Carl Nielsen, “Helios Overture”



Posted here is the Helios Overture by the Danish composer Carl Nielsen. The Helios Overture, Opus 17, is a concert overture which was first performed in Copenhagen in 1903.

A Wikipedia entry provides background information about the piece.

Carl Nielsen wrote many short orchestral works, one of the most famous being the Helios Overture.

In 1902, Nielsen signed a contract with the publisher Wilhelm Hansen which allowed him to go to Athens, Greece to join his wife, Anne Marie Carl-Nielsen, who was one of the first sculptors allowed to make copies of the bas-reliefs and statues in the Acropolis Museum.

Anne Marie was studying Greek art, while Nielsen, being a man of many interests, was interested in archaeology. The local conservatory placed a study room with a piano at Carl Nielsen’s disposal. Here he could sit and compose when he was not on excursions in the surrounding mountains with or without Anne Marie.

Nielsen’s stay in Athens gave him the inspiration of a work depicting the sun rising and setting over the Aegean Sea, an overture which he called Helios. He began work on it in March 1903 and finished it on April 23 of the same year.

The score is written for three flutes, two oboes, two clarinets, two bassoons, four horns, three trumpets, three trombones, tuba, timpani, and strings.

The work begins as the sun ascends over the Aegean Sea, while strings, divided horns and woodwind sound a melody. This rises out of the darkness to a full orchestra, where fanfaring trumpets begin a striding theme, which returns later in the piece. From there woodwinds begin a graceful tune, from which brass sound. Strings begin to play, which draws the orchestra into a reprise of the striding theme and its fanfare. In the final measures, the music subsides as the sun sinks over the horizon of the sea.

On the score, Nielsen wrote:

“Silence and darkness,
The sun rises with a joyous song of praise,
It wanders its golden way
and sinks quietly into the sea.”


— Roger W. Smith

   January 2018



See also:

Haydn, symphony No. 6 in D major (“Le matin”)

Haydn, symphony No. 6 in D major (“Le matin”)


Carl Nielsen in 1901.jpg

Carl Nielsen in 1901

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