A Danish Affirmation of Life from Carl Nielsen: Sinfonia Espansiva

Carl Nielsen listening to the rehersal of Saul og David in Gothenburg in 1928.(Photo: Charles Carlsson, Handelstidningen)
Carl Nielsen listening to the rehersal of Saul og David in Gothenburg in 1928.(Photo: Charles Carlsson, Handelstidningen)

Danish composer Carl Nielsen spoke of the first movement of his Sinfonia espansiva as “a gust of energy and life-affirmation blown out into the wide world,” and called the finale of his Third Symphony “a hymn to work and the healthy activity of everyday life.”

Carl Nielsen’s music can seem more outgoing and extrovert than that of fellow Scandinavian composer Jean Sibelius from Finland, but the slow movements in Nielsen’s symphonies also show inward reflection.  In his Third Symphony, he adds two wordless human voices, a soprano and baritone, to the serene second movement “to underscore the peaceful mood that one could imagine in Paradise before the fall….”

In the world presented by the Danish composer in this music, the realms of nature and human life are harmoniously intertwined, rather than the sometimes remote and austere natural world felt in Sibelius’s music.

This evening on Symphony @ 7, I have this energetic and life-affirming work from 1911 as the main musical offering.  To keep things lively, the other music on the program will be Maurice Ravel’s jazz-inspired Piano Concerto in G from 1931.  Join me here on Classical 101.

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