Hyperion Records

Commotio, Op 58 FS155
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Commotio is one of the last works written by the great Danish composer Carl Nielsen. By then he enjoyed recognition in his homeland as its leading composer, and was more widely established as one of the major symphonists of the first part of this century. He had climbed to preeminence from a childhood background of extreme poverty. His musical career began when he joined a military band in his teens, from where he progressed to become an orchestral violinist in Copenhagen, the city in whose music he was to become a leading figure. In his later years his health was increasingly undermined by heart attacks, which affected more than just his physical well-being.

He was inspired to write for the organ in his last days by Emilius Bangert, the organist of Roskilde Cathedral. Nielsen wrote of Commotio that ‘None of my other works has demanded such great concentration as this.’ The title implies the currents which excite motion in music, and Nielsen saw this as an objective piece. ‘In an extended work for that mighty instrument the organ the composer must try to repress all personal and lyrical feelings. The task … demands a kind of severity instead of sentiment, and must rather be judged by the ear than seized on by the heart.’

Although Commotio was ‘an attempt to recreate the one true organ style’ (of Buxtehude and Bach perhaps), the writing at times seems to be in the same sphere as some of Beethoven’s great contrapuntal piano sonatas—Op 110 for instance. The opening has a similar sense of the fantastic combined with solemnity to that which characterises Bach’s G minor Fantasia for organ, and it is followed by an Andante which flows as if it were a siciliano, from where an angular fugue quietly emerges at a change of key. An ‘Andante sostenuto’ follows, which develops rhapsodically but inevitably to a full close, out of which steals the subject of a jig fugue, the source of a great river of music which sometimes flows furiously, and sometimes with tranquillity, but whose current is relentless.

from notes by Ian Carson © 1994

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