Classical Editor: Rob Barnett                               Founder Len Mullenger:

Nancy DALBERG (1881-1949)
Capriccio for Orchestra (c1918)
Scherzo for String Orchestra Op.6 (1914)
String Quartet No.2 in G minor Op.14 (c1922)
Selection of Songs
Fantasy Piece for Violin & Piano
Scherzo & Capriccio:
Danish Philharmonic Orchestra/Frans Rasmussen.
String Quartet: Carl Nielsen Quartet Peder Elbaek, (1st violin); Jorgen Larsen (2nd violin); Bjarne Boie Rasmussen (viola); Svend Winslov (cello).
Lars Thodberg Bertelsen (baritone); Frode Stengaard (piano)
Close your eyes (1922); Joy (1915); Late summer (1935); The Swans (1935); The song of Marianne Sinclair (1935); A monk sits in a bower (1919); A singing in my ears (1935); Gypsy Song (1922)
Fantasy: Soren Elbaek (violin); Morten Mogensen (piano).
Rec. February/March 1999
DACAPO 8.224138 [74.34]
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In the past there have been some patronising comments made about Nancy Dalberg. They are quoted in the sleeve notes. For example, "A lady who writes orchestral works is a great rarity; a lady who attempts a symphony is a phenomenon." The same contemporary reviewer went on to say "that it would have done justice to many of her male colleagues."

We are, of course, lucky to be in a position to be able to judge a composer's work entirely on his or her merits. But that was not always the case. One can detect both jealousy and outright disparagement in many of the musicians who were part of the music scene in Denmark in the early part of the last century.

Of course, Dalberg was a child of her time. It is necessary to find out a little about her background and the reaction to her decision to become a composer. This may well account for her relative obscurity - at least outside Denmark.

Dalberg was born into a wealthy family living in the South Funen estate of Mullerup. Her father was an entrepreneur in the chemical business. She was encouraged to learn the piano as part of the 'rites of passage' into 'Society'. However her wish to continue her studies at the Royal Academy of Music in Copenhagen were frustrated. It was her father's opinion that a person of status and wealth in society ought not to make use of public institutions. These were provided for those who were less well off. So Nancy continued her musical education under private tuition.

She married at the age of twenty to an officer in the Royal Engineers; he shared his wife's interest in music, played the piano and wrote poetry. So quite naturally he did not inhibit her musical interests. She continued to study piano under a certain Professor Ove Christensen under whose auspices she gave a number of recitals. Due to an arm injury she decided to devote her energies to composition. She wisely chose the great Norwegian composer Johan Svendsen to lay the foundations. After his death she continued her studies with Fini Henriques and eventually in 1913 with Carl Nielsen. She became friends with Nielsen and was able to assist him in the preparation of a number of his compositions. It is understood that she went on holiday with him to Spain with a number of his friends and family.

Her list of works is quite small. There are three string quartets, a few pieces for strings and piano; she was adept at song writing, with at least forty published in her lifetime. As noted above she was the first woman to compose a symphony in Denmark. This was definitely a landmark occasion for those years. There were a few other pieces for orchestra and other chamber combinations.

Socially, Nancy Dalberg lived a very secure existence. She was financially independent and did not need to compose to live. Many of her compositions were given at concerts and recitals organised by herself for her social peers.

Yet in Dalberg we have a composer who is confident, technically accomplished and who has something important to say. She is able to present her musical ideas in an entertaining and moving manner.

Any further consideration of her life and works must always take account of the milieu in which she lived and worked rather than try to judge her by the standards and canons of criticism of the early 21st century.

This recording is sponsored by the Lundbeck Foundation. It marks the 125th anniversary of the Chr. Hansen Group. This is a bio-technological company that was founded in 1874 by Nancy Dalberg's father. It is surely appropriate and fitting that her music is being re-presented to the world with the financial help of her father's company.

The Scherzo for string orchestra was given at Nancy Dalberg's first public concert given in Copenhagen on 8th November 1915. Carl Nielsen conducted members of the Royal Danish Orchestra. Everything about the Scherzo expresses the fact that Dalberg is in her element. She loved writing for strings; she saw it as her forte.

The Scherzo is written as a continuous movement divided into three sections. The opening allegro displays all that is best in string part writing. Motifs are played off against each other; there is a continuous interplay between all the instruments and a proliferation of musical ideas. The slow section is ballad-like and comes complete with violin solo and cello variations. The piece is rounded off with a vigorous Allegro Vivo. The influence of Svendsen is evident but not overbearing. The Scherzo is an excellent 'first work' - it points the direction that Dalberg was to take.

The second work in this varied programme is the Capriccio for Orchestra written in 1918. It is quite short lasting only eight minutes. However this is no 'end of the pier' piece of music. There is much motivic development here -Dalberg has no reservations about employing contrapuntal procedures. She handles the orchestra with great skill. She scores gratefully for the brass and the woodwinds no less so. In fact some of the 'comments' the woodwind make during the first section add considerably to the enjoyment of the piece. There are wonderful chromatic passages for flutes here, a fine peroration, followed by a skittish moment before the final notes. There is certainly influence from the German Romantic and contemporary Scandinavian composers yet like some of the other works on this disc there is always a hint of modernism. One feels that Dalberg had absorbed much that was happening in Europe at this time; nothing too intense. Here is no Schoenberg - but just enough modernism to give spice to the music and allow it to avoid any hint of naked sentimentality. The programme notes point out that this work was written four years after the Scherzo - during which time a world war had intervened!

It was given its first performance on March 14th 1918, with Carl Nielsen conducting. Dalberg's Symphony was also given at the same concert.

The String Quartet No.2 in G minor Op. 14 is probably the most important work on this disc. This is no lightweight chamber music designed to 'divert' the guests in the drawing room. What we have is a vital and compelling work that reveals the composer as a master of string writing. This work shows that Dalberg was not unaware of developments in the rest of Europe. It is not difficult to detect Bartók in these pages. Part of the first movement is actually quite barbaric with a slightly nasal tone from the string players underlining these opening pages. This is Dalberg's own sound world. Here she is totally at home. It is known that she regarded the string quartet medium as her speciality.

The work was composed for the Breuning-Bache Quartet and received its first performance in 1922. It enjoyed a certain vogue in the twenties and thirties and became a repertoire piece that was heard in Prague, Oslo and Hamburg.

The quartet is structured as a traditional four movement work; the scherzo preceding the slow movement.

The writing is superb; from will o' the wisp passages in the scherzo, through the almost pastoral opening theme of the slow movement. The quartet finds its relaxation in the last movement - but even here it is not without its troubled moments. However, there is finally a gentle ending. Peace is restored. There is a wonderful interplay of ideas in this work. The textures are varied and Dalberg makes use of the whole range of string techniques.

This is not easy music; even if there are lighter moments. However, it is well worth the effort needed to make it familiar. This entertaining and thought-provoking string quartet needs to find its way into the repertoire of the major string quartets.

Dalberg wrote many songs in her composing career and these were amongst her most popular works. The selection given on the CD is representative of her composing career; from the 'Monk sits in a Bower' composed in 1919 to 'Late Summer' of 1935. These songs are an excellent fusion of words and music. No one would pretend that they are great songs in the sense of Schumann or Schubert but they are highly competent essays which show her command of writing an effective vocal line and a sympathetic accompaniment. There is a definite economical style about her later songs. It is as if she was simplifying her language as she got older. These songs have strong melodies. This is not salon music. The Gypsy Song reveals Dalberg's familiarity with the Hungarian and Romanian folk music which had been lately published by Bartók. There is a passionate, even slightly erotic, mood to some of these Songs. In 'A Monk sits in a bower' the text speaks of 'a proud maiden/who fills his heart with sweetness/he dreams of towers riding in ranks/to the red of the evening sky. The poem finishes with the line, 'a monk sits behind a wall/writing of blue deeds.'

In the early twenties Dalberg proposed writing an opera based on the book 'Gosta Berling' by Selma Lagerlof. However this project never came to fruition, because Lagerlof had promised the 'rights' to the Italian composer Riccardo Zandonai. It remains a pity that Dalberg did not write her opera. If her songs on this disc are anything to go by it would have been a work well worth listening to. I do not personally like the baritone Lars Thodberg Bertelsen's lower register; he seems to me to be a little insecure in some of the intonation. However this need not detract from the songs themselves. It is easy to hear how excellent they actually are.

The Fantasy Piece for Violin & Piano was composed in 1921 and, although it was performed in 1922 it was never published. It is a well-structured piece that is certainly challenging for both the violinist and for the accompanist. The piano part actually sounds frightfully complex. It opens with some quite aggressive figuration This is no idyll; it is not a pastoral piece. Even the moments of repose are troubled with chromatic musings. This music is infused with modernism. It would make a fine encore if it were to be revived for the concert hall but that is perhaps to do the work an injustice. It is perfectly capable of standing on its own as a recital piece.

There is no way that Nancy Dalberg is ever going to be regarded a 'great' composer. The small size of her catalogue will probably ensure that she remains very much in the second division. But that is no bad thing. The vast majority of all composers who have ever written music are in the same situation. For every Mahler and Stravinsky and Sibelius there will be many dozens of composers who are competent, who have depth to their compositions, who have something vital to say, but somehow have never made it into the 'big time'

Dalberg suffers from being associated with Carl Nielsen in a somewhat negative way. She is seen by many as being nothing more than his amanuensis - someone who was capable of helping him finish the orchestration of his 'Springtime in Funen.' So many references to her that I have followed up are simply in connection with the famous folk she knew. However I think that any fair-minded person who listens to this recording will soon be convinced that here is a very special artist in her own right.

This is a superb CD; introducing the work of an exceptionally accomplished composer who has a valid message to communicate. Although she has a very small catalogue, what she has written has been done with consummate skill. The performances on this disc (with my one reservation above) shew her music to great effect. The programme notes are good and cover both her life and work. At 75 minutes it is good value for money. Dacapo are to be congratulated for taking a risk with this relatively unknown but definitely underrated and undervalued composer.

There is a tremendous scope for 'Dacapo' records to produce a second volume of Nancy Dalberg's compositions. It is not hard to suggest what might be included. Firstly there are the two surviving movements of her Symphony which were subsequently issued as her Two Orchestral Pieces Op. 9 (1918). Then there is the 1st String Quartet in d minor (1914) and the 3rd Quartet Op.20 (1927). It would be instructive to see how her compositional style changed in the relatively short period of 13 years. As I mentioned above I noted a certain economical style in the later songs. Then there is the Andante serioso and Fantasy Piece for cello and piano. Finally, there are the sketches for an unfinished 4th String quartet. What is left of this late work?

It would be extremely interesting to find out. Come on Dacapo - keep up the good work!

John France

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