Wind Quintet (Nielsen)

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Carl Nielsen's Wind Quintet or, more correctly, the Quintet for Flute, Oboe, Clarinet, French Horn and Bassoon, Op. 43, was composed early in 1922 in Gothenburg, Sweden, where it was first performed privately at the home of Herman and Lisa Mannheimer on 30 April 1922. The first public performance was on 9 October 1922 in the smaller hall at the Odd Fellows Mansion in Copenhagen. It is considered a staple of the repertoire for wind quintet.[1]


According to his biographer Torben Meyer, Carl Nielsen started composing the wind quintet in the autumn of 1921 after hearing four members of the Copenhagen Wind Quintet (flautist: Paul Hagemann, oboist: Svend C. Felumb, clarinettist: Aage Oxenvad, hornist: Hans Sørensen, bassoonist: Knud Lassen) rehearsing the Sinfonia Concertante by Mozart with the pianist Christian Christiansen, whom Nielsen was having a telephone conversation with while the winds rehearsed.[2] It was these musicians he specifically had in mind when he wrote the piece.[3]

British composer and biographer Robert Simpson writes, "Nielsen’s fondness of wind instruments is closely related to his love of nature, his fascination for living, breathing things. He was also intensely interested in human character, and in the Wind Quintet composed deliberately for five friends, each part is cunningly made to suit the individuality of each player."[4]


Wind Quintet, Op. 43

Performed by James Galway (flute) with the Carion quintet

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In a programme note, Nielsen himself provided a description of the work: "The quintet for winds is one of the composer’s latest works, in which he has attempted to render the characters of the various instruments. At one moment they are all talking at once, at another they are quite alone. The work consists of three movements: a) Allegro, b) Minuet and c) Prelude – Theme with Variations. The theme for these variations is the melody for one of C.N.’s spiritual songs, which has here been made the basis of a set of variations, now merry and quirky, now elegiac and serious, ending with the theme in all its simplicity and very quietly expressed."[3] Overall, the piece combines aspects of neo-classicism and modernism.[1]

The first movement is in sonata form, the second is a minuet with a rustic quality and the third opens with a short Praeludium followed by a set of variations.

The first movement begins with a statement of the theme in the bassoon in E followed by a reply in the upper winds before being repeated by the horn in the key of A major, which is then followed by fragmentations of the theme. The second theme enters in D minor and is played first by the horn, followed by the oboe and bassoon, all the while being accompanied by triplet figures in the flute and clarinet. The development begins after a restatement of the first theme. The recapitulation begins in E major and the second theme is in B minor and is now harmonized in thirds with the horn and bassoon. The movement eventually ends in the key of E. Overall, the movement appears to be written in the key of E, the dominant of the following two movements which are predominately in the key of A.[1]

The second movement is fairly neoclassical and scores the horn lightly, allowing the player to rest. The first theme is presented as a duet between the bassoon and clarinet, and similarly, the second theme is also presented a duet between the flute and oboe. This material is fairly simple, and all instruments are present when the first theme recaps. The trio, played by the bassoon, oboe, and flute, is canonic and contrapuntal in nature, contrasting with the simpler first and second themes.[1]

In the Praeludium, the oboe is replaced by the cor anglais, providing a different tone colour to an already colourful work. This change is thought to have been inspired by oboist Felumb's cor anglais solo during a performance of Hector Berlioz's Symphonie Fantastique that Nielsen conducted in Bremen.[2] The variations are based on Nielsen’s own chorale tune Min Jesus, lad min Hjerte faa en saaden Smag paa dig (My Jesus, make my heart to love thee).[4] The variations are the most complex part of the piece and consist of the theme, 11 variations, and a final restatement of the theme.[1]


The first public performance was on 9 October 1922 in the smaller hall at the Odd Fellows Mansion in Copenhagen. It was performed by the five musicians mentioned in the Copenhagen Wind Quintet. The reviews were positive. Berlinske Tidende mentioned the work's "manly seriousness, rhythmic grace, fertile humour... The theme turned out to be Carl Nielsen’s beautiful melody for the hymn My Jesus, let my heart receive (Min Jesus, lad mit Hjerte faa from Halvthundrede Salmer) – only one line of music, but the longing and devotion of a mind are released in these few bars." It concluded that "the members of the Wind Quintet gave the new work an excellent performance and were rewarded with the warmest applause."[3]

The wind quintet was frequently played during the composer’s lifetime, including a performance at the International Music Week in Berlin on 29 March 1923.[3]

Performances today[edit]

On the basis of information from the Carl Nielsen Society, the Wind Quintet is one of Nielsen's most widely performed works, both in Scandinavia and the rest of the world.[5]


  1. ^ a b c d e Ray, Ashley. "Carl Nielsen Wind Quintet opus 43". Ray Ashley. Retrieved 26 February 2014. 
  2. ^ a b "... a whole pile of works". Carl Nielsen Society. Carl Nielsen Society. Retrieved 17 February 2014. 
  3. ^ a b c d "Carl Nielsen: Chamber Music 2", Carl Nielsen Edition, Royal Danish Library. Retrieved 26 October 2010.[dead link]
  4. ^ a b "Carl Nielsen: Quintet for Wind Instruments, Op.43 (1922)", Sierra Chamber Society Program Notes. Retrieved 10 November 2010.
  5. ^ "Performances", Carl Nielsen Society. Retrieved 30 October 2010.

External links[edit]