One important side of classical music which follows the whole tradition until the 20th century and longer, is the connection to folk music. The melodies and the rhythmical sides of folk music have gone into the «educated» tradition, and many composed melodies, simple or complicated, has been developed from here.
Carl Nielsen is one composer I feel is frequently performed too dry, except for a few pieces. He is harmonically interesting, of course, but not only that, he is also a guy from the countryside, one who sets the landscape to music, he is also a national romantic. One should of course not abandon the «academic» sides of Nielsen, on the contrary, but the roots of folk music and indeed the sound of Nielsen, his life in Denmark, the country itself, is so much present, not only in the simple melodies, they go on long into the more complicated passages. One should not lose the feeling of walking on the ground, actually Danish ground, a point that is hard to miss for a Norwegian who are, like most others, steeped in the clichés of how to play Grieg.
He, and the rest of our national romantics, could do with some new ideas to describe their music, other than inspiration and description of mountains on the west coast, like any tourist is totally fascinated by. Well, the mountains are fabulous, and so is Grieg, but when you live a lifetime in the closeness of mountains you do other things too than just admire them, even if that is also part of life.
I mean, Grieg’s nature idiom contains stories about other things (yey) and his music also goes other places than Hurrungane – also, yes, it also goes to those mountains, but what happens there? is also the question.
Sigurd Slåttebrekk put completely new colours into Grieg with his «authentic interpretation» project some years ago, and I’ve heard others do really interesting things. I am not quite updated, but I feel that the idea of going to folk roots maybe especially for melody and sound could be a good one for more composers than Nielsen – but that we up here, in Norway, quite simply, as is pretty common – has the opposite position and need the opposite thing. The nature kids need to think, differently, move out of the idea of nature for a little while, and the Danes need to go to their grass roots, maybe, to make contact with their own ground, or whatever Nielsen is into.
I also read once a quote from him saying something like «if a man pushed his back towards an iceberg…» – in discussing some of his own music, I think. Well, there are no concrete icebergs where we live, but the idea of North is and was of course always a thing in the South, and there are and were mental and artistic icebergs to be experienced. The history of Denmark and Norway is intertwined in many ways , and we should never stop listening to each other and give each other new ideas.