In the wake of the Cartoon Jihad, as Daniel Pipes has called it, Danish embassies have been attacked and burned, while Moslems are calling for a boycott of Danish products. Meanwhile, those of us who feel sympathy for Denmark are at a loss to know how we can stand up for this tiny and beleaguered nation. There are those who had urged us to buy Danish. But how many Danish plum hams and delectable Danish butter cookies can you eat before endangering your waistline, and possibly even your health? Certainly, there must be a low-calorie alternative.
In fact, there is a simple and less fattening way of standing firm with Denmark. Buy one of the marvelous symphonies of the Danish composer, Carl Nielsen (1865-1931). By doing this, you will not only be showing your support for the Danes, but you will be discovering the music of one of the most neglected of all the great composers. And don't just buy one for yourself; buy some for your friends; or, alternatively, urge your friends to buy their own. Send out urgent emails to all you know, and tell them that they must stop whatever they are doing, and buy Nielsen. Then, after you have all bought a Nielsen symphony, sit down in front of your stereo, turn the volume up, and listen to it. Pry your kids away from their TV, or computers, or video games, and make them listen with you. Or take a copy of a Nielsen symphony to work, and take a Nielsen break where everyone gathers around to listen to this humane, exhilarating, and ennobling music. You cannot listen to Nielsen, and not become a better person for it.
I first encountered Carl Nielsen's work when I was a boy of fifteen. Delving through the classical section of a local music store, I chanced to come across Leonard Bernstein's now legendary recording of Nielsen's Third Symphony: Bernstein, who was a great champion of Nielsen's music, was conducting, appropriately enough, the Danish Royal Orchestra.
At that time, I had never even heard of Nielsen, and my curiosity was piqued. A young salesman, who was also an enthusiast for classical music, recommended the recording, and that was enough for me to pay my five dollars and take it home.
The music held me spellbound from the first few notes -- and what notes they were! Great hammer blows from the whole orchestra, abrupt and startling -- jabs of fortissimo that each came as a shock: there was no rhythmic pattern to them, so that you could not tell when the next was coming. Each fell like a thunderclap -- and then suddenly you see that the music is actually going somewhere -- you feel it literally springing to life, taking form right before your eyes (or ears.) And all at once you are swept away: the music soars and expands. You feel that you are on a roller coaster that swings you from side to side, flips you over, and whirls you around, so that you never know exactly where you are going -- you only feel the breathless excitement of the wild and thrilling ride.
Only minutes into the first movement, I caught myself thinking: "This is the music I have always wanted to hear," and I felt as if I had never heard music before. And today, over forties years later, having listened to the Third Symphony many times, I still feel the same thrill I felt when I first heard it.
The Third Symphony is nicknamed Sinfonia espansiva, the expansive symphony, and this title catches Nielsen's genius at creating music that continually expands and transforms itself like a living breathing organism -- unpredictable, forever flowing forward, irresistible, inextinguishable.
Which brings us to Nielsen's Fourth Symphony, entitled "The Inextinguishable," or, in Danish, Det uudslukkelige. This great symphony was written in the years between 1914 and 1916, and it is Nielsen's response to the horror of the Great War into which European civilization had been plunged. But it is not a work of despair, but one that insists that the human spirit cannot be extinguished -- and by the time you come to the end of this one movement symphony you will feel that Nielsen, by the power and grandeur of his music, has indeed proven that the human spirit is inextinguishable.
Few of us possess the genius to affirm the nobility of the human spirit by writing works of such profundity and power. But all of us have the ability to order a Nielsen symphony from Amazon.com or iTunes. All of us have the ability to send emails to our friends and family urging them to go to Borders or Tower Records and to buy one, or all six, of the Nielsen symphonies. All of us have can email this article to those they know, urging them to stand up for Denmark while at the same time we stand up for the best and highest that Western culture has produced. Let all the world know that Carl Nielsen was right -- the human spirit cannot and will not be extinguished, neither by the ghastliness of war, nor by acts of terrorism, nor by threats of Jihad.
Buy a Nielsen symphony, and do it today. Let Jennifer Lopez and Brittany Spears eat their heart's out, while the Nielsen's symphonies ascend triumphantly to the top of the charts. Show what stuff we are made of. Affirm the greatness of the human soul.