Tuesday, June 9, 2015

The Nielsen Sesquicentenial

Today, June 9, is Carl Nielsen's 150th birthday, an important anniversary, to my mind, that is going unnoticed in this country. (I wonder if there's anything planned at Tivoli.) Nielsen is an underrated composer -- Bernard Holland of the Times once described him as something like "north of good, but south of great," but we all know what a wheezy old mossback Bernard Holland was -- and he tends to get overlooked in favor of Sibelius, as if one great composer from Scandinavia is all the traffic will bear. (And Finland isn't even really technically Scandinavia.)

Be that as it may, his music has meant a great deal to me ever since I first caught his Fourth Symphony, "The Inextinguishable," on the radio when I was in high school.

Nielsen is best known for his six symphonies and his three concertos, of course, but he wrote much else, including two full-length operas -- Hey, Philadelphia Opera Company, how about staging Maskarade? -- a beautiful Wind Quintet, and some extraordinary piano music. His memoir, My Childhood, is vivid, delightful, touching, and very hard to find. I stumbled across a copy once at a chain bookstore in White Oak, Maryland. It was much too expensive, but I snapped it up nonetheless. I haven't seen another copy since.

Today is a major musical occasion, and in a just world, it would be worth a day off from work.

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