Nielsen – Four Selections from Aladdin Suite, Op. 34 FS 89

by Max Derrickson

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

Four Selections from Aladdin Suite, Op. 34 FS 89

  1. The Festival March
  2. Hindu Dance
  3. Chinese Dance
  4. Negro Dance

It was 1918 during the final months of a harrowing World War, and Denmark was experiencing the similar deprivations as other European countries during the War despite remaining “neutral.”  So a Danish theater magnate, Adam Oehlenschlaeger, decided to stage a lavish production to raise his countrymen’s spirits.  The idea was to bring the mind far away to a colorful, mystical land: the Orient.  He based the piece after the fabled tale of Aladdin from the 1001 Arabian Nights tale and asked Carl Nielsen to write the incidental music [. . .] Nielsen actually knew Middle Eastern music intimately, having traveled in Turkey [. . .]  but the edits and changes committed by Oehlenschlaeger peeved Nielsen so much that he demanded his name be taken off the credits.  Nielsen quickly created his own concert suite using seven of the incidental musicales, and tonight we hear four of them.

Though the genre of the work was “Oriental” in flavor (as Western Europeans of the time imagined this “exotic” land), Nielsen deliberately chose not to play on the stereotypical sounds [. . .] – but this was decidedly not cliché and intended to be of a higher dignity for these ancient civilizations.

From the start, however, there is no doubt that Nielsen was in the mood for atmosphere and swashbuckle.  The Festival March is terrifically regal and [. . .] The Chinese Dance so obviously avoids the gongs and pentatonic scales that Nielsen’s early 20th Century would have expected that it might have seemed disconcerting to his first audiences, [. . .]  The Negro Dance, again, is completely inauthentic from an ethnological standpoint – [. . .]  Originally, this finale employed chorus, but the instrumental version alone is incredibly exciting, with pounding timpani,        [. . .]