Carl Nielsen (1865-1931)
Wind Quintet, opus 43 (1922)

I - Allegro ben moderato; II - Menuet; III - Praeludium, Tema con variations

Alongside his six symphonies, among which feature The Four Temparaments and the mighty Inextinguishable, the Wind Quintet, opus 43, is widely recognised as one of Nielsen’s seminal works: its brash fusion of modern and neo-classical styles, warm harmonies and idiomatic tonal colour has made it one of the great standards of the wind quintet repertoire.

The first subject of the opening Allegro ben moderato is stated in a lyrical bassoon solo and developed alongside a chirpy, birdsong-like theme in a sonata-form movement. A similar development of thematic material in a neo-classical style is demonstrated in the second movement, a Menuet with a canonical trio.

The third and last movement is a complex Theme and Variations said to be based on the last movement of Mozart's Sinfonia Concertante, K. 297b. Here, a simple hymn tune is developed through a series of eleven variations, most of which are scored as solos, duets or trios for subsets of the players.

For the opening Praeludium, the oboe player switches to the deeper cor anglais for an ominous-sounding solo, contrasted with more agile interjections from the flute and clarinet. The theme, a hymn tune Min Jesus, Lad Mit Hjerte Faa (‘My Jesus make my hear to love thee’) written by Nielsen himself in 1916, is then presented in the home key of A major. It is developed through the first three variations, the first a stately duet for bassoon and horn, the second a witty elaboration of the hymn tune for the flute, and the third a sombre re-working of the theme by the oboe. The fourth variation, a lively Scherzando in unison precedes a jazzy tour de force for the clarinet, with interjections from the bassoon. After variation 6, essentially a brief restatement of the chorale theme in the minor key, the bassoon features as soloist in variation 7. Variation 8 is an oriental-sounding dirge for which the bassoon and horn provide a droning accompaniment to the solo oboe. The horn solo of variation 9 returns to the major key, but with its brash style the colour hardly warms until the optimistic A major triad from the flute which begins variation 10. Through variation 11, the work gains in momentum towards an abrupt conclusion and thoughtful restatement of the theme, now in 4/4 time. Broadening in tone in the final bars, the foundation for the final chord is a bottom A from the bassoon, a semitone below its natural range, usually achieved by extending the instrument with the bell from the now unused cor anglais.


© 2004 The Arethusa Ensemble