The death of Aretha Franklin on August 16 got me thinking about singers in the gospel tradition, or who began their singing careers that way. I shared my thoughts with my wife and a friend. Naturally, I prefer some singers (meaning those who began as gospel singers) and some styles to others.
In a message to my friend, I noted that I had never really developed a taste for opera, but that — along with admiring many popular singers (meaning those who did not perform opera or classical music) — I have, over the years, developed a taste for the lied or art song.
A Wikipedia entry notes that a favorite composer of mine, Carl Nielsen (Danish, 1865-1931), wrote over 290 songs and hymns. What I like most about his songs is their simplicity and directness, along with their beauty. They convey a certain emotional state so clearly.
Nielsen’s songs do not seem to be well known.
Below is a selection of my favorites.
— Roger W. Smith
Æbleblomst (Apple Blossom)
Den danske sang er en ung, blond pige (The Danish song is a young blonde girl)
Den milde dag er lys og lang (The mild day is light and long)
Der er et yndigt land (A fair and lovely land) – tenor
Der er et yndigt land (A fair and lovely land) – choir
Fatimas sang (Fatima’s song) – from Incidental Music to Aladdin
Forderligt at sige (Strange to say)
Hvor sódt i Sommeraftenstunden (How sweet is the summer evening)
Jeg bærer med Smil min Byrde (I take with a smile my burden) – baritone
Jeg bærer med Smil min Byrde (I take with a smile my burden) – choir
Jeg lægger mig saa trygt til ro (I am so comfortable at rest) – baritone
Jeg lægger mig saa trygt til ro (I am so comfortable at rest) – soprano
Jeg lægger mig saa trygt til ro (I am so comfortable at rest) – tenor
Min Jesus, lad mit Hjerte faa (My Jesus, let my heart obtain)
Min pige er saa lys som Rav (Like golden amber is my girl) – baritone
Min pige er saa lys som Rav (Like golden amber is my girl) – tenor
Nu er da Vaaren kommen (At last spring has come)
Sænk kun dit Hoved du Blomst (Lay down, sweet flower, your head)
Solen er saa rød, Mor (The sun is so red, Mother)
Tidt er jeg glad, og vil dog gerne græde (Oft am I glad, still may I weep from sadness)
Ud gaar du nu paa Livets Vej (Now you must find your path in life)
Posted here are two versions of the anthem “Der er et yndigt land” (A fair and lovely land) by the Danish composer Carl Nielsen. The text is by the Danish poet Adam Oehlenschläger.
As noted in a Wikipedia entry:
“Der er et yndigt land,” commonly translated into English as “There is a lovely country,” is one of the national anthems of Denmark.
The lyrics were written in 1819 by Adam Oehlenschläger and bore the motto in Latin: Ille terrarum mihi praeter omnes angulus ridet (Horace: “This corner of the earth smiles for me more than any other”). The music was composed in 1835 by Hans Ernst Krøyer. Later, Thomas Laub and Carl Nielsen each composed alternative melodies, but neither of them has gained widespread adoption, and today they are mostly unknown to the general population.
Posted are three renditions — one by a tenor, one by a soprano, and one by a mixed choir — of a beautiful song by the Danish composer Carl Nielsen. Nielsen composed over 290 songs and hymns, most of them based upon verses and poems by well-known Danish authors.
The song “Hjemvee (Underlige Aftenlufte!)” (translated as Homesickness; Odd and unknown evening breezes!) is a setting of a text by the Danish poet Adam Oehlenschläger. The poem was written in 1805 and was occasioned by homesickness Oehlenschläger suffered during a four-year trip to Germany, France, and Italy.
The lyrics (see below) express the following impressions and thoughts: The homesick poet is watching the sun set behind mountains in a foreign land. The evening breeze makes him think of similar evenings among beech trees in the woods in Denmark, his native land. He wonders, will he ever see them again?
The composer’s tempo instructions are “Sincerely, warmly (not too slowly).”
The Danish lyrics are as follows, followed by an English translation.
Hvorhen vinker I min Hu?
Milde, lune blomsterdufte!
sig, hvor hen I bølger nu.
Går I over hviden strand
til mit elskte fødeland?
Vil I der med eders bølger
tolke, hvad mit hjerte dølger?
Matte sol! bag bjergets stene
luerød du daler ned,
og nu sidder jeg alene
i min dunkle ensomhed.
Hjemme var der intet fjeld,
ak! så er jeg ude vel,
skal i nat ej barnligt blunde
i min Herthas grønne Lunde.
Norges søn! jeg vel kan mindes,
du har sagt med smeltet bryst,
at i hjemmet ene findes
rolighedens sande lyst.
Schweizer! som paa klippen bor,
du har talt de samme ord.
Hellig længsel drev med vælde
begge til de vante fjelde.
Tror I da, kun klipper ene
præger sig i hjertet ind?
Ak! fra disse nøgne stene
vender sig mit mørke sind.
Synger granens, fyrrens lov!
hvor er Danmarks bøgeskov?
Gustne flod, som her sig krummer,
dysser ej min sjæl i slummer.
Hjemme rinder ingen floder
i en sid og leret grav,
livets kilde, glædens moder
breder sig, det sølvblå hav,
slynger sig med venlig arm
om sin datters fulde barm,
og ved blomsten sig forlyster
på Sjølundas unge bryster.
Stille! stille! hisset gynger
båden mellem siv og krat,
sødt en mø ved cithren synger
i den tavse, lune nat.
Hvilke toner! milde lyst!
hvor du strømmer i mit bryst!
Men hvad savner jeg, og græder,
mens hun dog så venligt kvæder?
Det er ej den danske tunge,
det er ej de vante ord,
ikke dem, jeg hørte sjunge,
hvor ved hytten træet gror.
Bedre er de vel måske,
ak, men det er ikke de!
bedre, tror jeg vist, hun kvæder,
men tilgiver, at jeg græder!
Tager ej min sang for andet
end et ufrivilligt suk!
Længselsfuldt heniler vandet,
aftnen er så blid og smuk.
Mangen sådan aftenstund
sad jeg i min kære lund,
mindet vender nu tilbage,
det var årsag i min klage.
Tidlig misted jeg min moder,
ak! det gjorde mig så ve!
Danmark er min anden moder,
skal jeg mer min moder se?
Livet er så svagt og kort,
skæbnen vinker længer bort,
skal jeg med den sidste varme
slutte mig i hendes arme?
Wond’rous fragrance in the evening!
Something beckons in my mind!
Scent of flowers warmly wafting,
Tell me what your currents find.
Will you drift o’er plain and strand
To my distant motherland?
Will your odours there reveal
What my aching heart conceals?
Feeble sun! behind the mountains
Furnace-red you slowly sink.
Lone I sit by craggy fountains.
Lovely memory I drink.
Mountains are not in my home.
Ah, too long I must have roamed
And shan’t tonight sleep like a child
In my native arbour mild.
Listen! listen! over where
The boat is rocked twixt wood and reed,’
There a maiden plays her zither
In the gloaming mild and sweet.
Melodies with rapture blest!
Gently streaming in my breast!
But there’s something lost and missing
In the pleasant words she’s singing.
Please don’t take my song for other
Than a soft, unwilling sigh.
With a fervent rush the water
Foams beneath the evening sky,
Oftentimes at such an hour
Sat I in my shady bower.
Memory wells up, returning.
Causing all my hurt and yearning.
Early did I lose my mother.
Oh, it caused me woe and pain.
Demark is s my second mother.
Shall I see her once again?
Life, it is so short and weak.
Fortune calls, but does not speak.
Will I at the final gloaming
In her arms find rest from roaming?
Note: Different sites and booklets give varying lyrics and translations. I am not sure if I have transcribed the lyrics as sung with complete accuracy. But, at least the English translation coveys the meaning of the lyrics.
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.
“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
The Danish composer Carl Nielsen (1865-1931) “is one of the most playful, life-affirming and awkward voices in twentieth-century music. His work resists easy stylistic categorization or containment, yet its melodic richness and harmonic vitality are immediately appealing and engaging. Nielsen’s symphonies, concertos and operas are an increasingly prominent feature of the international repertoire, and his songs remain perennially popular in Denmark. But his work has only rarely attracted sustained critical attention within the scholarly community; he remains arguably the most underrated composer of his international generation.”
Nielsen’s childhood home (now a museum), near the city of Odense on the island of Funen. (Photograph by Roger W. Smith.)
Carl Nielsen statue in Copenhagen, done by his wife Anne Marie Carl-Nielsen. The statue was completed in 1939. The inscription, “REIST FOR CARL NIELSEN,” is translated as erected for Carl Nielsen. It depicts The Young Man playing Pan-pipes on a Wingless Pegasus. Nielsen’s wife said: “What I wanted to show in my figure is the forward movement, the sense of life, the fact that nothing stands still.” (Photograph by Roger W. Smith.)
Nielsen’s autobiographical memoir of his childhood on the island of Funen. It was published in Danish in 1927 as Min Fynske Barndom (My Childhood on Funen).
This pioneering study was first published in 1952.
This LP contained a premier recording of Nielsen’s cantata Fynsk Foraar (Springtime on Funen), conducted by the Danish conductor Mogens Wöldike.
Nielsen’s songs represent a major part of his oeuvre and are well known in Denmark. Most of them are unknown elsewhere.
— Portfolio assembled by Roger W. Smith from his collection of Nielsen materials.