The official website of Thomas Nielsen, the New York City and Washington, D.C. based composer and pianist.

Over the years, Thomas has written a great deal about music and its relationship to storytelling, as well as its broader importance and relationship to society. Below you can read a selection of his work, which has been published in newspapers such as The Baltimore Sun as well as academic journals like the Madison Journal of Literary Criticism and The Foundationalist.

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Scoring Shakespeare

Patrick Doyle’s scores for the Kenneth Branagh film adaptions of Much Ado About Nothing (1993) and Hamlet (1996) show a remarkable understanding of music’s dramatic purpose in the films’ Shakespearean source material. His scores can thus be seen as an expansion of the music of the troubadour Balthazar in Much Ado About Nothing and the mad-songs of Ophelia in Hamlet.

Published in The Foundationalist, 2019.

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Music for Manhatta (1921)

Many film historians would agree that Manhatta, a silent film shot by the Precisionist painter Charles Sheeler and the photographer Paul Strand, a protégé of Alfred Stieglitz, was the first American avant-garde film. So why has it fallen through the cracks of history? What music accompanied it at its 1921 premiere? And what issues might a composer writing a new score for the film in the modern era face?

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The Baltimore Symphony’s OrchKids

Studies have shown that providing children with a comprehensive musical education improves their patience, perseverance, and empathy in and out of the classroom. The Baltimore Symphony Orchestra runs a nonprofit program that does just that in the public schools of Baltimore City, seeking not only to give back to the community but also to alleviate the dearth of minority voices in the American classical music scene.

Published in the Baltimore Sun, 2014.

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The “Indianists” and the Questionable Ethics of Appropriating Indigenous Music

Interested in developing a uniquely “national” style of music, a number of early 20th-century American composers such as Charles Wakefield Cadman (1881-1946) drew on the fieldwork of ethnographers for inspiration, placing the indigenous melodies collected by researchers within a Western harmonic framework. What forces connected these ethnographers – many of them women marginalized by the male-dominated world of “serious” academia – and composers, and why did it happen at this particular time in American history? What are the ethical questions raised by Cadman’s appropriation of indigenous music? And what is his legacy, as well as that of the tribes with whom he worked?

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The Musicality of The Winter’s Tale

Shakespeare’s late plays are filled with music, and The Winter’s Tale is no exception, with the tunes of the roaming beggar and scoundrel Autolycus filling the pastoral world of Acts IV and V. But the songs do more than provide a respite from the drama of the play, In fact, they underscore a concern important to Shakespeare in his later plays: that of “unsettling” sensory perception to effect a sense of wonder at the experience of life, something Shakespeare sought both for his onstage characters and his audiences. Music assists in this “unsettling” in The Winter’s Tale. leaving its hearers healthily less certain about the world around them – and more likely to embrace life in all its mysterious wonder.

Published in the Madison Journal of Literary Criticism, 2019.

Copyright © 2019 Thomas Erik Nielsen, All Rights Reserved