Nielsen, Shakespeare and the Flute Concerto: From Character to Archetype

David Fanning, Michelle Assay

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In June 1916 Nielsen supplied incidental music for the tercentenary Shakespeare celebration in Hamlet’s castle of Kronborg, Helsingør (Elsinore). The three choruses and two songs he composed constitute one of his least-known works. But they had a legacy, and not only in the final choral number, which, to other words, subsequently became a candidate for Danish national anthem. Shortly after the event, Nielsen confided that he found Ariel and Caliban, for each of whom he had composed a sharply characterful song, so fascinating that he was considered writing an instrumental work based on their contrasting temperaments. This he never did, at least not explicitly. However, ten years later he composed his Flute Concerto, whose instrumental contrasts invite a reading based on the Ariel/Caliban duality. The distinctiveness of the concert’s confrontation between the flute solo and the orchestral bass trombone has long been recognised. However, this duality takes on a more focused and at the same time a broader significance when viewed in the light of Nielsen’s engagement with Shakespeare. Suggesting how a composer’s character music may re-emerge musically in the guise of archetypes, our article seeks to contribute to a growing field of investigation into the relationship between ‘applied’ and concert music.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)68-93
Number of pages26
JournalCarl Nielsen Studies
Publication statusPublished - 2 Oct 2020


  • Nielsen
  • Shakespeare
  • Ariel
  • Caliban


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