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Book Review

Carl Nielsen

Carl Nielsen by Lawson
Jack Lawson
London: Phaidon Press. 1997.
ISBN-10: 0714835072
ISBN-13: 978-0714835075
Find it at AmazonFind it at Amazon UKFind it at Amazon GermanyFind it at Amazon CanadaFind it at Amazon FranceFind it at Amazon Japan

Summary for the Busy Executive: Mildly revelatory.

A fairly weak entry in Phaidon's composer series, Lawson's book concentrates on the life and career of Nielsen. Unfortunately, there's very little here that you can't find in a good encyclopedia article: the boyhood on Fyn, his route to the conservatory, his early career, and so on. To some extent, the Nielsen family refusal to release certain of the composer's papers has hindered Lawson. I did, however, learn a little more about the strains in the composer's marriage. His wife, Anne Marie Carl-Nielsen, was probably the leading Danish sculptor of her day. In short, both husband and wife had careers which demanded prolonged separations from one another. Nielsen was unfaithful. Anne Marie may have been as well. They formally separated for a number of years, but reunited in the Twenties. Even so, they advised each other artistically throughout their lives.

The book is especially weak on the music, the reason for reading about Nielsen in the first place. The best part of the book may well be its handsome production. The photographs are usually wonderful, and the two snaps of Nielsen as a boy which face the title page extraordinary. I've never seen photos of that era that weren't formally posed. The impish Nielsen mugs outrageously. In many ways, it's a metaphor for much of the music.

The book also includes a general catalogue of Nielsen's writings and music as well as a discography. No surprise here, but Lawson leans heavily toward British recordings.

If you have not yet heard Nielsen's music, don't read this book. If you have heard something and want to know a bit about the man, you could reasonably start here.

Copyright © 2009 by Steve Schwartz.