms with a new and original approach to tonality; the first symphony is an example of progressive tonality, ending in a different key to the initial one. Later symphonies developed a complex, rhythmically driven polyphony. The third symphony, Espansiva, is the first of these great works in which thematic formation is achieved within closely controlled forms. In the fifth symphony, chaos is threatened by a side drummer who is instructed to obliterate the rest of the orchestra; order is restored in a triumphant conclusion.
WorksOpera and stage music operas Saul og David (1902), Maskarade (after Holberg, 1906); incidental music for Oehlenschäger's Aladdin, and many other plays.
Orchestral and choralHymnus Amoris for chorus and orchestra (1897); Springtime on Fyn for soloists, chorus, and orchestra (1922); Hymn to Art for vocal soloists and wind instruments (1929); three motets for unaccompanied chorus; six symphonies 1. in G minor (1892), 2. The Four Temperaments (1902), 3. Espansiva (1911), 4. The Inextinguishable (1916), 5. (1922), 6. Sinfonia semplice (1925); symphonic rhapsody Saga-Dream for orchestra; violin concerto (1911); flute concerto (1926); rhapsody An Imaginary Journey to the Faroes (1927); clarinet concerto (1928).
Chamber and solo four string quartets (1887–1919), two string quintets, wind quintet (1922), and other chamber music; two violin and piano sonatas; Commotio for organ (1931); suites and other piano works; incidental music on Danish texts.
Nielsen, Carl August
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