About this Recording
8.553908 - NIELSEN, C.: String Quartets, Vol. 2

Carl Nielsen (1865-1931)
String Quartets Volume 2
String Quartet in F minor, Op. 5; String Quartet in G minor, Op. 13

The Danish composer Carl Nielsen was born in 1865, the son of a painter and village musician in whose band he had his earliest musical experience playing the violin. In 1879, after learning to play the cornet, he joined a military orchestra at Odense and by 1884 had been able, with the help of sponsors, to enter the Royal Danish Conservatory in Copenhagen as a student of the violin, piano and music theory. After graduation in 1886 his compositions began to win a hearing, with a significant success in 1888 for his Little Suite, scored for strings. The following year he became a violinist in the royal chapel, broadening still further his musical experience and in particular his knowledge of the music of Wagner, a subject of serious study for him in Germany in 1890. It was here that he began the first of his six symphonies, completed in 1892. The previous year had brought a visit to Paris and a meeting with the sculptress Anne Marie Brodersen, whom he married, travelling together with her to Italy, before the couple returned to Denmark in the summer.

Nielsen's work as a violinist in the royal chapel continued until 1905, when jealousies eased him out of his position. Now, however, there was a growing demand for his services as a conductor, particularly of his own works, and in 1908 he succeeded Johan Svendsen as conductor at the Royal Theatre, a position he held until 1914. His growing international reputation, particularly through his symphonies, led to invitations to conduct abroad, while at home he took a leading part in the musical life of Denmark, teaching at the Copenhagen Conservatory and later joining the governing body of that institution and serving the cause of national musical education. He died in 1931.

The leading Danish composer of his generation, Nielsen left, in addition to his six remarkable symphonies, two operas, concertos for violin and for clarinet and a number of other orchestral compositions. To choral works and songs may be added a wind quintet, which enjoys continued popularity, three violin sonatas, a small quantity of music for the piano, a string quintet and five completed string quartets. The first of these last, the String Quartet in D minor, completed in 1882, remained unpublished in the composer's lifetime, while the String Quartet in G minor, Opus 13, completed in 1888, was revised ten years later. The String Quartet in F minor, Opus 5, was written in 1890, to be followed in 1898 by the String Quartet in E flat major, Opus 14. A work for string quartet, Piacevolezza, Opus 19, written in 1906, was revised in 1919 as the String Quartet in F major, Opus 44.

The String Quartet in F minor, Opus 5, was the first to be published. Nielsen wrote the first movement in Copenhagen and the other movements during the course of travel abroad. In a letter to his teacher at the Conservatory, Orla Rosenhoff, he describes the performance of the quartet, after five rehearsals, for Joachim in Berlin. Nielsen himself remarks on the difficulty posed to players by the modulations and enharmonic changes of notes, and it seems that Joachim himself found something not to his taste here. Nielsen, however, rejected Joachim's suggestions, which seemed to centre precisely on those elements that he himself found most attractive, Joachim modestly withdrew his criticisms, declaring himself only an old Philistine and realising that Nielsen would achieve much. The work was well received at its first public performance in April 1892 and was soon heard widely in Denmark and abroad.

The first movement, marked Allegro non troppo, ma energico, is startling in the vigour of its opening subject, leading to a lyrical Schubertian secondary theme, introduced by the cello. A closing section, largely underpinned by the dominant of the cello, is followed by a repetition of the exposition. The material is skilful1y developed and returns in final recapitulation, the viola now offering a changed version of the second 2 subject. The C major slow movement allows viola and cello to introduce the principal theme, given its full form by the first violin. The music shifts into a tenser C minor, before the return of the main theme, now entrusted to the cello. The original key returns for the Scherzo, introduced by the rapid notes of the first violin, accompanied by the plucked notes of the rest of the quartet. There is a trio section in C major, underpinned by the repeated drone of the cello, before the return of the first section of the movement and a final coda. The Finale is again in tripartite sonata-allegro form, with a forthright first subject, a gentler second subject, central development, recapitulation and a dramatic and exciting final section.

The String Quartet in G minor, Opus 13, was first performed on 3rd February 1898, ten years after its composition and now in a new revision. It was published in 1900, with a dedication to Johan Svendsen. There is a certain tension in the first theme, relaxing into a lyrical secondary theme from the cello. There is ample scope for modulation in the central development, ending in strident chords that usher in an abridged recapitulation, its second subject now first entrusted to the first violin. The slow movement opens in E flat major and is in a lilting 9/8 metre. This frames a more excited central section in G minor, but shifting markedly in key as it progresses. The C minor Scherzo hints at Nielsen's early musical experiences in his native village particularly in the central G major Trio, with its characteristic bass. The last movement has the original feature of an overt declaration, in the recapitulation, so signalled in the score, that there is here a résumé of earlier themes, the principal themes of the third and first movements, set in counterpoint one against the other. This reminiscence is placed between the first and second subjects, the latter followed by a coda that again alludes to the main theme of the first movement, an attempt at a measure of cyclic unity.

Keith Anderson

Oslo String Quartet
The Oslo String Quartet was established in connection with the Mozart bicentennial in 1991 and quickly won an important position in the concert life of Scandinavia. The leader of the quartet, Geir Inge Lotsberg, has served as leader of the Bergen Philharmonic and the Norwegian State Opera Orchestra, with the violinist Per Kristian Skalstad as co-leader in the latter. The violist Are Sandbakken is co-principal violist of the Oslo Philharmonic Orchestra and Øystein Sonstad is principal cellist with the Trondheim Soloists. The young quartet performs regularly at Norwegian music festivals such as the Bergen International Music Festival and has benefited from the advice of Andras Mihály of the Budapest Liszt Academy as well as from members of the Borodin Quartet.

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