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:
String Quartet: Carl Nielsen Quartet Peder Elbaek, (1st violin);
Jorgen Larsen (2nd violin); Bjarne Boie Rasmussen (viola); Svend
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
Fantasy: Soren Elbaek (violin); Morten Mogensen (piano).
Rec. February/March 1999
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
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
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
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
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
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
It would be extremely interesting to find out. Come on Dacapo - keep up the