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Concerto for flute and orchestra, FS119


The Danish composer Carl Nielsen wrote only three concertos during his lifetime: for violin, clarinet and flute. Despite being few in number, they form a significant part of his output as a whole alongside his six substantial symphonies. The three concertos all came into being in the latter part of Nielsen’s life, with the flute and clarinet concertos coming particularly late in 1926 and 1928 respectively. The flute concerto was Nielsen’s first major work following the completion of his sixth and final symphony in the previous year, and was composed for the flautist Holger Gilbert-Jespersen. It was intended to be the first of a series of concertos for each wind instrument, but in the event he was only able to complete two of these projected works.

Ill-health had dogged Nielsen for much of 1926 and he had composed very little up to the summer of that year. However, in August, he travelled to Munich as part of a group who were to listen to radios in the city and subsequently advise on the technology that was to be fitted as part of a new radio mast in the Danish city of Kalundborg. In Munich, Nielsen was able to work on the flute concerto, the manuscript of which he had brought with him, and from here he was to travel to Florence and Tuscany where progress on the concerto continued apace before ill-health interrupted once more in September. The concerto was due to be premiered in Paris on 21 October, and with time running short to complete the work prior to the first performance, Nielsen had to assign a temporary conclusion to the concerto for its first performance. The concerto, conducted by Emil Telmányi, was lauded in Paris, despite its incomplete state, and it wasn’t until the end of January 1927 in Copenhagen that the flute concerto was heard complete for the first time, having received a further ‘incomplete’ performance in Oslo in November 1926 under the baton of Nielsen.

In referring to the flute concerto Nielsen stated ‘the flute cannot deny its own nature, its home is in Arcadia and it prefers pastoral moods. Hence, the composer has had to follow the mild character of the instrument if he did not want to run the risk of being called a barbarian’. The concerto consists of only two movements, the first an energetic Allegro moderato and the second an allegretto, concluding with a settled Adagio. Throughout the concerto the particular nature of the flute as regarded by Nielsen is clear, with emphasis on its idyllic qualities, sometimes almost exaggerated.

In referring to the concerto Nielsen described the opening movement as lightly discordant with the beginning ‘if anything, kept in a free, improvisatory style […] the solo instrument moves about as if seeking something, until it takes hold of a more decisive motive’. Heavily featured throughout the concerto is the bass trombone, which, as the direct opposite of the flute, acts almost as a nemesis throughout, providing much lovable humour and interplay between the two instruments. The flute reacts strongly to the series of interruptions and occasionally heated conversations with its opposite number, which eventually lead up to the revelatory moment where the bass trombone, in much the wrong key, unwittingly discovers the resolution of the music, providing an unexpectedly reconciled ending.

from notes by Adam Binks © 2010


Nielsen: Flute & Clarinet Concertos
SIGCD477Download only 3 March 2017 Release
Liebermann: Flute Concerto; Nielsen: Flute Concerto; Poulenc: Flute Sonata
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Mozart & Nielsen: Flute Concertos
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