Flute Concerto

Carl Nielsen

Flute Concerto

FS119, CNW42 • “Concerto for Flute and Orchestra”

About this work

Nielsen was never much interested in writing a concerto on a heroic scale, saving his weightier material for his symphonies. As a result, each of his three concertos -- for violin, flute and clarinet -- are more or less intimate in character. If the Violin Concerto (1911) reflects an essentially traditional stylistic and harmonic outlook, the succeeding Flute Concerto mirrors the more modernistic currents of the 1920s.

This late work contains few real formal innovations; however, it is characterized by a conspicuous lack of tonal stability. Indeed, the first movement, marked Allegro moderato, seems to spend all of its time searching for a key center, beginning with a discordant sixteenth note theme in the violins. At first, D minor seems to be favored, but assertive themes in E flat minor and F major ensue, only to be followed by a dissonant, quasi-developmental section. Here, Nielsen interjects a coarse solo trombone part in an attempt to disrupt the demure proceedings. Eventually a new idea floats out radiantly on the solo flute, a simple cantabile melody in E major. This is quickly disturbed, however, and when the flute tries to reach it again in a cadenza, the orchestra contradicts it with a recapitulation of the opening themes. A brief second cadenza leads to a coda in the calming yet still uncertain key in G flat major.

While G flat is the relative of the initial E flat minor, it sounds unconvincing, as D minor and F major have been so much in evidence throughout the first movement. Thus, a second movement is needed. The movement begins with a charming melody in G major and proceeds with a rondo-like alternation between a 2/4 Allegretto section and a 3/4 Adagio section, leading to a culminating 6/8 Tempo di marcia, which is essentially a dance-like variation on the opening G major melody. Yet it is E major to which the movement really gravitates, and in a brilliant stroke, Nielsen brings back the bass trombone to provide the final tonal impetus, with a series of burlesque glissandi.

The Flute Concerto was composed for and premiered by the flautist Gilbert Jespersen.

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