A Childhood Among Nature

The year 1920 was one of great celebration in Denmark: South Jutland was to be reunited with Denmark after 56 years as part of the German Confederation. To commemorate the occasion a gala play, Moderen (‘The Mother’), was commissioned from Danish writer Helge Rode who, it seems, was determined from the very start to have Nielsen’s music as feature in his production. Nielsen, however, proved difficult to persuade. Despite concerns about extensive travel across Europe, and a possible lack of initial interest in the project, the composer finally agreed to participate.

Rode’s persistence in securing Nielsen’s involvement is understandable, given Nielsen’s status as Denmark’s most celebrated composer. Having grown up impoverished on the island of Funen, Nielsen’s love of music grew quickly as he discovered first the violin, the piano, and came to fulfil the role of Bugler in the 16th Battalion in Odense. The landscapes and stunning scenery of Funen instilled in him a love of nature, which is a common theme throughout his music. With an output spanning everything from popular songs to symphonies, Nielsen was featured on the 100 Kroner note from 1997 to 2010, and his opera Maskarade (‘Masquerade’) is generally considered to be Denmark’s national opera.

Moderen depicts the separation and eventual reunion of mother and son, set against the parallel story of a king desperate to regain part of his kingdom. Nielsen wrote 22 songs and pieces of incidental music for the play of which Taagen Letter (‘The Fog is Lifting’) is perhaps the most famous. The piece occurs in the opening scene, played by the court jester, as the swirling fog surrounds mother and son as they are parted. The play ends with the reunion of mother and son, and the reunification of the land. Taagen Letter is perhaps a reflection on Nielsen's childhood on Funen, with it's lilting naivety and harmonic meandering conjuring images of idyllic country life.

Carl Nielsen pulling faces in 1887