Carl Nielsen


Carl Nielsen (1865-1931), is generally considered to be Denmark’s greatest composer, with six symphonies, two operas, and many instrumental and choral works to his credit. This year, in 2015, the anniversary of his birth is being celebrated in Denmark and around the world with a number of concerts and other events.

Carl Nielsen was born on the island of Fyn to a poor but musical family. With help from patrons in Odense, including Emilie Demant Hatt’s aunt and uncle, Marie and  Jens Nielsen, and her uncle Hans Demant, Carl Nielsen was able to attend the Royal Conservatory of Music in Copenhagen. He joined the Royal Theater as a second violinist in 1889. He was already a composer, with the memorable Suite for Strings performed on September 8, 1888.

Carl Nielsen and Emilie Demant Hatt first met the summer of 1887, when she was fourteen and he was twenty-two, and he made a visit to Selde with her Aunt Marie. The two began a romantic relationship, one that was not known to Nielsen’s biographers until 2000. That year a memoir by Emilie Demant Hatt about her youthful connection with Nielsen was found in the Royal Library in Nielsen’s papers by John Fellow, editor of Nielsen’s Collected Letters. Titled Foraarsbølger [Spring Waves], it was originally written by Demant Hatt in the 1940s. It was published in 2002, with an introduction by Fellow.

English sources on Carl Nielsen are abundant, beginning with the English translation of his charming memoir, My Childhood, still in print. There are several books about Nielsen’s music and life as a musician in English—Carl Nielsen by Jack Lawson and Carl Nielsen, Symphonist, by Robert Simpson—both of which lack information about Emilie and her family but give a good overview of Nielsen’s musical achievements. The website of the Carl Nielsen Society in Denmark is also an excellent source, with a discography and photographs.

There is also a comprehensive website in English, with music and video, created to commemorate Carl Nielsen’s life and work.



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