Carl (August) Nielsen

Carl Nielsen (1865-1931)

Nationality: Danish
Born: June 9, 1865, Sortelung, Funen
Died: October 3, 1931, Copenhagen (age 66)
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String Quartet No. 4 in F major, Op. 44, FS 36, Piacevolezza

(for 2 violins, viola and cello)
7:49
I. Allegro non tanto e comodo
7:47
II. Adagio con sentimento religioso
3:42
III. Allegretto moderato ed innocente
6:17
IV. Molto adagio - Allegro non tanto, ma molto scherzoso
Duration: 27 minutes (approximately) - hide movement times
Composed: between 1906-1919 (age 41-54)
First performance: November 30, 1907. Copenhagen, small hall of the Odd Fellow Palæ (original version)
Published: 1923 (age 57-58)
Revised: 1919 (age 53-54)
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4 recordings, 13 videos
7:53
Danish String Quartet
I. Allegro non tanto e comodo
7:51
Danish String Quartet
II. Adagio con sentimento religioso
3:40
Danish String Quartet
III. Allegretto moderato ed innocente
6:40
Danish String Quartet
IV. Molto adagio - Allegro non tanto, ma molto scherzoso
7:30
Koppel Quartet
I. Allegro non tanto e comodo
6:57
Koppel Quartet
II. Adagio con sentimento religioso
3:35
Koppel Quartet
III. Allegretto moderato ed innocente
5:57
Koppel Quartet
IV. Molto adagio - Allegro non tanto, ma molto scherzoso
8:03
Oslo String Quartet
I. Allegro non tanto e comodo
8:34
Oslo String Quartet
II. Adagio con sentimento religioso
3:51
Oslo String Quartet
III. Allegretto moderato ed innocente
6:14
Oslo String Quartet
IV. Molto adagio - Allegro non tanto, ma molto scherzoso
27:23
Zapolski Quartet

From Kai Christiansen:

Carl Nielsen, 1865-1931

String Quartet No. 4 in F major, Op. 44, 1906, revised in 1919

Carl NielsenThough Carl Nielsen was an exact contemporary of Jean Sibelius, his recognition and acceptance into the repertoire came much later. During the 1930's, Sibelius was widely regarded as one of the great living composers while Nielsen would have been largely unknown outside of Denmark. It was primarily under the aegis and baton of Leonard Bernstein in the 1960's that Nielsen came to light as another significant 20th century European composer now celebrated for his five symphonies, some concerti and a reasonable clutch of chamber compositions including four string quartets and a one-movement quintet. As with Sibelius, Nielsen's style is largely rooted in late romantic tonality though marked by a more contemporary freedom of tonal migration (sometimes called "progressive tonality") and well as relaxed formal plans. Beyond these vague generalizations, Nielsen's music is well-crafted, superbly scored and very much of a unique, individual style. His final String Quartet No. 4 in F major, Op. 44 is a well-kept secret: rarely played but well worth appreciating.

Nielsen originally composed this quartet in 1906 under the title Piacevolezza, meaning a pleasantry, something simply pleasing. Nearly thirteen years later, he revised it for a fresh premiere in 1919 with publication following in 1923 as Op. 44. The notion of a pleasantry suggests a serenade or divertimento, and the quartet has an overall gestalt of something genial, gallant and almost literally classical in the manner of Haydn and Mozart albeit with Nielsen's "neoclassical" transformation. But some of the pleasure is a direct reflection of Nielsen's own delight in having composed the piece. He wrote, "I am starting to know the true nature of string instruments. It is indeed peculiar that one can court and cajole a tender being such as a string quartet for many years before she surrenders. Only now do I consider myself to have reached some sort of accord with its chaste, fugitive character."

The originality of Nielsen's quartet is immediately evident from the beginning. Rather than a rousing first movement sonata form, possibly with pregnant introduction, the quartet begins with a moderate triple-meter dance with the character of a middle movement scherzo or slow movement in a rondo form. Swaying with pleasant languor that is rich with changing textures and colors, it sustains a continuous evolving development producing a wealth of material in a seamless sweep. Nielsen is a skillful contrapuntalist throughout the quartet beginning with a prominent fugato section midway through the Allegro. His love of Viennese classicism is particularly evident in this opening movement though it is given a modern tartness of both harmony and sonority.

The Adagio is a beautiful slow movement very much in the character of Nielsen's title, con sentimento religioso. It begins with the four-part blended unity of a hymn sounding far older than 1906. The texture soon splits into top and bottom with a mellifluous exchange of melody, accompaniment and imitation that suggests a serenade for string orchestra. But the music grows more introspective and probing as the opening four-note motive returns for a contrapuntal exploration (another fugato section) and a dissolve back into the chaste hymn that continues to flower further over time until it meets a reverent conclusion featuring soft, individual voices.

Nielsen continues his exploration of diverse textures and sonorities with the third movement Allegretto, an atmospheric and mercurial scherzo in a relaxed, brief form suggesting a little intermezzo within the serenade. Despite is deft vigor and scherzando character, it is not in a triple meter (like the first movement) but based entirely on two and four counts evenly subdivided.

The finale is lively and lyrical mixing contemporary quirkiness with sections that sound nearly like Dvořák. Nielsen's consistently fine scoring for rich color, sonority and rhythmic gesture is the connection. But his surface piacevolezza is darkened with a return to contrapuntal meditation with a third fugato section along with the dissolution of the quartet into fragmented solo voices and a fascinating breakdown of rhythm alla Beethoven. But nothing is quite as serious as its sounds and the occasional use of almost "sour" dissonances injects a fleeting levity that is almost ironically neoclassical. Nielsen's music is neither "traditional" nor forbiddingly modern. Its exact "vintage" is elusive but its successful originality is entirely clear.

© Kai Christiansen. Used by permission. All rights reserved.




From Silvertrust:

Carl NielsenNielsen's Fourth and final String Quartet was composed in 1906. However, it had to wait nearly two decades until it was finally published. This work is written in a completely different musical language than his three preceding quartets. Here, Nielsen was making no attempt to scale the heights of emotion. The Quartet was originally subtitled, Piacevolezza, which can be translated as agreeable and charming. Thus the goal he set for himself was to write an appealing modern work, and in this he eminently succeeded.

Per Larson, writing in The Chamber Music Journal, describes the work as follows: "The opening movement, Allegro non tanto e comodo, was originally marked Allegro piacevolo ed indolente. One could easily make the argument that this movement is a perfect example of studied casualness by a composer who was an expert at creating music of a specific character whenever he chose. For his treatment of the thematic material, Nielsen proceeds exactly as an early 20th century Mozart might have—not an ersatz neo-classical Mozart, but a real 20th century one.

The second movement, Adagio con sentimentio religioso, is an extraordinarily fine example of a choral fantasy. It shows Nielsen's preoccupation with the Danish national song style. The third movement is a very striking Allegretto moderato ed innocento, a playful scherzo full of surprises and unexpected twists and turns. The theme begins in an quiet and unassuming fashion but is suddenly interrupted by a forte glissando followed by a powerful crash of 8 32nd notes. This in turn is then followed by a cute and charming rondo section. The trio is equally fine, beginning with a singing melody in the cello. Rather than proceeding a la Verdi, Nielsen introduces all of the others into the fray and creates a brief dramatic crescendo before returning to the main section.

The finale, begins with a very brief Molto adagio introduction which is really nothing more than a few double stops held for several beats. Then, the main section, Allegro non tanto, ma molto scherzoso, is let loose. What begins as a rondo has many unusual interludes, some slow and a bit wayward. The uplifting and lyrical second theme which is given a brief fugal treatment, perhaps can be considered as the apotheosis of of the entire work: Light-hearted, but with a tinge of worldly wisdom. Overall, the music is buoyant, charming and at times full of humor. A fine work that should be in the repertoire and which should provide no great technical problems for amateurs."

Carl Nielsen (1865-1931) achieved international recognition as a composer and even today is regarded as Denmark’s most important 20th century composer. This is largely due to the reputation of his symphonies. Unfortunately, his excellent chamber music has remained almost unknown outside of Denmark.

© Edition Silvertrust. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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