Wednesday, February 13, 2013

The Four Temperaments

I played Nielsen's Second Symphony "The Four Temperaments" for the first time this past week. It took a while for me to take a shine to it, but now I can't seem to get the last movement out of my head. Here it is played by a group of people who really understand the Danish-ness of the piece. The (obviously not Danish) conductor doesn't need to do anything in the way of interpretation, because the musicians all know what to do. And I love the Danish audience's response at the end.

The Temperament for the above movement (the last movement of the Symphony) is "Sanguine," which relates to the idea of ruddiness and the presence of blood. I love the ancient idea that temperament comes from a person's basic constitution, and that certain personality characteristics are a result of an imbalance of one of the body's fluids: yellow bile (associated with the spleen), black bile (associated with the gall bladder), phlegm (associated with the lungs and brain), and blood (associated with, of course, the heart).

You can take a Four Temperaments personality test and find out which temperament fits with your personality. I imagine that Nielsen thought of brass players Sanguine types. Most of us would identify being "Choleric" necessary for having success as a conductor or a section leader, and I think that being "Melancholic" is a necessity for composers. Like many people of a "Melancholic" temperament, I wish I could be a bit more "Phlegmatic."

Here is a website that is a treasure trove of everything related to the Temperaments (with a strongly Catholic slant), including this chart that associates the Four Temperaments to the musical church modes:

Now, I wonder how the Four Temperaments relate to the Seven Deadly Sins?

1 comment:

Carl said...

Nice post, Elaine, and great music!