Carl Nielsen (1865–1931)
Symphony No. 3 “Sinfonia espansiva” (1910–11)
On 8 July 1910, after a break of almost three months, Carl Nielsen once again took up composition of his Third Symphony, writing the second movement—Andante pastorale—during a summer holiday at Damgaard near Frederica, Denmark. In this movement he included wordless soprano and baritone soloists. On 28 February 1912 Nielsen conducted the Royal Orchestra in the premiere of both his Violin Concerto (composed in 1911) and his Third Symphony at the Odd Fellow Hall in Copenhagen.
Originally the Third Symphony had no subtitle, but shortly after the first performance Nielsen gave the work the designation “Sinfonia espansiva,” a reference to the tempo indication of the first movement, Allegro espansivo. As Nielsen himself described in program notes written for the Danish Broadcasting Corporation’s first symphony concert in Copenhagen on 14 January 1927:
The symphony expresses—especially in the first movement—a strong tension (espansiva) which is however completely eliminated in the second movement by idyllic calm. Towards the end of this movement two human voices sing on the vowel “a,” as if to evoke a certain phlegmatic-Paradisiac state of the soul.1
Nielsen wrote program notes for his Third Symphony on several occasions, the last for a concert in Stockholm in March 1931:
The work is the result of many kinds of forces. . . . The second movement is . . . the purest idyll, and when the human voices are heard at last, it is only to underscore the peaceful mood that one could imagine in Paradise before the Fall of our First Parents, Adam and Eve.2
The brilliance of springtime permeates the general mood of Nielsen’s pastoral movement. The beamingly optimistic major-key soaring melody first presented by the baritone, then echoed by the soprano before they join together in two-part counterpoint, expresses the movement’s overall sense of pastoral tranquility.
Nielsen, Symphony no. 3, “Sinfonia espansiva,” mvt. 2, mm. 101–26
Nielsen, Symphony no. 3, “Sinfonia espansiva,” mvt. 2, mm. 136–41
A footnote in the score indicates the placement of the singers: “The vocal soloists far in the background.” 3 Andrew Huth describes the results:
The second movement features two distant and wordless human voices, whose melismatic singing adds a magical dimension to the evocation of pastoral warmth and peace.4
At Nielsen’s funeral in Copenhagen Cathedral on 9 October 1931, it was this movement, the Andante pastorale, which was performed.
(Nauman 2009, 209–12)