Carl Nielsen and the Idea of Modernism

February 2011
6 black and white, 46 line illustrations
334 pages
23.4x15.6 cm
ISBN: 9781843835813
Format: Hardback
Library eBook
Boydell Press
BISAC MUS020000, MUS050000

Carl Nielsen and the Idea of Modernism

Daniel M. Grimley

A critical re-evaluation of the music of Carl Nielsen which examines its context and relationship to musical modernism.
Carl Nielsen (1865-1931) is one of the most playful, life-affirming and awkward voices in twentieth-century music. His work resists easy stylistic categorisation or containment, yet its melodic richness and harmonic vitality are immediately appealing and engaging. Nielsen's symphonies, concertos and operas are an increasingly prominent feature of the international repertoire, and his songs remain perennially popular at home in Denmark. But his work has only rarely attracted sustained critical attention within the scholarly community; he remains arguably the most underrated composer of his international generation.
This book offers a critical re-evaluation of Carl Nielsen's music and his rich literary and artistic contexts. Drawing extensively on contemporary writing and criticism, as well as the research of the newly completed Carl Nielsen Edition, the book presents a series of case studies centred on key works in Carl Nielsen's output, particularly his comic opera Maskarade, the Third Symphony (Sinfonia Espansiva), and his final symphony, the Sinfonia Semplice. Topics covered include his relationship with symbolism and fin-de-siècle decadence, vitalism, counterpoint, and the Danish landscape. Running throughout the book is a critical engagement with the idea of musical modernism - a term which, for Nielsen, was fraught with anxiety and yet provided a constant creative stimulus.

DANIEL M. GRIMLEY holds a University Lectureship in Music at Oxford, and is the Tutorial Fellow in Music at Merton College and Lecturer in Music, Landscape at University College. His previous books include Grieg: Music, Landscape and Norwegian Identity (Boydell, 2006) and the Cambridge Companion to Sibelius (Cambridge University Press, 2004).

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Keywords: Music

Table of Contents

Introduction. Carl Nielsen at the Edge
Funen Dreams
Cosmic Variations


One closes Carl Nielsen and the Idea of Modernism grateful for what one has learned [...] and resonating with a striking impression that will not go away. That impression is, to put it in Grimley's terms, simply one of breakthrough. [...] opens the door into understanding, at least in part, how the Danish Nielsen is different in kind from his kindred 'senior' modernists, in Finland, Norway, and England. TWENTIETH CENTURY MUSIC

This well written book offers a broad critical summary of his work through detailed analysis of his musical language. STRINGENDO

[T]he act of airbrushing Nielsen out of musical history has been reversed in uplifting detail: [the] new study from Nordic music scholar Daniel Grimley recasts Nielsen as a visionary - a vital precursor to modernism and a central protagonist in the playground scrap that was 20th-century music. [Andrew Mellor] GROMOPHONE

Nielsen fans will find plenty to feast on. [Philip Clark] GRAMOPHONE

In brief, the result is highly recommendable. Grimley is extremely well read in cultural, literary, and art history, in music theory and music aesthetics of Nielsen's and later times as well as in music history, be it of Scandinavia, United Kingdom, Germany, or France. Thus his readings are very convincing, in analytical detail as well as in the contexts of Danish and European cultural life. A Danish translation should be mandatory. DANISH YEARBOOK OF MUSICOLOGY

Grimley has given us provocative and stimulating new guidelines for understanding Nielsen, not as a marginal figure, but as one very much a part of a cultural generation deeply involved in aesthetic change and renewal. AMERICAN RECORD GUIDE

The book presents some fascinating source material that will interest anyone [...] who believes Nielsen to be one of the truly distinctive geniuses of latter-day symphonic writing. CLASSICAL MUSIC

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