Carl Nielsen

Symphony No. 1 in G minor, FS 16 (Op. 7)

    Description by Joseph Stevenson

    Audiences at the March 14, 1894, premiere in Copenhagen of this symphony by a new young Danish composer were charmed to see a handsome and shy young man rise from his desk among the second violins and step forward to take the composer's bows. The audience, which included the King and Queen and other members of the royal family, was enthusiastic and called him back for three bows. The most influential critic of the day, Charles Kjerulf, was not as happy: He called the symphony "unsettled and violent in its harmonies and modulations." It was not really appreciated until it was played in Berlin in 1896, where it was great admiration and praise.

    Kjerulf was correct in identifying the most distinguished and historically important aspect of the symphony (although posterity disagrees with his judgment about them). In this highly organized, amazingly logical work Nielsen was treating harmony and tonality -- and the modulations between keys -- in an original way. He was consciously seeking to avoid the Wagnerian path of extended chromatic harmony, which confused the tonal center of the music. Instead of weakening tonality (the notion that ultimately led to atonality), Nielsen found a way to apply tonality. The older way was to establish that a piece was "in" a key, a basic tonality stated at the beginning and which rules the whole musical structure. Beginning with this first symphony, Nielsen treated a particular key as the goal of the piece, but usually withheld this key until the end. Thus, this symphony starts firmly in C major. Nielsen is also freed from the need to resolve the tensions set up by the progressions of his chords through the various tonal areas of the work, allowing a symphony-long structure of tension and partial release.

    The first movement is marked to be played "proudly" and can be taken as a self-portrait in music. The slow movement is a deeply moving piece that gives the impression of being a nature portrait. However, it is not slow and pastoral, but contains some sense of urgency. The third movement is more complex than the usual scherzo, and has interesting different rhythms under the overall 6/4 time signature. The fourth movement again begins in C major; with a powerful, athletic flow it reaches a deeply satisfying conclusion in which G minor is finally achieved.

    The symphony was highly successful and was published nearly at once. But it also stirred jealousy among Nielsen's contemporaries, resentful that a "mere second violinist" had suddenly emerged as a major voice among young European composers.


    1. Allegro orgoglioso
    2. Andante
    3. Allegro comodo - Andante sostenuto
    4. Finale. Allegro con fuoco

    Appears On

    Year Title Label Catalog #
    2015 BIS BIS 2048SACD
    2015 Sony Classical 88875178802
    2015 Dacapo 6200003
    2015 Chandos CHAN 108593
    2015 RCA Red Seal 88875052182
    2015 LSO / LSO Live LSO 0789
    2014 Dacapo 6220624
    2013 Alto MCSCD 2505
    2012 LSO Live LS 00715
    2012 Membran / Scandinavian Classics 233378
    2012 Brilliant Classics 94419
    2012 EMI Classics / Warner Classics 5099967841929
    2012 EMI Classics
    2012 Fazer / Finlandia
    2012 Fazer / Finlandia
    2011 Dacapo 8206002
    2010 Decca / Eloquence 4801858
    2010 BIS 183940
    2008 EMI Classics / Warner Classics 5099951942
    2008 Naxos 8570737
    2007 Scandinavian Classics 220507
    2007 EMI Classics / Warner Classics 5099950082
    2006 Brilliant 92885
    2005 EMI Classics
    2005 DG Deutsche Grammophon 000459602
    2004 Chandos CHANX10271
    2003 Elatus 2564604312
    2003 EMI Music Distribution 74188
    2003 Accord 4760944
    2003 Scandinavian Classics 220565
    2003 Classico 296/9
    2002 Dacapo 8203130
    2002 BIS 1079
    2002 Classico 299
    2000 Chandos 9163
    1999 Danacord 351353
    1999 EMI Music Distribution 65306
    1999 Decca 460 985-2DF2
    1998 Chandos 7094
    1995 Naxos 550826
    1995 RCA 74321 20290-2
    1995 Dutton Laboratories CDLXT2502
    1994 BIS 454
    1994 BIS 614
    1994 Chandos 9260
    1993 Kontra Punkt 32157
    1991 Chandos CHAN8880
    1990 RCA 7701
    DG Deutsche Grammophon 437507
    Brilliant Classics 8635/80
    Sony Music Distribution 45989
    ClassCD 115
    RCA 20291
    London 425607
    Dacapo 224169
    Classico 115