minimalist à la Haydn or Beethoven, building his structures out of the smallest motivic building blocks. “One must show the sated,” he once wrote, “that the melodic interval of a third should be considered a gift from God, the fourth an experience, and a fifth the supreme happiness.” Nielsen’s Third Symphony is certainly not “expansive” in terms of length or profligacy with themes — rather, it shows how much can be accomplished with a few simple materials. It takes an expansive view of human nature, pure and simple, making its way between earth and heaven. It is odd, the way the words “coolness” and “reserve” come to mind when hearing the music of a composer who exploited the full resources of the late Romantic orchestra, but Nielsen combined his Northern personality with a modern quest for objectivity, and he saw the symphony as a rigorous medium. As befitted a disciple of Mozart, he sought out the clear and the colorful in his orchestrations. Nielsen’s hopeful yet unsentimental stance can be a tonic for our troubled new century. He shares with Bruckner not only peasant origins, but a mode of expression that is lucid and direct, sincere and selfless — something of a miracle in the ironic, self indulgent age of Mahler and Strauss during which he wrote. If his music occasionally has a hard, unyielding feeling, it may be because of his desire to create an indestructible gem of expression. In 1890, when Nielsen was 25 years old, he wrote in his diary: “I’ve come to the conclusion that [Carl Maria von] Weber will be forgotten in a hundred years’ time. There is something jelly like about a lot of his music. It is a fact that he who brandishes the hardest fist will be remembered longest. Beethoven, Michelangelo, Bach, Berlioz, Rembrandt, Shakespeare, Goethe, Henrik Ibsen, and the like have all given their time a black eye.” Nevertheless, the music has many houses or mansions, especially in the age of CDs, streaming, and the download. A century later, Weber is a resurgent star in concert halls, while this Northern symphonist, once lionized in his home country, then neglected after his death, is finally standing before us as just himself, with his fist cocked. The Symphony No. 3 opens somewhat in the manner of another “expansive” Third Symphony, Beethoven’s “Eroica” (or Heroic). But here, instead of hammering on the movement’s home chord, Nielsen turns the repeated note A into a stuttering upbeat to a theme in D minor. The vigorous but wayward Severance Hall 2012-13
About the Music
At a Glance Nielsen composed his Symphony No. 3 in 1910-11. The composer led the work’s premiere on February 28, 1912, with the Royal Orchestra in Copenhagen, Denmark. This symphony runs between 35 and 40 minutes in performance. Nielsen scored it for 3 flutes (third doubling piccolo), 3 oboes (third doubling english horn), 3 clarinets, 3 bassoons (third doubling contrabassoon), 4 horns, 3 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, timpani, and strings, plus soprano and bass soloists who vocalise (without text) in the second movement only; Nielsen provided an alternate version of the score with clarinets playing the vocal lines. The Cleveland Orchestra first performed Nielsen’s Third Symphony at a series of concerts in February and March 1966 led by Louis Lane. Sixten Ehrling led a single performance of it during the 1970 Blossom Festival. The Orchestra has presented it on only one other occasion, at a weekend of concerts in March 1984, conducted by Andrew Davis.