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Nielsen: Overture to Maskarade
Carl Nielsen was born in Norre-Lyndelse, Denmark on June 9, 1865 and died in Copenhagen, Denmark on October 3, 1931. He composed the opera Maskarade between 1904 and 1906. It was premièred at the Royal Danish Opera in Copenhagen under his direction on November 11, 1906. The Overture runs approximately 4 minutes in performance and is scored for piccolo, 3 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 4 horns, 3 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, timpani, percussion, and orchestral strings.
Unlike his contemporary and fellow Scandinavian, Jean Sibelius, Nielsen did not make a major international impact during his lifetime. Until the last 50 years, his music was hardly known outside his homeland. Thanks to recordings and a dedicated group of performers, his compositions have gradually been reaching the audiences they deserve. His catalogue includes six remarkable symphonies (the cornerstone of his international reputation), three concertos, numerous chamber and solo works, pieces for chorus, and incidental music for stage productions.
He composed two quite different operas. The first to appear was the dramatic Old Testament story Saul and David (1902). The second, Maskarade, is a bright and frothy comedy. In addition to his respect for the author of the play upon which it is based, one of his reasons for writing it may have been a longstanding desire to outdo in quality the many tedious operettas, ballets, and vaudeville entertainments he had endured as a pit violinist at the Royal Theatre in Copenhagen.
Composition was nearly complete when, during the summer of 1905, Nielsen submitted the score for consideration by the Royal Danish Opera. It was accepted for production the following season. He finished the music in all but final detail in October. Mirroring a situation in which Mozart regularly found himself, he was still putting the last touches on the Overture while rehearsals for the première were under way!
The plot is a comic love story set in Copenhagen. Two wealthy families have arranged that Leander, the son of one, will marry Leonora, the daughter of the other. The young people, who have never met, have other ideas. But in true comic opera tradition, at a masquerade ball in the final act, they recognize in each other the people they fell in love with, in disguise, at a previous soirée.
The compact Overture is a bustling and witty potpourri of melodies from the opera. In the full score, it dissolves quietly into the opening scene. Nielsen later prepared this concert version, with its neat, spirited, and self-contained conclusion.
Programme Note by Don Anderson
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