SSHHH The Nielsen Project

Posted on May 14th, 2011 by

Transcription questions!

On the overnight desk. Shorthand & realisation… Every musician has projects, we ‘are going to get to one day’ Here’s one -Over 10 years ago I made a shorthand violin transcription (with a lot of fingering) of Nielsen’s Dukke-Marsch Op 11 No 5 – (6 Humoreskebagateller), from a copy in my Danish father-in-law’s piano stool in Svendborg. Early this morning, serious practice over, I worked it up – now I will hear if it works. Better late than never. In the meantime, here’s writing about Nielsen’s mute obsesssion….

The shorthand on the right, and the realisation on left 13 6 20

Ede Telmanyi


Nielsen-‘Preludio e Presto’ per Violino solo. (Workshop recordings-Peter Sheppard Skaerved August 2011)


”I believe in the power of Thought over Death. I once heard a famous composer say: Ah, those damned predecessors, how we are always at war with them! But Lightning blasted him at the same moment, and he was an invalid for the rest of his life.” Carl Nielsen: ‘Originalitet’ Unpublished MS 24.3.1913

On the 14th April 1928, Nielsen attended a concert, part of the Ny Musik, series, presented a the Børups Hojskole, just over the canal from the Charlottenberg palace in Copenhagen. The programme included two of this piano pieces, ….and a premiere, which was played twice. The new work, Preludio and Presto for solo violin was not played by its apparent dedicatee, the veteran composer, violinist and songwriter, Fini Henriques, but by possibly the most influential Danish resident musician of the twentieth century, the Hungarian born virtuoso, Emil Telmanyi.

Over the entrance to  Børups Hojskole (Photo by PSS May 2014)

Over the entrance to Børups Hojskole (Photo by PSS May 2014)

This concert was not  terribly important. It did not hold a candle, in terms of impact, the the debut of the new Radio Syfoniorchester, which took place roughly one year earlier, conducted by Carl Nielsen, and led by both Henriques and Telmanyi. That had long ranging implications for the development of a broad audience for Danish music in Denmark. It is even tempting to suggest that the concert at Borups Hojskole had no impact at all, save for the beginning of a new voice for the violin, an announcing of a new brand of passionate modernism, even a new breed of virtuosity, which had been long brewing, and had taken some time to find its feet. This would finally reach the broad public 7 years later, when the brilliant young Yehudi Menuhin premiered Béla Bartók’s  last work for the violin to a hall packed with servicemen and women in New York City. The shock waves from that concert still resonate. But that concert in New York, Bartok’s bold Sonata, would not, it seems, have been possible without the concert in a high school in Copenhagen, and a small piece of technical hardware, a wooden mute, which was sold by a violin makers’ one block away.

These small events provide a window into a world of collaborating musicians and composers, a time when the course of modern music was the subject of passionate debate, and a tradition of émigré artists and musicians in one of the most influential nodal, truly international cities in Europe, that reach back to the world of H C Andersen, and forwards to the Nordic compositional tradition today.


Nielsen's home, with  Børups Hojskole just behind

Nielsen’s home, with Børups Hojskole just behind







“When at the age of twenty, I first came into contact with the music of Carl Nielsen, it seemed uninspired, dull, traditional, and unimportant. To speak plainly, I found it irritating. Today I know that Nielsen is a great composer. But to me, as well as to others who are educated in the music of the Viennese and romantic epochs, with some admixture of French impressionism and later influences, there had to be years of habituation before I had an ear for the particular and very special quality in the music of Carl Nielsen. It is a music which does not flatter the ear by outer brilliance. I has its strength in an eminent sense of the elementary power and tension that can lie in absolute melodic intervals. It has often been shown that foreigners who stay in Denmark for a few years enter into the magic circle of Nielsen’s music, and become deeply fascinated by it. As an example, I shall mention the prominent Hungarian born violinist Emil Telmányiandthe genial Italian-born conductor Egisto Tango, who have performed the music of Carl Nielsen with aconviction and understanding hardly surpassed by any Danish born artist.”Carl Nelsen: A Danish View, Svend Erik Tarp, Source: The Musical Times, Vol 90, No 1273 (March 1949), pp 75-6

Telmanyi and Arnold Bax in 1929

On the 4th February 1929, Telmanyi played Arnold Bax’s 3rd Sonata at a BBC Chamaber concert, with the composer at the piano. Bax wrote at note to Harriet Cohen (in Berlin), 5 days earlier:

‘Telmanyi is delighted with the sonata and says it is extraordinarily well written for the violin. He certainly makes it fearfully exciting- and has very good ideas as to the presentation.’

On the concert day, he wrote to Cohen (by now in Copenhagen):

‘Telmanyi thinks the sonata will make a great effect as the second movement is so very exciting…..’

The next day, he wrote her again, from his favourit restaurant ‘Canutos’ [the Danish theme to the whole thing is irrestistible]:

‘Last night’s concert went off all right but they gave me a small piano and the BBS pigs insisted onits being half closed so that I was somewhat overpowered by Telmanyi’s enormous tone. Apparently the Sonata has made rather an impression. Herbert Hughes to-day heads a column ‘Arnold Bax’s new sonata’ as though he was announcing a new world war.’ (Arnold Bax and his Times, Lewis Foreman, Boydell Press, 2007, Pp.279-80)

Telmanyi himself is silent on the subject of this collaboration, but the, the year 1929 is completely missing from his autobiography!