Music in the Galant Style? An Andante by Nielsen

18 April 2023, 4.30 PM - 18 April 2023, 6.00 PM

Chris Tarrant (Newcastle University)

Victoria's Room, Department of Music, Victoria Rooms, Queens Road BS8 1SA

When Nielsen (1865–1931) wrote that ‘We are at the bottom in a period of decline ... It’s time to go up!’ he was expressing a desire to craft a musical language built not on the dissonant New Music but on the inheritance of Brahms, Schumann, Mendelssohn, and, ultimately, Mozart, Haydn and Bach. His predilection for eighteenth-century music is documented in his essays and letters and is also detectable in his compositional output. Analysts have most commonly focused their efforts either on the lower levels of musical organisation (such as his approach to harmony and contrapuntal techniques, especially fugue) or on the higher formal level (encompassing his employment of variation form and his relationship with the Beethovenian sonata tradition). The middle level of the structural hierarchy, however, has received comparatively little attention and remains untheorised.

Robert O. Gjerdingen’s 2007 study of galant style provides a rich language for discussing musical syntax. In this talk I demonstrate Nielsen’s engagement with an eighteenth-century idiom in which he would have been immersed during his education at Copenhagen Conservatory of Music, an institution that was modelled on the classically conservative Leipzig Conservatory. The Andante of his First Symphony (1894) was composed in the years after his graduation and it presents a clear example of the galant influence: the movement can be understood in Gjerdingen’s terms in its entirety. The schematic approach gets us away from the romantic ideology of composition as invention, as well as any autobiographical distractions, and repositions Nielsen as a rather more earthy and un-romantic voice in the last decade of the nineteenth century.


Christopher is Senior Lecturer in Music Analysis at Newcastle University. His research focuses on repertoires from the eighteenth to the twentieth centuries, with specialisms in Schubert and, more recently, Nordic music. He has held academic positions at Bristol and Anglia Ruskin and his research has appeared in Music Analysis, the Danish Yearbook of Musicology, Danish Musicology Online, the International Journal of Žižek Studies, and several edited collections, including Slavoj Žižek und Die Künste (Turia + Kant, forthcoming, 2022). His recent book, The Symphony from Mannheim to Mahler (Faber Music, 2022) is aimed at strengthening connections between Music A-level and university music studies. Christopher is a trustee of the Society for Music Analysis and sits on the Editorial Board of the Anglo-Danish journal Carl Nielsen Studies.

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