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Carl Nielsen

Symphonies 2 and 3

Alan Gilbert, conductor
Joshua Hopkins, baritone
Erin Morley, soprano
New York Philharmonic

Carl Nielsen, composer

"Music is life, and like life itself, music is inextinguishable," said the Danish national composer Carl Nielsen (1865-1931). Raised in the Danish countryside as the son of a poor folk musician, Nielsen's indomitable courage and infinite curiosity helped him develop into one of the greatest symphonists of the 20th century. With this new series of recordings Nielsen crosses the Atlantic, as the New York Philharmonic and their music director Alan Gilbert shed new light on his uniquely Nordic symphonic sound.

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Symphony No. 3, Op. 27 "Sinfonia Espansiva" (1910-11)


I Allegro espansivo

11:24 Play $2.80

II Andante pastorale *

9:11 Play $2.10

III Allegretto un poco

6:35 Play $2.10

IV Finale: Allegro

10:03 Play $2.80

* Erin Morley, soprano; Joshua Hopkins, baritone

Symphony No. 2, Op. 16 "The Four Temperaments" (1901-02)


I Allegro collerico

10:13 Play $2.80

II Allegro comodo e flemmatico

5:08 Play $2.10

III Andante malincolico

12:18 Play $2.80

IV Allegro sanguineo

7:28 Play $2.10
Total playing time  72 minutes

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Carl Nielsen
Carl Nielsen
Carl Nielsen
Carl Nielsen
CARL NIELSEN (1865-1931)

Little Carl was given his first violin lessons by his father, who was a painter and village musi­cian. The family, with its many children, lived in a village community a few kilometres south of Odense, the principal city on the island of Funen. Immediately after his Confirmation, Carl was apprenticed to a grocer, but the grocer went bankrupt. At short notice he competed instead, as the youngest applicant, for a position as a regimental musician in Odense. With support from private benefactors in Odense he went on from there to the Royal Danish Academy of Music in Copen­hagen, where he studied in the years 1884-86. In 1889 he became a violinist in the Royal ­Danish ­Orchestra at the Royal Theatre, where the principal conductor, the Norwegian composer Johan Svendsen, became a patron of the young musician with his talent for compo­sition, and among other things conducted the first performance of Nielsen's First ­Symphony in 1894.

In 1905 Nielsen resigned from his post in the Royal Danish Orchestra; but the next year he returned to the Royal Theatre, now as a composer, and conducted his new opera Maska­rade. This led in 1908 to an engagement as conductor that lasted until 1914. After this he had more time to compose, although he conducted the concerts of the Music Society in the ­period 1916‑27 and at the same time was associated with the Academy, first as a teacher and later as a member of the board. Finally he became the director of the Academy, but this was in the year of his death, so he was unable to leave an enduring mark on its activities. ­Today Nielsen stands, around the 150th anniversary of his birth, as Denmark's most important composer, whose works are performed all over the world.



Symphonies Nos. 2 and 3

A decade passed between Carl Nielsen's Second and Third Symphonies, the very decade in which the composer consolidated his dual national status. In the longer term this was to make him so frustrated that he was no longer able to keep up the facade when he was acclaimed as a national icon in connection with his sixtieth birthday in 1925.

Nielsen had by then become Denmark's most frequently performed symphonist, outside as well as within the borders of the country, but at the same time he was the composer whom the Danes loved for his popular ‘national' songs. Although he himself felt no discrepancy between his two composer profiles, he would clearly have preferred that the great birthday torchlight processions and similar symbols of his iconic status had been prompted by his laboriously built-up symphonic prowess, not only by the well-loved Danish songs.

"The more trouble one takes, the poorer in fact becomes one's practical situation. What does it avail me that the whole world doffs its hat to me but hurries past and leaves me sitting there with my wares until it all collapses and I discover to my disgrace that I have lived as a foolish dreamer and believed that the more I worked and strove in my art, the better my whole position would be."

This was how clearly he expressed it in an interview in the major Danish daily newspaper Politiken when he was finishing the composition of his sixth and - as it was to turn out - his last symphony, which was to be given its first performance a few days later by the Royal Danish Orchestra with himself conducting in the very last of the gala concerts held in his honour in 1925.

The Second and the Third Symphonies are both indicative of the dichotomy which throughout most of Carl Nielsen's career coloured his attitude to the concept of ‘programme music'. Both symphonies bear subtitles, "The Four Temperaments" and "Sinfonia Espansiva" respectively, which cannot but give the listener the impression that this is programme music. Nevertheless, Nielsen tried repeatedly to write his way out of the idea that the Second Symphony in particular was programme music. When he was asked shortly before his death for a programme note in connection with a performance in Stockholm, he wrote in his introduction to a detailed account of the individual ­movements:

"I must be permitted to emphasize that my remarks must in no way be viewed as a programme. The art of music cannot express anything at all conceptual, and the remarks below must therefore be conceived as a private matter between the music and myself". But if this was indeed a private matter, why share the remarks with a concert audience? Nielsen's argument must be said to form part of what the American musicologist Lewis Rowell has aptly characterized as "Nielsen's homespun philosophy of music". Homespun too we must probably call Nielsen's own characterization of the third movement, which in correct Italian should properly have been called Andante malinconico. Fortunately neither one nor the other instance of the homespun need stand in the way of the listener's pleasure in the music.

The theory of the temperaments arose far back in antiquity with the Greek Hippo­crates around 400 BC, and was later developed by the Graeco-Roman physician Galen. It posits that there are four temperaments, one of which is more or less dominant in each individual. Nielsen's inspiration for depicting them symphonically came from a coloured picture that hung in a Zealand country inn where Nielsen and his wife had gone in for a beer during an excursion with some friends. Which inn this was, and exactly when the visit took place, no one has yet succeeded in demonstrating, so it will probably forever remain the composer's little secret.

It appears that Nielsen had already begun working on the symphony before he had completed his first opera, Saul and David. It is no longer possible to determine how great the overlap was. At all events he did not finish the work until the last moment. He end-dated the symphony on 22nd November 1902, a good week before the first performance in Copenhagen with the composer himself conducting.

The very next year after the first performance, Nielsen conducted The Four Temperaments in Berlin in a concert organized by the composer Ferruccio Busoni, to whom he also dedicated the work when it was printed in 1903. During Nielsen's lifetime the symphony was performed in a number of European countries, but was also given a single overseas performance, in Tokyo, where the Japanese Tasaki Tsuda conducted it in a concert in October 1930.

Whereas the Second Symphony had its programmatic subtitle right from the beginning, the Third Symphony did not yet have a subtitle when Nielsen conducted the first performance at a composition evening in Copenhagen on 28th February 1912, in which the Violin Concerto, composed immediately after the symphony, was also premiered. But by the time of the next performance, which took place exactly two months later, Nielsen had promoted the character designation of the first movement to the subtitle of the whole work. This was incidentally not just any performance, for through his friend, the Dutch composer Julius Röntgen, he had been allowed to conduct no less an ensemble than the Concertgebouw Orchestra in Amsterdam.

This concert was to be the starting shot for the work's European success story, which in Nielsen's lifetime included performances in capitals such as Stockholm, Helsinki, Paris and Berlin. Japan too heard this symphony, since the young Danish conductor Charles Lautrup, whom Nielsen knew and encouraged, was for a period a conservatory professor in Tokyo, where he took the opportunity to conduct the symphony in 1928.

It was for the above-mentioned Amsterdam performance that Nielsen wrote his most detailed account of the Sinfonia Espansiva, meticulously describing it movement by movement, with a succession of music examples. He wrote of the pastoral second movement that it depicts "peace and calm in nature, interrupted only by the voices of a few birds, or what you will [...] Towards the end the rural calm and depth grows rather more concentrated (E-flat major) and from afar off one hears human voices; first a man's and later a woman's voice, which once more disappear, and the movement ends in entirely unemotional calm (trance)."

Nielsen does not reveal here that he had in fact composed this movement in two, or perhaps more accurately three, tempi. We can see in his still-preserved pencil score that it was originally a purely instrumental movement. Then in the final section he added the two vocal parts with the following underlaid text: "All thoughts vanished. I lie beneath the sky." Then in the end he decided to omit the text.

Of the final movement Nielsen writes: "The composer wished to show the healthy morality inherent in the blessing of work. Everything progresses steadily towards the goal. The main subject is used much and the character of the movement is maintained with as much zest and energy as possible."

Precisely this hymn to the joy of work is presumably the closest Nielsen ever came to building a bridge in the above-mentioned conflict between his popular Danish songs and the symphonies. It is perhaps exactly what makes it even more sensitive to tempo than so much else in this symphony - a fact of which Leonard Bernstein, one of Alan Gilbert's very famous predecessors in the position of music director of the New York Philharmonic, was made all too aware in 1965 when he came to Copenhagen to record Sinfonia Espansiva with the Royal Danish Orchestra. The studio recording was made under a certain pressure of time, and in it Bernstein painted the joy of work with perhaps too broad a brush. But in the gala concert in the Odd Fellow Palæ that concluded his brief, intense visit to Copenhagen, he fortunately hit on a not much quicker, but certainly more energetic pace.

Technical developments in the half century that has passed since then have made it not only possible but desirable to combine the recording and concert situations; all the more so if the concert programme in question is played several times, as the New York Philharmonic now does, with the resulting potential for eliminating the small accidents which, despite the best will in the world, can always happen where people are involved. And finally, we must presumably remember that no one becomes the head of an orchestra in the absolute international top rank without a general ability to hit the mark in his or her interpretations, not to mention perhaps sometimes quietly moving the mark towards a place where we habitual listeners had not discovered that the mark could have stood with equal justice.


© Knud Ketting, 2012


The Nielsen Project - Videos
25 September 2012
New York Philharmonic's Music Director Alan Gilbert talks about "The Nielsen Project"New York Philharmonic releases new Nielsen series on Dacapo
11 September 2012
Dacapo Records has signed a contract with one of the world's most famous symphony orchestras, the New York Philharmonic!Nielsen goes to New York
16 June 2011
One of the world's leading symphony orchestras, the legendary New York Philharmonic, is to record all Carl Nielsen's symphonies and concertos for Dacapo Records.

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Recorded at Avery Fisher Hall, Lincoln Center, New York City
Recording producer: Preben Iwan
Sound engineer: Mikkel Nymand
Co-producer: Mats Engström
Editing and mixing: Preben Iwan, www.timbremusic.dk


Symphony No. 2: Recorded live 27-29 January and 1 February 2011
Recorded in 96 kHz/24 bit resolution, mixed and edited in the DXD audio format (Digital eXtreme Definition) 352.8kHz / 24 bit.

Symphony No. 3: Recorded live 14-16 June 2012
Recorded in the DXD audio format (Digital eXtreme Definition) 352.8kHz / 24 bit

Live monitoring on MK Sound speakers.
Microphones main array: Decca Tree with outriggers: 5x DPA 4006TL
- surround microphones: 2x DPA 4015TL
Converters & Preamps: DAD AX24 - DAW system: Pyramix with Smart AV Tango controller
Mastering monitored on B&W 802Diamond speakers

The recording team of TimbreMusic wishes to thank Lawrence Rock, audio director of New York Philharmonic, for his support during the productions.

Graphic design: Denise Burt, www.elevator-design.dk

Publisher: The Carl Nielsen Edition - Edition Wilhelm Hansen AS, www.ewh.dk

Dacapo acknowledges, with gratitude, the financial support of Carl Nielsen og Anna Marie
Carl-Nielsens Legat

Label: Dacapo

Format: SACD

Catalogue Number: 6.220623

Barcode: 747313162369

Release Date: September 2012

Period: Early 20th Century

Digital booklet (pdf) available for download customers

Promotional videos


Enjoy the Music
"If you don’t know these works, these thrilling, gorgeous-sounding performances will provide the perfect introduction. Those already addicted to Nielsen will also find much to enjoy here. Gilbert’s freshness and vitality will make you fall in love with these works all over again."
BBC Music Magazine
5/5 Stars
"An immensely promising start to what could well prove a landmark cycle"
"Sonido espectacular, especialmente transparente, gracias a los ingenieros de Dacapo, y al formato SACD. Más que recomendable."
"A mightily impressive recording."
5/5 Stars
"Toute l'oeuvre semble fluide, ailée, malgré son écriture capricieuse."
American Record Guide
"I would not be without this newcomer from New York."
MusicWeb International
"This is a disc to have and to hold from this day forth."
Minnesota Public Radio
"There's something about his music — the lushness of the sound, the expansive quality that I think is appropriate for the music, the precision, frankly, that's required." (Alan Gilbert)
Berlingske Tidende
Berlingske - Årets Bedste 2012. "Forbløffende god indføling med fynboens kringlede melodier."
Aarhus Stiftstidende
6/6 Stars
"New York’erne er forrygende velspillende og klangligt medrivende."
5/5 Stars
"New Yorks filharmoniker hittar alla de rätta temperamenten.", "Medryckande!"
SPIEGEL online
"Strömt mit üppiger Klangfülle, spült über Grenzen klassischer Harmonik hinweg und kitzelt die Hörer mit vielfarbiger Instrumentierung."
5/6 Stars
"Gilbert lyckas som få att både förmedla en internationell Nielsen och bevara danskheten."
4/5 Stars
"With Dacapo's typically clear sound, this is a fine addition to symphonic libraries"
Berlingske Tidende
6/6 Stars
"Mødet mellem amerikanernes ældste orkester og danskernes største komponist er en stjernestund fra ende til anden."
"New York Philharmonics indspilninger af Carl Nielsens symfonier og koncerter er en åbenbaring."
5/6 Stars
"Suveræne newyorkere får Nielsen til at stråle".
MusicWeb International
RECORDING OF THE MONTH - "It’s one of the finest CDs ever produced … period."
Audiophile Audition
"These symphonies are two of the greatest that the twentieth century has to offer.", "Gilbert’s performance is magnificent."
Kristeligt Dagblad
6/6 Stars
"Mageløst nærværende Carl Nielsen"
5/6 Hjerter
"Der er så meget knald på Alan Gilberts amerikanske Nielsenprojekt, at man sidder med håret blæst helt tilbage (...) spillet er muskuløst og rent ud sagt pissehamrende flot".
4/4 Stars
"The relaxed atmosphere of these performances brings an almost innate joy in the music making that result in fabulous performances."
"Alan Gilberts Nielsen-odysse har lagt fra land med ikke så lidt selvbevidsthed, erobringslyst og friske øjne. Det bliver selvsagt spændende at følge den videre færd".
Artistic Quality: 10 - Sound Quality: 10 - "The New York Philharmonic is a powerhouse orchestra, Nielsen is a powerhouse symphonist, and Alan Gilbert revels in the music’s energy and dynamism."
Crescenta Valley Weekly
"A remarkable recording sonically and interpretively – and a magnificent testament to the talents of Alan Gilbert and the New York Philharmonic."
BBC Music Review
"These are rich and hugely enjoyable performances."

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