Carl Nielsen – Fifth Symphony (1922)
(b. Nørre-Lyndelse near Odense, 9 June 1865 – d. Copenhagen, 3 October 1931
If you are a regular listener to classical music, the following might have happened to you. You are listening to a piece of music that you have never heard before, and suddenly, you are struck by musical lightning: this passage sounds so familiar! Even when you don’t know why exactly, it is as if you heard it before – a ‘déjà entendu’. Something of the kind happened to me when I heard Nielsen’s Fifth Symphony for the first time. While at first I couldn’t quite figure out the resemblance, a bit later I realized what it was: Maurice Ravel’s Boléro. The high-pitched clarinet solo towards the end of the first movement did the trick, together with a very generous serving of snare drum.
This listening experience tickled my musical memory and my musicological curiosity at the same time: could the two compositions be related? Ravel’s Boléro was composed in the summer of 1928 and premiered in the Paris Opera on 22 November 1928. A quick search taught me, however, that Carl Nielsen’s Symphony premiered in… 1922. Might it be that Ravel took some cues for his Boléro from Nielsen’s Fifth Symphony instead?
Nielsen wrote his Fifth Symphony between October 1920 and January 1922. The music was first performed on 24 January 1922 at the Copenhagen Musikforeningen, exactly nine days after the composer had completed his fair draft of the score. At the end of 1926, the full score of the symphony was published. It was his first symphony in thirty years that did not bear a programmatic title. …
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