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On demand: Nielsen Symphony No. 2 (October 2013)

KonserthusetPlayRecorded at Konserthuset Stockholm: Stora Salen, Stockholm, Sweden

Carl Nielsen saw a picture at a restaurant which comically depicted the four human temperaments. He portrayed what he saw in his Second Symphony – a piece of music loaded with humour, drama and Danish geniality.

With Nielsen, humour is an almost constant presence. The focus is on a sort of wittiness, as well as occasional elements of musical sarcasm. This is particularly applicable to the Second Symphony. It was composed after a visit to a village restaurant where Nielsen saw a picture on the wall which rather brutishly portrayed the four human temperaments: choleric, phlegmatic, melancholic and sanguine. All with a heavy dose of Danish geniality. He was inspired to portray each temperament in its own movement in a symphony. 

At a concert in 1931 with the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra, Nielsen described the picture in a comment: “The choleric individual sat on a horse, a long sword in his hand, with which he gesticulated wildly through the empty air, his eyes bursting out of his head, his hair flapping madly around his face, which was contorted with rage and diabolic hatred to the point that I could not help but burst into laughter. The other three pictures were in the same style, and my friends and I were heartily entertained by the naiveté of the pictures, their overblown expressions and comical seriousness.” 

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