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Marches Madness: Rubbing Aladdin's Lamp

It's Marches Madness! Throughout this month, we're posting some of our favorite marches — from the concert hall, opera stage, silver screen and parade ground. Got one we should hear? Played any yourself? Let us know in the comments section.

If you rub Aladdin's lamp you're supposed to be lucky, right? But luck didn't quite materialize for Danish composer Carl Nielsen when he rubbed elbows with theater director Johannes Poulsen.

In 1919, Nielsen agreed to write incidental music for Poulsen's revival of the play Aladdin by Adam Oehlenschläger, one of Denmark's great literary figures. Nielsen came up with almost 90 minutes of stunningly original music, including the colorful Oriental Festival March (heard here), subtly spiced with Asian accents, and an innovative scene where he divides the orchestra in quarters, each with its own tune, to mimic the bustle of a busy marketplace.

But once the production went into rehearsal there was trouble. Poulsen cut significant portions of the music and jumbled an important string of dances. And instead of placing the musicians in the orchestra pit, he forced them to squeeze under an onstage staircase. Nielsen asked to have his name removed from the production.

Still, just like the original Aladdin story (part of The Arabian Nights, which also inspired Rimsky-Korsakov's Scheherazade), there's a silver lining here too. Nielsen extracted favorites from his incidental music and crafted a concert suite that remains popular today.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Tom Huizenga is a producer for NPR Music. He contributes a wide range of stories about classical music to NPR's news programs and is the classical music reviewer for All Things Considered. He appears regularly on NPR Music podcasts and founded NPR's classical music blog Deceptive Cadence in 2010.