chapter
Carl Nielsen
Pages 12

The works of Carl Nielsen experienced a continuing ebb andflow of popularity in the last half of the 20th century, witheach surge of interest moving them toward wider favor and recognition. Nielsen was regarded as a national hero in Denmark at the time of his death, recognized as a musical figure equal to his direct contemporary in Finland, Jan Sibelius. The dominance of German and Italian music in Denmark made the native son’s artistic achievements all the more noteworthy. He brought Denmark into the 20th century by rejecting the subjectivity of Romanticism, emphasizing instead his own veneration for nature and thorough craftsmanship. That outlook led him to propose that music should appeal to all through its natural and uncomplicated melody. He was active in both art and popular music, producing many songs to Danish texts that his countrymen quickly took to heart. “Music is Life” became a mantra for Nielsen, realized in both his music and literary works. A collection of essays titled Levende musik (Living Music, 1925) affirmed that expression in many contexts, and in Min fynske barndom (My Childhood, 1927) Nielsen described his lifelong fascination with the natural world and his fellow human beings as a part of it. During Nielsen’s early student years, he was a fan of Richard Wagner. Nielsen later objected to the extravagance of such music with the admonition that “the only cure for this sort of taste lies in studying the basic intervals. The glutted must be taught to regard a melodic third as a gift from God, a fourth as an experience, and a fifth as supreme bliss.”1