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Carl Nielsen, “Tidt er jeg glad, og vil dog gerne græde” (song)





Posted here is a song by the Danish composer Carl Nielsen: “Tidt er jeg glad, og vil dog gerne græde” (Often I am glad, still may I weep from sadness). The text is by the Danish novelist and poet Bernhard Severin Ingemann (1789-1862).

“Tidt er jeg glad” was included in a collection of songs: En Snes danske Viser (a Score of Danish Songs), published in 1915, which included songs composed by Nielsen and Thomas Laub, a Danish organist and composer who was a friend of Nielsen’s.

Nielsen’s output of songs was prodigious. They are well known in Denmark and show Nielsen’s indebtedness to Danish literature.


— Roger W. Smith

   May 2018




Tidt er jeg glad

Often I am Happy

Tidt er jeg glad, og vil dog geme gæde
thi intet Hjærte deler helt min Glæde.
Tidt er jeg sorrigfuld og maa dog le,
at ingen skal dem bange Taare se.

Tidt elsker jeg, og vil dog gerne sukke,
thi Hjærtet maa sig tavst og strængt tillukke.
Tidt harmes jeg og dog jeg smile maa,
thi det er Daarer, som jeg harmes paa.

Tidt er jeg varrn, og isner i min Varme;
thi Verden favner mig med frosne Arme.
Tidt er jeg kold – og rødmer dog derved;
thi Verden slukker ej min Kjærlighed.

Tidt taler jeg – og vil dog gjeme tie,
hvor Ordct ej maa Tanken oppebie.
Tidt er jeg stum – og ønsker tordenrøst,
for at udtØmme det beklemte Bryst.

0, du, som ene dele kan min Glæde!
du ved hvis Barm jeg turde frit udgræde!
0, hvis du kjendte, hvis du elsked mig,
jeg kunde være som, jeg er – hos dig.


Often I am happy and yet would like to cry,
for no heart shares completely in my joy.
Often I am sorrowful and yet must laugh,
so that no one will see my frightened tears.

Often I love, and yet would like to sigh;
for my heart must silently and tightly seal itself off.
Often I feel angry and yet must smile;
for those I feel anger toward are fools.

Often I am warm, and shiver in my warmth;
for the world embraces me with frozen arm.
Often I am cold and yet feel flushed;
for the world cannot extinguish my love.

Often I speak and yet wish to be silent,
when my words don’t wait for my thoughts.
Often I am silent and wish for a thunderous voice,
in order to empty my tortured breast.

Oh you, the only one who can share my joy!
the only one upon whose bosom I could freely cry!
Oh, if you knew me, if you loved me,
I could always be as I am … with you.



“Tidt er jeg glad” (Often I am Happy) provides an example of how Nielsen establishes musical expectations and then, as the melody follows its natural course, smoothly undermines the fulfillment harmonically. And yet, at first hearing there is nothing particularly remarkable about this song: its rhythms are regular, the melody mostly stepwise, the harmonic progressions are normative, and the text-setting is syllabic. Indeed, the song is simple almost to the point of sounding amateurish. Yet closer attention reveals that these ordinary features result in a creation more ingenious than immature, and that the momentary lapses between expectation and fulfillment contribute to the expression of both the structure and the meaning of the poetry.

The point of the poem is to suggest that things are not what they seem, that the protagonist’s inner reality is exactly the opposite of his outward appearance. The poem’s veneer of well-being masking dark truths is a feature of much Scandinavian literature and film—no wonder, in a region of the world where “decorum” is a veritable maxim to live by. In his aphoristic presentation of contrasting emotions and images, Ingemann conveys the turmoil suffered and energy expended in hiding one’s deepest feelings. Surely it was this tension between extremes of emotion that attracted Nielsen to his poem.

In the song, the general sadness of the poem is conveyed through the minor-mode context, consistently serious tone, and plaintive melody. Even though phrase after phrase presents opposing adjectives—happy/sad, sorrowful/laughing, warm/freezing, loud/soft—the music maintains a single somber mood throughout. In the following analysis it will become apparent that Nielsen chose more subtle musical means than the simple vacillation between major and minor modes, or slow and lively rhythms to underscore these polarities.

Each of the short phrases of text is supported by just two measures of music. Even though these small units are equal in length, the song does not come apart at the seams because Nielsen has arranged the harmony so that the end of one phrase is at the same time the beginning of the next. Each phrase ends on the dominant of one key or another that progresses into the next phrase; this musical dependency matches the poetry’s string of dependent clauses. …

Thus, in as concentrated a fashion as Ingemann himself, Nielsen has matched the poem’s balanced presentation of polarized emotions with the perfect musical counterpart: a pattern of alternating harmonic poles – dominant and tonic – the circle-of-fifths harmonic sequence. Further, as an analogue for the protagonist’s emotional deception, he interrupts this sequence with deceptive motions, translating into musical terms the dichotomy between what the person appears to feel and is actually experiencing inside. The continual fluctuation between anticipation and retrospective reinterpretation in the harmonic domain, then, serves to intensify the poem’s emotional zigzaggery. … By underscoring the contrasting emotions with opposing harmonic functions, … Nielsen succeeded in fusing the musical and poetic syntax.

— Annie-Marie Reynolds, Carl Nielsen’s Voice: His Songs in Context