Nielsen – Flute Concerto

by Max Derrickson

Carl Nielsen
(Born in Sortelung, on Funen, 1865; died in Copenhagen, 1931)

Flute Concerto
1. Allegro moderato
2. Allegretto – Adagio ma non troppo


In 1921, Nielsen heard the legendary Copenhagen Wind Quintet and was deeply impressed by their artistry.  That same year he wrote one of his greatest works for them, his Wind Quintet, [. . .] With that work’s success, Nielsen vowed to write a concerto for each member of the ensemble – flute, clarinet, oboe, bassoon and horn – based again on their personalities, and he began in 1926 with the flutist, Holger Gilbert-Jespersen (1890-1975).  With that first concerto completed, however, [. . .].

In the years between his early Helios of 1902 and the his penultimate Flute Concerto in 1926, Nielsen had by then reached renown throughout Scandinavia with an impressive array of compositions –[. . .]   But he never abandoned two important aspects of his musical aesthetic – a profound structural logic and always returning to tonality.  As Nielsen wrote, hinting at his love of architecture, “The simplest is the hardest, the universal the most lasting, [. . .] being brilliantly unique.

In the Flute Concerto, Nielsen’s musical values can be well heard, [. . .]  Nielsen captured Jespersen’s personality precisely in sound, but comical antics abound.

Though Nielsen claimed flute melodies should always be “pastoral and sweet,” this was slightly tongue in cheek.  Much of the solo part is lovely and lyrical, but, unpredictably frenetic, [. . .] darting about with staccato (separated notes) melodies staying just [. . .] turns into near frantic yammering.

And all the while there is a nemesis to the flute’s leadership – the trombone and his henchman the timpanist (Nielsen said the trombone represented the composer himself from his youthful days in the town band).  Trombone interruptions will only get worse [. . .] very flutist whose personality the piece mimics, Jespersen, but with a different ending which was perhaps not quite as droll – Nielsen had been ailing [. . .].

The work for the flutist is not, however, all manic-comic, despite its quick-silver sequences.  Nielsen writes many superbly flowing,[. . .] “childlike innocence,” all in mercurial turns, making for a delightful and quirky Concerto.