#Nielsen2019: Young Talent meets Carl Nielsen

The Carl Nielsen International Competition springboards young artists to international success. After all, Nielsen was once a young artist too…

The 2019 Carl Nielsen International Competition for violin, clarinet, and flute will take place between March 21st and 31st on Denmark’s stunning “Garden Island” and we’ll be there to bring you every step of the beautiful journey, live on nielsen2019.medici.tv!

One of the competition’s main aims, and a noble one, is to inspire more children and young people to play an instrument as a tool of self-expression and communication. We’re invited to “Meet the Stars of Tomorrow”—the same stars who yesterday would not have been capable of the musical pyrotechnics they are today. Put more simply, every artist has to start somewhere.

Carl Nielson is no exception. Not a natural prodigy, he nevertheless dedicated his life to music. “Music is life,” he famously wrote, after all. Nielson was at times buoyed by his musical endeavor, and at times hounded by it. Let’s look back at the winding path that took him from an infant with a feel for rhythm to a Danish national treasure…

The year is 1865, the location is Funen, and the protagonist a one-year old Carl. He sits on his mother’s lap, serenaded by the sound of her voice, and that of his father’s jaunty cornet tunes.

Nielsen's traditional thatched childhood home in Funen (Fyn)
Nielsen’s Childhood Home in Funen (Fyn)

Not two years later, Carl could be found cultivating his now characteristic rhythmic drive and intensity on the family woodpile. Aged 6, Carl receives a “little violin” from his mother, a gift which accompanies him throughout his life. It is his constant companion—from the Royal Academy of Copenhagen (Det Kongelige Danske Musikkonservatorium), where he would later also teach, to the Royal Chapel, where he would later become kapelmester. And at the age of 8 or 9, he begins to tinker with composition, writing a lullaby and a polka.

Carl Nielsen's violin on display
Carl Nielsen’s violin

In his teens, young Carl plays the trombone in a Military Band in Odense before pursuing Conservatoire study. At age 21, Carl leaves the Royal Academy and its teachers. He is a good but not exceptional violinist, and a gutsy but infrequent composer.

A 14-year old Nielsen in Military Band uniform, holding his horn and alto trombone.
A 14-year old Nielsen in Military Band uniform

Nevertheless, Carl’s sponsors continue to support him after his studies. Two years later, his Andante Tranquillo and Scherzo for strings are performed at Tivoli Hall—his first official public début. And his subsequent Suite for Strings goes down well with its audience at its unveiling in the Tivoli Gardens on September 8th, 1888. His career begins to build momentum.

But Carl is determined to experience music beyond the borders of his small nation state.  Leaving Denmark on an Ancker scholarship in September 1890, he tours Europe’s cultural centres and meets his future wife Anne Marie Brodersen in Paris. Returning with Anne Marie to Denmark, Carl begins to settle into a productive rhythm. He composes incidental music for the theater and occasional cantatas. The debut of his comic opera Maskarade at Det Kongelige Teater in 1906 secures his place in the Danish canon, as well as his reputation as a gifted composer.

Poster for the 1906 premiere of Maskarade
Poster for the 1906 premiere of Maskarade

Carl’s conducting abilities, to the contrary, remained hotly debated. In as much as he performed with daring and spirit, not to mention occasionally outrageous facial expressions, he was not a skilled technician.

But perhaps therein lies his star quality: his honest, guileless, and unembellished spirit is what continues to fire thousands of Danish hearts a century later. In 1925, Carl’s 60th birthday was an occasion for national celebration, and his death in 1931 a source of national mourning.

Carl Nielsen’s rise to fame was far from meteoric. His teachers would hardly have called him a “Star of Tomorrow.”

And yet here we are, celebrating not only Nielsen’s legacy but also a new generation of players for whom music is life. Throughout much of his musical career, Nielsen struggled with his contributions to and his position within the musical canon. Long existing in the shadow of his Finnish contemporary Jean Sibelius, Nielsen’s work only began to gain real profile after his death. Leonard Bernstein was a very public and passionate advocate of Nielsen’s symphonies in the ’60s. In 2006, the Ministry for Danish Culture numbered three of his compositions amongst the twelve best in the Danish repertoire. His work has become the subject of much academic research. And Nielsen himself takes pride of place on the 100-kroner bill.

Yet this considerable posthumous success is owed not solely to public accolades from the likes of Bernstein and the Danish government, but also to the woodpile at Nielsen’s childhood home in Fyn. To his mother’s “little violin.” And to the numerous teachers, sponsors, students and friends to whom he looked to for inspiration and support. And ultimately, it is to Nielsen that some 72 outstanding young artists will, this March, owe a piece of their musical journey as well.

72 outstanding young artists are embarking on a new leg of their musical journey in Denmark later this month and you won’t want to miss a moment. Join us for #Nielsen2019 to catch every single step!

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