Listening Log- [Pt. II – Proj. 1] Carl August Nielsen’s Symphony No. 5, Op  50

Symphony No. 5, Op  50 – Carl August Nielsen

“Yes, how should I explain it? I roll a stone up a hill, use the energy I have in me to get the stone up to a high point. And there the stone lies still. The energy is tied up in it – until I give it a kick, and the same energy is released and the stone rolls down again. But you just mustn’t see this as a programme!’

This is the closest Nielsen himself came to describing Symphony No. 5. Having been composed between 1920-1922 critics have presumed that the battle between good and evil depicted in the symphony must refer to WWI which had just ended. Nielsen himself stated that this was not a conscious attempt at writing a ‘War Symphony’ but a description of opposing forces, the ‘active’ versus the ‘vegetative state of mind. Regardless of Nielsen’s intentions it is a very clear juxtaposition of chaos versus order. Expressed as a duel between a single renegade snare drum battling against an entire orchestra playing it’s own obstinate ostinato, in it’s own time signature and tempo. Beautiful melodies rise out of an undulating ostinato string section. The key is ambiguous and flirts with different tonal centres only for the symphony to end on an entirely different key creating a long musical journey. The structure of the symphony was unique and characteristic of Nielsen. The piece itself is Modernist in nature. The symphony is in two movements. The second movement have often been described as more intellectual and less affecting. Perhaps any piece of music following the wild, primal abandon of the first movement would be destined to come across as tame. In spite of this, the second movements progresses and builds the symphony to a triumphant conclusion.