Op 45 is perhaps Nielsen’s single most important work for piano, which he completed in summer 1919. Here the scheme involves the gradual emergence, from cell-like beginnings, of B flat as the work’s ultimate goal and ‘home key’ (in the expressive as well as structural sense). B flat first appears as the pivotal bass pedal in the first movement, and then as an element in the strange unearthly sonority which opens the second. The third movement, a stirring Molto adagio, begins confidently in G minor, only to close in B flat—but the status of B flat as a tonic is only provisional at this stage, and the fourth and fifth movements make no reference to this tonality at all. Indeed, it is not until the dramatic Hammerklavier
-like quavers of the very closing bars of the finale that B flat is genuinely established as a stable reference point, and the piece can be brought to a decisive conclusion. Nielsen originally referred to the work as ‘Ild og Vand’ (‘Fire and Water’), a reference to the music’s elemental nature that may also have inspired its later subtitle, Luciferisk
(‘The Luciferian’), which Nielsen used for the first performance in March 1921 but later dropped. Nielsen was evidently thinking of Lucifer as the bringer of fire and light, rather than in his more satanic incarnation, although there are times, particularly in the third and final movements, when the music almost feels possessed by some kind of demonic spirit. Yet the Suite
also shares Nielsen’s earlier preoccupations with Baroque counterpoint, Mozartian elegance, and Haydnesque inventiveness: it is amongst Nielsen’s most powerfully diverse and eclectic works.
from notes by Daniel Grimley © 2008