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.

    Parts/Movements

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

    Appears On

    Year Title / Performer Label / Catalog # AllMusic Rating
    2015
    BIS
    BIS 2048SACD
    2015
    RCA Red Seal / 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
    2012
    EMI Classics / Warner Classics
    5099967841929
    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
    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
    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
    Deutsche Grammophon
    437507
    Brilliant Classics
    8635/80
    Sony Music Distribution
    45989
    ClassCD
    115
    RCA
    20291
    Dacapo
    224169
    London
    425607
    Classico
    115