Carl Nielsen

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String Quartet No.4 in F Major, Op.44

Nielsen's Fourth and final String Quartet was composed in 1906. However, it had to wait nearly two decades until it was finally published. This work is written in a completely different musical language than his three preceding quartets.  Here, Nielsen was making no attempt to scale the heights of emotion. The Quartet was originally subtitled, Piacevolezza, which can be translated as agreeable and charming. Thus the goal he set for himself was to write an appealing modern work, and in this he eminently succeeded.


Per Larson, writing in The Chamber Music Journal, describes the work as follows:


"The opening movement, Allegro non tanto e comodo, was originally marked Allegro piacevolo ed indolente. One could easily make the argument that this movement is a perfect example of studied casualness by a composer who was an expert at creating music of a specific character whenever he chose. For his treatment of the thematic material, Nielsen proceeds exactly as an early 20th century Mozart might have—not an ersatz neo-classical Mozart, but a real 20th century one.


The second movement, Adagio con sentimentio religioso, is an extraordinarily fine example of a choral fantasy. It shows Nielsen's preoccupation with the Danish national song style. The third movement is a very striking Allegretto moderato ed innocento, a playful scherzo full of surprises and unexpected twists and turns. The theme begins in an quiet and unassuming fashion but is suddenly interrupted by a forte glissando followed by a powerful crash of 8 32nd notes. This in turn is then followed by a cute and charming rondo section. The trio is equally fine, beginning with a singing melody in the cello. Rather than proceeding a la Verdi, Nielsen introduces all of the others into the fray and creates a brief dramatic crescendo before returning to the main section.


The finale, begins with a very brief Molto adagio introduction which is really nothing more than a few double stops held for several beats. Then, the main section, Allegro non tanto, ma molto scherzoso, is let loose. What begins as a rondo  has many unusual interludes, some slow and a bit wayward. The uplifting and lyrical second theme which is given a brief fugal treatment, perhaps can be considered as the apotheosis of of the entire work: Light-hearted, but with a tinge of worldly wisdom. Overall, the music is buoyant, charming and at times full of humor. A fine work that should be in the repertoire and which should provide no great technical problems for amateurs."


Carl Nielsen (1865-1931) achieved international recognition as a composer and even today is regarded as Denmark’s most important 20th century composer. This is largely due to the reputation of his symphonies. Unfortunately, his excellent chamber music has remained almost unknown outside of Denmark.


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