heather roche

A Collaborative History of the Clarinet: Nielsen / Oxenvad

Carl Nielsen’s Clarinet Concerto (1928) was written just three years after the Sixth Symphony was finished, Nielsen at the time was suffering some illness and disillusionment both with his own lack of international success and what he perceived as the state of modern music. The Clarinet Concerto was written in a more relaxed, exploratory vein, along with the Flute Concerto, both ‘studies in empathy.’ (Fanning 2010)

The work was ‘a concerto for [Danish clarinettist] Aage Oxenvad. The composer was so deeply inspired by Oxenvad’s immersions in the essence of the instrument and by his peculiar manner of expressing the soul of the clarinet, that one may safely say that Carl Nielsen would never have written this work if he had not heard Oxenvad. No verbal characterization could be more vivid than Carl Nielsen’s musical one. It tells everything about Aage and his clarinet.’ (Nelson 2008) Oxenvad and Nielsen were close friends, and the clarinettist’s often negatively misinterpreted remark, ‘…he must have been able to play the clarinet himself, otherwise he would hardly have been able to find the most difficult notes to play!’ was not intended as a complaint, but simply an example of dry, Danish, humour (Nelson 2008)

It was Nielsen’s intention that there be five wind concertos, for each of the members of the Copenhagen Wind Quintet, for whom he was inspired to write his Kvintet in 1922. After the premiere of the Concerto, it was clear from at least one critic that this was truly a concerto for Oxenvad:

‘Oxenvad has made a pact with trolls and giants. He has a TEMPER; a perimitive force, harsh and clumsy, with a smattering of blue-eyed Danish amenity. Surely Carl Nielsen heard the sound of HIS clarinet when he wrote the Concerto.’ (qtd. Bryant 1992; 5)

 

Bryant. M. (1992) “Carl Nielsen” in Nielsen: The Historic Recordings [CD Liner Notes] London: Clarinet Classics

Fanning, D. (2010) “Nielsen, Carl.” Grove Music Online. Oxford Music Online. <http://www.oxfordmusiconline.com/subscriber/article/grove/music/19930&gt;.

Nelson, E. (Accessed April 20, 2008) The Nielsen Concerto and Aage Oxenvad. http://www.woodwind.org/clarinet/study/Nielsen.html