Classical Editor: Rob Barnett                               Music Webmaster Len Mullenger:

LANGGAARD (1893-1952)
Messis - Organ drama in three evenings (1932-37) [37.43+42.17+20.46]
In Tenebras Exteriores (1947) [18.09]
Flemming Dreisig (organ)
Organ of The Church of St Nicholas, Ronne, Denmark, Nov 1997, May 1998
DANACORD DACOCD 485-486 [CD1 55.54; CD2 68.34]
 £25.99  AmazonUK  £21.99 AmazonUS

Langgaard's family background was saturated in music. Not for this composer a battle against parental apathy or outright hostility. His struggle was that of an out-of-time late-romanticist against the forces of modernism. That opposition and the resulting conflict were as vehement and dismissive as the forces flooding the battle plain between the partisans of Brahms and Wagner. The buffets Langgaard took were all the more shocking to him because of his supportive, not to say cocooned, family background. This ill-prepared him for the thrust and cut of artistic journalism and institutional judgements.

Triumphs came with his orchestral works Sfinx and Symphony No 1 Klippepastoraler the latter under Max Fiedler's baton in Berlin in 1913. Grants and scholarships were his in plenty in the first half of the 1920s. He heard his Symphony No 2 Vaarbrud performed in Essen in 1921 and in Vienna in 1922. He conducted his Fourth Symphony Løvfald (Leaf-fall) in Heidelburg in 1921. However, from circa 1926 onwards, life became increasingly arduous. This coincided with the growing prominence of Nielsen in Danish musical life. During the 1930s Langgaard proselytised for romantic music with Niels Gade his high priest; indeed the notes G A D E are deployed in the Postludium to Messis. Swimming against the undertow, Langgaard suffered as did many romanticists. In 1940 he, at long last, landed the office of organist at Ribe Cathedral - Ribe being a small city in West Jutland. The congregation were not at ease with this man who they viewed as a crazed eccentric. Nevertheless the composer presented the first evening of Messis in the Cathedral in 1950, 1951 and 1952.

How to describe the music on this disc? Its forebears are Liszt and Schumann. Langgaard links sequences of short musical sentences with much longer paragraphs. Sincerity is never in doubt. He is not one to hide his ideas under drifts of complexity.

In tenebras is in four sections. Was buried has a Scottish snap and a sense of defiant rearing up. In the kingdom of death uses a long lyrical theme with a touch of what English listeners might hear as Walford Davies offset with a pert colt-like little figure. The grand harmonic crunch is reserved for the concluding Remember.

Messis is in three 'Evenings' and a Postludium. It was never performed complete in public during the composer's lifetime. In it Langgaard intended to convey harvest-time as an analogue of the end of the world and the Second Coming. The four movements take in a broad vista: walking tunes, a sense of smoothly Delian moonlit contemplation, in Harvest Time a headlong virtuoso dive into dissonance, the stern calls of Reubke, lovely reveries (track 7 4.30) and a cleanly structured sense of drama. One gets the impression that this music can be awkward or laborious to play but Dreisig triumphs over adversity. In a work where strange coups of the imagination are not unusual the sotto voce Tapiola-like whirlpool figures at 7.10 (Track 7) stand out. While the final movement (Crucifixion) has some passages of volcanic fury it is difficult to recognise the work described in one example of contemporary press reaction: "this most peculiar berserk fury of a work." This section was first played at the Vor Frue Kirke in Copenhagen on 22 April 1936.

The second disc 'houses' the other two evenings and the Postludium. The Second Evening (Juan) takes us back into Delius territory. You should note in track 2, at 8.58, a hunted rippling tune. Rondo (3) makes use of a simple repeated cell. The spirit of this music links with the Liszt tone poems. It has moments of great majesty as in the shattering declamation at 2.58 (3). In Nocturne and Fugue a darting Bachian piping (1.20) is eerily ghoulish. The Postludium sets a high reed theme against deep music in an atmosphere of disturbing romance.

The Third Evening combines whispered solace (track 6 I was buried), tramping remorselessness, effortless Tchaikovskian themes (track 7 In the kingdom of death) and angular assaults. There are also prayer-like shards, splenetic explosions (8 Have mercy) and a slowly bubbling restful solace (9 Remember that thou receivedst thy good things). The Postludium (10) is at once cheery and somehow less weighty than it should be. The language is one of slightly refracted tonality.

These works are a rich seam for organists prepared to think outside the Bach, Buxtehude, Howells, Vierne, Widor 'box'. Across the eighteen tracks in this set there is not one that would not illuminate, challenge and elevate worship or reflection.

Langgaard is a most fascinating composer. His ideas, while familiarly echoed across his massive output in much the same way as Martinu, Pettersson and Bax, are never less than sincere. He is a composer who, once he grips your mind, will not easily be shaken free.

Unless you are an organist or have a special interest in organ music I would not necessarily start here in exploring Langgaard - rather experiment with any of the sixteen symphonies or Sfærernes Musik.

No company has matched Danacord's costly dedication to Langgaard. All the symphonies, the opera-oratorio Anti-Christ, two collections of piano music and much else are available in their catalogue. Da Capo, Chandos and ClassicO have each done their bit but it is Jesper Buhl's Danacord which has provided the backdrop and most of the core territory.

Rob Barnett

If in difficulty by all means contact the UK distributors:
Discovery Records Ltd
phone +44 (0)1672 563931

fax +44 (0) 1672 563934
or Danacord via their website at

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