News of the Nordic String Quartet’s new album with music by Nancy Dalberg reached me and, truly, it sounds amazing. Let’s take a look at the composer:
Nancy Dalberg (1881-1949) Danish composer. Grew up on the Danish island of Fyn, and not very far away lived the 20 years older composer Hilda Sehested. It is not documented, but one can assume that the presence of such a woman unconsciously added composer to Dalberg’s list of potential professions. Her first choice was to be a pianist, but an arm injury led her to plan b: composing. She studied for the Copenhagen based composers Carl Nielsen and Johan Svendsen. Nielsen became her friend and supporter for life. He appointed her assistance in orchestrating some of his works, he played the violin at the premiere of her first string quartet and conducted the premieres of her orchestral works.
It is the orchestra works that Dalberg is most known for today, and perhaps the Symphony (1917) in particular. There is also a top class recording of her Capriccio for orchestra in b minor (1918), I strongly recommend you to have a listen to this great piece of music. On the chamber music side of things we find, in addition to the string quartets, many songs where the piano tells the story as much as the lyrics. She also wrote three songs with orchestra accompaniment. Not all pieces are standard format however – how about e.g. “Arabic melodies from Sahara” for oboe, viola and percussion? Written a few years after her travels to north Africa 1922-1923.
Apparently she wanted to make an opera out of Selma Lagerlöf’s Gösta Berlings saga (one of my favourite novels) but Lagerlöf had already sold the opera rights to someone else. What a pity, based on how she writes for voice and orchestra I think it would have been epic. However she must have started before she got her refusal because in the Royal Library in Copenhagen they have a manuscript called Marianne Sinclair’s song (the name referring to one of the heroines of the novel).
To my ears, Dalberg’s music is emotional music – however not emotions all over the place but a deep exploration one feeling at a time. It never gets superficial. Listen to the Nordic String Quartet’s interpretation of the first quartet’s third movement for an example of such an exploration.
A contemporary critic wrote this, probably meant in the best possible way at the time but doesn’t it sound very condescending today? “Nancy Dalberg published this work without giving her forename, and, had I not learned by chance that it was composed by a woman, considering also the austerity and native strength of her music, it would never have occurred to me that it was a woman speaking to us. Her mastery of the technique of composition is remarkable, and she has something definite to say.”
Here is a complete (I think) works list.