Nordic Nights or “Minor Composers Night” – Naomi Yoran

In our "competitive art arena", I think that it takes some daring to build a program on three "minor composers". I hope no one is jumping out of their seats accusing me of belittling Carl Nielsen, Johann Hummel and Edvard Grieg. Still, compared to these composers’ contemporaries, they are very seldom performed nowadays.

Nielsen’s ‘Symphony No.1’ and the particular arrangement of Grieg’s ‘Suite from Peer Gynt‘ were premieres for the PSO. Hummel’s ‘Trumpet Concerto’ was performed here 10 years ago. It is one thing to listen occasionally to these pieces at home (CD or on WQED) and never in this arrangement, side by side, but another to experience these three pieces consecutively at a live concert.

My wandering prior to the concert gave way to great satisfaction afterwards. Yes! It was a delightful concert! The audience in the hall, me included, cheered & clapped and I gained some new insight and a few questions to ponder over.

The fact that these composers are hardly performed brought up the following: Was it hard for "regional composers" (Grieg and Nielsen)
to be regarded as "European Composers" in the 19th century because
their musical language was perceived as "too national" or because they
were just too far away from the "action" (Vienna, Berlin & Paris)?
The case of Sibelius comes to mind. Born the same year as Nielsen (1865), he too went to Vienna but could not compete with the rising star Richard Strauss,
for public attention. His music was unique and considered by local
music critics as "Finnish Nationalistic". It did not help that his fame
at home & his collaborations with other Finish artists was taken as
being "provintial"… Ironically, his acceptance to the "European
repertoire" developed following his great success here, in the USA at
the time when this country was concidered "artistically provintial"…

Another question: Was Nielsen torn between the "Brahms Camp" and the "Wagner Camp" when he was young and tried to "appease" both rivals with his ‘First Symphony’? The first movement of his symphony sounded "Wagnerian" but the music structure reminded me of Brahms. The fact that this symphony does not offer any story line follows, no doubt, the Beethoven – Brahms tradition. I am not familiar with Nielsen’s music as a mature composer. This will be interesting to investigate. Which means: listen. Since he is so seldom performed…

Edvard Grieg, for me, is a different story. As a teenager I read Ibsen’s dramatic poem: ‘Peer Gynt’
(in Hebrew translation) and was much affected by it, Being young (&
romantic, of course) I followed Peer Gynt’s adventures with great
enthusiasm, and than, confronted with his egocentric love to his wife
and mother was overhelmed… It was too complex… my hero was so
cruel… When I listened the first time (a few years later) to the
Play’s music I tried to decipher each movement according to script. At ‘Solveijg’s Song’ & ‘Ases Death’, I cried… At the ‘Hall of the Mountain King’
I felt revenge! Those early memories still stay with me. By now, I
don’t remember the poem in detail but the music, especially when so
beautifully performed moves me greatly.

If it takes a Norwegian Conductor to offer us gems of "Nordic Nights", let’s have Arild Remmereit come back soon!

My last question for this forum: Did Beethoven crashed Hummel’s legacy? How is it that the only piece we ever hear by this composer is his ‘Trumpet Concerto’? True, I can listen to this magnificent music any time & multiple times! Especially with (our!) George Vosburgh’s "magic trumpet"!!! But Hummel
was such a celebrity in his time & "lived across the streets" from
all the great musicians of his day. Is it possible that he composed
only one piece of value? I doubt. He was neither "provintial" nor
"nationalistic". I am waiting for his resurrection. When it comes, we
might have another "minor composers" concert which will bring us all to our feet!

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