Symphony No. 4 (Nielsen)
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Symphony No. 4 "The Inextinguishable" (Danish: Det Uudslukkelige), Op. 29, FS 76, by Danish composer Carl Nielsen, was completed in 1916. Composed against the backdrop of the First World War, this symphony is among the most dramatic that Nielsen wrote, featuring a "battle" between two sets of timpani.
I have an idea for a new composition, which has no programme but will express what we understand by the spirit of life or manifestations of life, that is: everything that moves, that wants to live ... just life and motion, though varied—very varied—yet connected, and as if constantly on the move, in one big movement or stream. I must have a word or a short title to express this; that will be enough. I cannot quite explain what I want, but what I want is good.
Nielsen concentrated on this until 1916, and named his 4th symphony "The Inextinguishable" (Det Uudslukkelige). The name does not apply to the symphony itself, but rather to "that which is inextinguishable". In his notes for the symphony, Nielsen refers to "the elemental will to live".
The symphony is scored for 3 flutes (one doubling piccolo), 3 oboes, 3 clarinets, 3 bassoons (one doubling contrabassoon), 4 horns in F, 3 trumpets in C, 3 trombones, tuba, 2 sets of timpani, and strings.
The symphony's four movements are played without breaks, this is called attacca subito (literally "attack quickly; suddenly"). The first movement begins with a fierce tutti pitting D minor against its flat seventh, C, in an almost antiphonal manner. After the tutti, the clarinets introduce in A major the lyrical theme that will culminate the work. The second movement, for woodwind in G major, is more an intermezzo than the expected adagio. This function is fulfilled by the third movement, which opens with a cantilena from unison violins, then builds to a climax before concluding with a single oboe playing over trills in the upper strings. The clashes of the first movement reappear in the final movement, in which two sets of timpani duel from either side of the orchestra. This passage unusually calls on the two timpanists to change the pitch of the timpani while playing. At the very end E major emerges as the key to conclude the work.
The most recorded of Nielsen's symphonies, No. 4 presents some unique problems to the interpreter. In the revised version of his analysis, Robert Simpson devotes nearly a page to "features that can lead the exhibitionist conductor astray", mostly relating to matters of tempo.
The contrabassoon (played by the third bassoonist) has only one note to play in the symphony: the single, held note is a written B2 (the second line of the staff for contrabassoon, sounding an octave lower) and opens the coda of the fourth movement accompanied by timpani. The remainder of the third bassoon part, in contrast, occupies the player with many notes.
Notable recordings include:
- Danish National Radio Symphony Orchestra/Thomas Jensen (Danacord)
- Danish National Radio Symphony Orchestra/Launy Grøndahl (Dutton)
- Danish National Radio Symphony Orchestra/Michael Schoenwandt (Dacapo)
- Royal Danish Orchestra/Igor Markevitch (Deutsche Grammophon)
- Chicago Symphony Orchestra/Jean Martinon (RCA)
- San Francisco Symphony/Herbert Blomstedt (Decca)
- Royal Scottish National Orchestra/Bryden Thomson (Chandos)
- Halle Orchestra/Sir John Barbirolli (D Classics; EMI)
- Berliner Philharmoniker/Herbert von Karajan (Deutsche Grammophon)
- Göteborg Symphony Orchestra/Neeme Järvi (Deutsche Grammophon) (2011)
- New York Philharmonic Orchestra/Leonard Bernstein (Sony Classical)
On the basis of information from the Carl Nielsen Society, Symphony No. 4 is one of Nielsen's most widely performed works and his second most popular symphony.
- Schousboe, Torben, ed. (1983). Carl Nielsen: Dagbøger og brevveksling med Anne Marie Carl-Nielsen [Carl Nielsen: Diaries and exchange of letters with Anne Marie Carl-Nielsen] (in Danish). Copenhagen: Gyldendal. pp. 674 (2 volumes). ISBN 87-00-03901-2. Selected in collaboration with Irmelin Eggert Møller (née Nielsen).
- Simpson, Robert (1952). Carl Nielsen, Symphonist, 1865–1931. London: J. M. Dent. p. 236. ASIN B0000CIDKO. See pages 66–83. First edition (reprinted by Hyperion Press ISBN 0-88355-715-0).
- Simpson, Robert (1979). Carl Nielsen, Symphonist. London: Kahn & Averill. p. 260. ISBN 0-900707-46-1. See pages 76–91. Second edition completely revised with additional chapter.