Carl August Nielsen (June 9, 1865 – October 3, 1931) was a Danish musician, conductor and violinist, widely recognized as his country’s greatest composer.
Brought up by poor but musically talented parents on the island of Funen, he demonstrated his musical abilities at an early age. He initially played in a military band before attending the Royal Conservatory in Copenhagen from 1884 until December 1886. He premiered his Op 1, Suite for Strings, in 1888, at the age of 23. The following year, Nielsen began a 16-year stint as a second violinist in the prestigious Royal Danish Orchestra under the conductor Johan Svendsen, during which he played in Giuseppe Verdi’s Falstaff and Otello at their Danish premieres. In 1916, he took a post teaching at the Royal Danish Academy of Music, and continued to work there until his death.
While his symphonies, concertos and choral music are now internationally acclaimed, Nielsen’s career and personal life were marked by many difficulties, often reflected in his music. The works he composed between 1897 and 1904 are sometimes ascribed to his “psychological” period, resulting mainly from a turbulent marriage with the sculptor Anne Marie Brodersen. Nielsen is especially noted for his six symphonies, his Wind Quintet and his concertos for violin, flute and clarinet. In Denmark, his opera Maskarade and many of his songs have become an integral part of the national heritage. While his early music was inspired by composers such as Brahms and Grieg, he soon developed his own style, first experimenting with progressive tonality and later diverging even more radically from the standards of composition still common at the time. Nielsen’s sixth and final symphony, Sinfonia semplice, was written in 1924–25. He died from a heart attack six years later, and is buried in Vestre Cemetery, Copenhagen.