Work: Symphony no 3, Op. 27 "Sinfonia espansiva"
About This Work
Carl Nielsen wished to demonstrate in his third symphony his conviction that music is driven by internal forces that seek to transcend their confines. The work begins with an energetic waltz of enormous scale. The melodic-rhythmic progression of this
melody drives itself forward irresistibly, indeed expansively (the movement is marked Allegro espansiva), introducing several variations to which Nielsen returns throughout the symphony. As the opening theme is transformed and re-invented; one is reminded of Nielsen's fondness for Brahms' use of symphonic form, particularly his "developing variations" principle. The original theme serves as a "seed" that leads to new variations, which in turn give rise to new motifs. The movement ends merrily, almost flippantly, on an unexpected chord.
Nielsen wished to incorporate into the second movement, Andante pastorale, the sights and sounds of his rural childhood on the island of Funen (Fyn) in Denmark. The movement begins idyllically, with horn and strings sighing long, low tones, bringing to mind the shapeless sound of wind in the trees. A increasingly mournful mood creeps slowly into Arkady, while the opening melody is hinted at again in a heavier, more threatening manner. This is resolved by the soothing, wordless entrance of two human voices, baritone and soprano soloists who vocalize on the simple "Ah" vowel. Their contribution expands the tonal color of the orchestral palette. The movement ends with the orchestra and vocalists echoing each other as though in contented communication. Nielsen once expressed a desire to "imagine a music that would be similar to impressionistic painting, where the contours wash out in an atmospheric haze." This movement does just that, creating a rich and ethereal effect.
The third movement, marked Allegretto un poco, opens with a hushed brass fanfare, and proceeds into a flurry of restless energy in the oboe. This restlessness spreads throughout the orchestra, growing in urgency and volume as the movement progresses. As urgency settles slowly into calmness, punctuated only by occasional hushed alarms from individual instruments (violin, clarinet, flute), the oboe speaks again, this time reassuringly, bringing the movement to a peaceful close. The finale, Allegro, begins with a stately march theme. This expansive melody, in which the entire orchestra is involved, sums up the development of the entire work with a grandiose intensification reminiscent of Mahler. The loose ends, both emotional and musical, left by the first two movements are resolved in an exuberant closing.
The symphony proved to be Nielsen's international breakthrough. After its enthusiastic reception in Denmark, Nielsen conducted a performance at the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam, where the symphony was given high praise, launching a series of successful performances throughout Europe. It remains one of Nielsen's most often-performed works.
-- Margaret Godfrey
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