Carl Nielsen: Prologue from Aladdin


Carl Nielsen composed the incidental music for Adam Oehlenschläger’s new production of Aladdin in 1918. The play premiered at The Royal Theatre in Copenhagen in 1919. Nielsen composed most of the music for the play during a trip to Skagen in Denmark. There were quite a few problems that Nielsen encountered when scoring this work, not least that the director had used the orchestra pit for an extended stage. This meant the orchestra were left cramped below a staircase on the set. 

Nielsen had a rocky relationship with the director, especially after he cut large parts of his music out during the final rehearsals of the play. The director also changed the order of dances, which angered Nielsen so much that he demanded his name be removed from all posters and the programme. Interestingly, the play didn’t do so well when it first premiered, and only lasted 15 performances.

The music that Nielsen composed for the play is his longest score, bar his operas. The enriched style heard throughout shows Nielsen’s inventive and all-encompassing style, that is also seen in his symphonies. The use of exotic dances and Eastern influences makes it a really colourful score. 


The Music

The Prologue from Aladdin is the first piece heard in the whole play. The opening chord is grand and in your face, however the quiet and quite solemn melody that follows it juxtaposes this. The melody flows around the strings before another block chord from the whole orchestra bursts out. 

The strings then play a variation of the opening theme, with the lower strings playing an always-moving bassline. The rich textures here are quintessential Nielsen. The atmosphere of the Prologue is rather ambiguous. We are not always sure where the music will be going, but the slow rumbling keeps the circle motion of the melody turning. 

Random triangle rings pierce through the texture to create a shimmering effect, as the basses keep on rumbling beneath. A reprise of the opening melody is played again by the strings, this time with slightly more hope. The Prologue ends with another block chord from the whole orchestra, which grows in dynamic and intensity, with the triangle ringing above the texture. 


Final Thoughts

The Prologue to Aladdin by Carl Nielsen is a slow-grower. With big orchestral interjections, this work is ominous in character and solemn in style. The juxtaposing triangle rings against the double bass rumbles creates interesting tension that is never really resolved in the piece. A strange and mysterious start to the show!


Ⓒ Alex Burns

Happy Reading!

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