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Thread: Nielsen's 5th symphony - Strangest Symphony Of All Time ?

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    Default Nielsen's 5th symphony - Strangest Symphony Of All Time ?

    Nielsen's 5th may very well be the strangest symphony ever written. Everything about it is totally unconventional and original . It's a one-of-a-kind work. It confounds all your expectations of what a symphony is supposed to be.
    It was premiered in 1922 under the composer's direction, and when he soon after conducted the Swedish premiere in Gothenburg, where he regularly appeared to conduct, the audience was completely stunned by the weird battle between the snare drum and the orchestra in the first of the two movements; a near riot ensued, like the premiere of Strravinsky's Rite of Spring.
    Nielsen conceived the work as a kind of struggle between good and evil, chaos and order . The first movement is not in the traditional sonata form, or any pre-existing form for that matter. falls basically into three parts , progressing in tonal center from F, C to G , rising by fifths . It begins in a kind of twilight zone with a wavering ostinato figure of the notes C and A in the strings . The music seems to be describing a state of chaos . What the heck is going on ? All the different instruments of th e orchestra seem to be carrying on with no regard for each other. Just endless ostinatos . All of a sudden, a solo snare drums begins to start tapping out an ostinato figure -rat-ta-ta-tat tat-. A tonal center of F,not really f major or minor has been reached. Then it rises to a center of C. Chaos-nothing but chaos . Again, what the heck is going on ?
    Eventually , an unambiguous G major is reached, and a beatuiful lyrical melody appears- the first time any these as such has appeared . What is happening now ? Why did this beautiful theme appear out of nowhere ?
    But the snare drum continues its mindless ostinato , and the mood becomes ominous - something is wrong.
    A violent confrontation seems about to begin . Then, the snare drummer is directed by the composer to start flailing away on his instrument and to improvise his part as if he had gone berserk.
    The G major theme is in 3/4 , but the snare drummer is playing in 4/4 ! All hell breaks loose ! A titanic conflct erupts, and you feel as though the world is about to end ! But the orchestra continues to make a huge crescendo , and the snare drum is finally defeated. The player goes off stage ,continuing to play.
    There is a calm postlude with a solo clarinet reflecting on the chaos that has taken place, and it feels as though an enormous struggle has taken place .
    The second movement is an attempt to rise from the ashes of the bizarre first movement . It is in four sections , a vigorous outbirst of affirmation in B mjaor , leading to a nervous fugue in F minor which gradually seems to go completely berserk, eventually calming down and leading to a reflective slow fugue based on theme of the opening of the second movement .
    This leads to a retune to the opening B major . But the music becomes more energetic and urgent , and soon all sense of any key seems to be evaporationg. It shifts to overdrive and seems to be hurtling madding into who knows what . Again, what the heck is going on ? Where is the music leading? What is going to happen ?
    But there is light at the end of the tunnel - the final key of E flat major has been reached , and there is a majestic allargando - the symphony ends in pure,defiant triumph . The ending in e flat major , a key which had never appeared in the symphony, comes almost as a kind of physical shock ! So ends this enigmatic and unique work .

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    Yes, but it's about the music, and the message: the struggle of Man as he emerges victorious from WWI (that whoie snare drum episode that occupies the last few muinutes of the 1st movement before the coda is epic, ut uis pure genius! And probably one of the most memorable sections of the 20th symphonic repertoire IMHO. Wow!

    I simply refuse to get caught in form and what not when you have such great things to say!

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    Love the analysis.

    This work is one of very few in the repertoire that totally engages me from beginning to end without a break. I've heard Horenstein, Bernstein, Blomstedt, and Jensen in this piece - all quite good. Looking forward to hearing Dudamel, Rattle, Davis and the new one coming out from the New York Philharmonic soon.

    As a composer, Nielsen is one of my absolute favorites - especially as a symphonist. He's unique - as unmistakable a voice as there is in music composition. But, more importantly, it's a voice that speaks directly to me. It's a voice that I "get".

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    Me too!....
    Whatever floats your boat

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    No, the strangest symphony of all time is Schnittke's 1st.

    But I agree that Nielson's 5th is an amazing piece of music. Nielson is definitely one of my favorite symphonists.

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    Quote Originally Posted by violadude View Post
    No, the strangest symphony of all time is Schnittke's 1st.

    But I agree that Nielson's 5th is an amazing piece of music. Nielson is definitely one of my favorite symphonists.
    Mine too!

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    Certainly one of the most epic and terrifying!
    First time I heard it was LSO/Davis live (which I now have the CD of :-)). I remember him saying something along the lines of compared to Sibelius, Nielsen is wild!

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    Thanks for the recommendation. Listened once through with NY Phil under Bernstein. (Talk about hot mikes — heard every bit of stand noise and pad clack.) Magnificent orchestration toward the end. Caught onto the fact that the manner in which elements from the early sections return in the peroration is going to be a key to "getting it." But I haven't gotten it. Yet. This one will take a little work — and sounds like it is worth the effort.
    Last edited by EdwardBast; Dec-28-2013 at 03:02.

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    Nielsen's 5th is next weeks 'Saturday Symphony', so a really excellent excuse for us to sit down and give this remarkable work a real good listen and then have some discussion around the different recordings and interpretations
    There will come a time soon when Youtube won't let us do this...

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    Question Fifth and Seventh

    There has been a number of discussions concerning the apparent worth of Shostakovitch's Seventh Symphony. Some love it, others hate it.

    I have been reviewing the various submissions and I have been unable to find any entries that mention the possible connection between the Shostakovitch Seventh and the Nielson Fifth. Does anyone know if Dimtri was familiar Nielson when he composed the Seventh?
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    Interesting question, so I spend some minutes exploring the subject:

    Nielsen´s 5th (1921-1926) was conducted by Furtwängler in 1927 at the ISCM in Frankfurt, and later in that year also by Monteux in Concertgebouw and Horenstein in Königsberg/Kaliningrad. So it quickly gained some international reputation.

    Detlef Gojowy in "Neue Sowjetische Musik der 20er Jahre" brings a list of some the major classical concerts in the USSR of the late 20s, illustrating a very liberal programme and lots of international guest conductors, before Stalin began to uniform the cultural life there (p.436-441). Regular conductors in 1928-29 seasons in Moscow and Leningrad included Scherchen, Ansermet, Klemperer, Walter, Abendroth, Hindemith, Clemens Kraus, and there were many famous other performers from the West (Serkin, Bartok, Szigeti etc.). The list doesn´t specify the concert programmes though.

    A Danish musical magazine published in 1950 a contemporary Soviet magazine´s article on Danish classical music life, to illustrate Soviet aesthetics. The article is extremely propaganda-like, deploring US-influenced and generally decadent taste, but it shows some knowledge on Danish composers (version in Danish http://dvm.nu/periodical/dmt/dmt_195...siktidsskrift/).

    Shostakovich´s friend Sollertinsky - who apparently introduced him to Mahler quite early - might have known Nielsen, cf. this book reference http://books.google.dk/books?id=mZCi...ielsen&f=false where the Soviets are said to be largely unaware of Nielsen, though.

    I´ve only come across one Melodiya recording of a Danish piece of music ever - Nielsen´s Wind Quintet, an LP from around 1965 or so. Nielsen was definitely much lesser known than Sibelius in the USSR.
    Last edited by joen_cph; Dec-28-2013 at 20:19.

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    Among the many fine things about the 5th symphony is the 6th symphony. I have heard several complaints about the disappointment it brings. Personally, it does what I need it to do - repair the stresses that the 5th induced.
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    Maybe I'll give it a listen sometime then since you all recommend him...
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    Listen to no. 3 too. It's a great symphony.

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    So far I only have heard 3 symphonies by Nielsen: the last three. I began listening to them in reverse order and got stuck on no. 5 for ages. I listened to no. 4 after no. 5 and was somewhat disappointed...so whenever I want to listen to Nielsen I always end up listening to his 5th symphony which has become one of my most listened to symphonies by now.

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