Carl Nielsen’s Musical Vitalism

28 January 2020, 4.30 PM - 28 January 2020, 6.00 PM

Dr Christopher Tarrant, Newcastle University

Victoria's Room, Victoria Rooms

'Vitalism—the theory that life is dependent on a force or principle distinct from purely physical or chemical phenomena—has become a key point of reference for our understanding of Carl Nielsen’s (1865–1931) compositions and writings.

It is timely now to make a reassessment of Nielsen’s vitalist tendencies, especially in the context of articles on the subject by Fjeldsøe (2009, 2010) and the publication of Nielsen’s selected letters and diaries (Fanning and Assay 2017).

This talk situates Nielsen’s literary and musical output as a reaction against currents of decadence and degeneration in late-nineteenth-century musical discourse that were highlighted in Nietzsche’s critique of Wagner as well as in Max Nordau’s Degeneration (1892).

This reaction manifested itself in various ways, extending to Nielsen’s direct attacks on Wagner in his musical writings; his understanding of aesthetic creation and Nature’s development of life as two sides of the same coin; admiration of ancient Greek art and culture; closeness with nature in his autobiographical Min Fynske Barndom (My Childhood on Funen); and crucially his musical output, in which the vitalist aesthetic is embedded.'

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