Classical Editor: Rob Barnett                               Founder Len Mullenger:

Rued LANGGAARD (1893-1952)
The Complete Symphonies Volumes 1-7

Artur Rubinstein Philharmonic Orchestra
Artur Rubinstein Philharmonic Choir
Ilya Stupel - conductor in chief.
Roma Owsinska, Soprano (2)
Tadeusz Chmielewski, Piano (3)
Jan Wolanski (15)
Recorded 1991/1992
Most of the CDs give at least an hour of music.
All seven CDs are available separately

Vol. 1
Symphony No. 1
Vol. 2
Symphony No. 2
Symphony No. 3
Vol. 3
Symphony No. 4
Symphony No. 6

Vol. 4
Symphony No. 5
Symphony No. 7
Symphony No. 9
Vol. 5
Symphony No. 10
Symphony No. 11
Symphony No. 12
Vol. 6
Symphony No. 8
Symphony No. 14
Symphony No. 15
Vol. 7
Symphony No. 13
Symphony No. 16
Prelude to Antichrist

See also review by Rob Barnett Symphonies 4,6,10,14 & Music of the spheres DACOCD 560 2CD set

N.B. Square brackets indicate alternative titles taken from the Nielsen catalogue
Symphony No. 1 'Klippepastoraler' (Rock Pastorals) [Pastoral of the Rocks] 1908-1911 [55.24]
Symphony No. 2 'Vaarbud' (Break of Spring) [Awakening of Spring] 1912-14, 1926-1933 [28.24]
Symphony No. 3 'Ungdomsbrus' (Rustle of Youth) [The Flush of Youth] 1915/16, 1929-1933 [28.03]
Symphony No. 4 'Sinfonia Interna' 1916 - not recorded here.
Symphony No. 4 'Løvfald' (Leaf-fall) 1916-1920/1931 [25.46]
Symphony No. 5 - first version 1916/1920 - not recorded here.
Symphony No. 5 'Steppenatur' (Steppelands) [Steppe Landscape] 1917-1920/1931 [18.18]
Symphony No. 6 'Det Himmelrivende' (The Heaven Storming) 1919/1920, 1928-1930 [20.54]
Symphony No. 7 - first version 1925-26 [not recorded here]
Symphony No. 7 'Ved Tordenskjold i Holmens Kirke' (By Tordenskjold in Holmens Kirke) 1925-1926/1930-32 [18.19]
Symphony No. 8 'Minder ved Amalienborg' (Memories at Amalienborg) 1926-34 [16.42]
Symphony No. 9 'Fra Dronning Dagmars By' (From the Town of Queen Dagmar) 1942 [22.32]
Symphony No. 10 'Hin Torden-Bolig' (Yon Dwelling of Thunder) 1944-45 [29.22]
Symphony No. 11 'Ixion' 1944-45 [5.59]
Symphony No. 12 'Helsingeborg' 1946 [7.42]
Symphony No. 13 'Undertro' (Faithlessness) [Belief in Wonders] 1946-47 [28.03]
Symphony No. 14 Suite - 'Morgenen' (The Morning) 1947-48/1951 [28.20]
Symphony No. 15 'Søstermen' (Storm at Sea) 1937/1949 [13.52]
Symphony No. 16 'Syndflod af Sol' (Deluge of Sun) 1950-51 [23.32]
Drapa - Ved Edvard Griegs Dod (Upon the death of Edvard Grieg) 1907-09 [6.24]
Heltedod (Death of a Hero) 1907-1908 [12.07]
Sfinx - Tone Poem for Orchestra 1909-1910, 1913
Interdikt 'Ved Christoffer den I's Grav i Ribe' (At the grave of Christopher I in Ribe) 1947-1948 [9.19]
Forspil til operaen 'Antikrist' (Prelude to Antichrist) - 1921-1930 [10.28]


A reviewer of recordings has a number of tasks; the quality of the music, its relationship to other versions of the same pieces; the recording and the CD packaging and so forth. However with the symphonies of Rued Langgaard there is need for something far more urgent. The reviewer needs to mark out a path through this 'fascinatingly different' music. If that attempt is not made then many potential enthusiasts for this composer's music could be lost before a fair chance has been given to these interesting, but somewhat unusual works.

To give some idea of the scale of the Langgaard 'problem' in terms of size and content, I can do no better than give a few statistics.

Rued Langgaard's known works list numbers some 432 original compositions. It has been estimated that the playing time of these works from end to end is approximately 48 hours - two full days and nights of music. This compares to 36 hours for Wagner's ten best-known operas, 30 hours for the complete works of fellow Dane, Carl Nielsen and 12 hours for the collected songs of John, Paul, George and Ringo.

A quick numbers count in the Langgaard catalogue lists the following: -

1 opera

16 symphonies

35 other orchestral works

25 chamber works

175 piano or organ pieces

175 songs and choral works.

In addition to this vast quantity of music, there is a whole range of complex issues over the reworking of earlier pieces, and the renaming of works, many time throughout his career.

So my plan is to introduce the man and his music followed by an excursion through the symphonies. However this excursion will not be in chronological order. It will be my view of how best to approach this great legacy of the symphonist's art. Of course, there are many ways of approaching music, and not everyone will wish to listen to the entire symphonic works. For these individuals I shall suggest a top three.

The Composer's life

A brief conspectus of the composer's life is in order. Rued Immanuel Langgaard was born in Copenhagen on 28th July 1893. This is the same year that Tchaikovsky died. He was fortunate to be born into an extremely musical family. His father Siegfried was a piano teacher, Royal Chamber musician and a composer and his mother, Emma Foss was a pianist. This musical heritage was later to play havoc with Rued's life and works when his mother began to be over-protective and started to interfere on her son's behalf in Danish musical circles. It is probably from her that he developed some of his most peculiar religious or theosophical ideas. He began piano lessons at a very early age; being taught by both parents. At the age of six he played the church organ, an interest that was to fascinate him for the rest of his life. He was a precocious child; at the age of seven he could play competently Schumann's DavidsbundlerTanze and the Chopin Mazurkas. Before he was ten he had made his earliest attempt at composition. He also revealed a talent for drawing.

The first major work to be composed by the young man was his longest symphony; the gigantic 'Klippepastoraler' or 'Pastoral of the Rocks.' This work was pronounced unplayable by the Danish musical establishment. However our opinion will be considerably more generous. It is one of the ways into Langgaard's music that we will discuss later. The symphony was eventually performed in Berlin to considerable critical acclaim. Unfortunately for Langgaard and for Danish music this enthusiasm never reached as far as Denmark. He was regarded with considerable distaste in his native land.

Berlin was to have an important effect on the young composer. He visited there every year between 1908 and 1913. This was an opportunity to explore the 'Germanic' heritage. Langgaard spent much time listening to and studying the works of the German masters. It was here that he discovered the importance of the symphony and the symphonic poem.

The 6th Symphony and the enigmatic 'Music of the Spheres' turned some heads in Germany in the early twenties. But this was not sufficient to give Langgaard the breakthrough he craved.

His massive opera 'Antikrist' was turned down by the Royal Theatre in Copenhagen - one suspects on 'political' grounds. This is perhaps the key to understanding Langgaard's position as a musical outsider. He was so incensed at the rejection of his opera that he began to criticise severely the musical life and establishment in Denmark. He was especially critical of its apparent thrall to Carl Nielsen. He fell back on his own resources. He continued to write in what was seen by many as an out-dated late romantic style. He used religious symbolism when that was not popular with academics, music critics or the general public. One can see both sides of the argument. The musical establishment was probably not happy with being sniped at by a composer who many regarded as being 'primitive' and 'naïve.' They admired Carl Nielsen very much, and rightly so. They were not going to tolerate their national treasure being rubbished by Langgaard.

Langgaard struggled for many years to get a post of organist in Copenhagen. He was a fine player and could improvise effectively. However, it was not until 1940 that he managed to get an appointment in the small West Jutland market town of Ribe. This was about as far away as possible from the musical centre in Copenhagen. In this banishment he settled down to write nearly half of his symphonic output. Rued Langgaard died on the 10th July 1952. He was a very bitter man.

The Music.

I am indebted to Bendt Viinholt Nielsen for the approach adopted in this review towards Langgaard's music. It is best to divide his career into four separate phases. Of course his entire output cannot be easily shoe-horned into any arbitrary time frame. However, if we are to develop an approach it is necessary to create some points of reference otherwise we shall end up being awash in a tide of romantic complexity.

The first phase that is noted is the 'Spiritual Phase'. This was from the about 1906 to 1916. The composer was then aged between thirteen and twenty-three. Here we find Langgaard content to utilise much that was available to the late romantic composer. It is the era of his only major conventional four-movement symphony. The music here is marked by romanticism, both in the harmonies used and the construction. There is even a nod in the direction of classicism. The first three symphonies fall into this period. Youthful optimism is the predominant mood. However this is not to suggest that the writing is in any sense naïve or that of a neophyte. One of Langgaard's strengths which is also a weakness is the ease to which he could turn his pen to composing for whatever medium he chose. This is especially the case with the orchestra. His 1st Symphony is a competent exercise in scoring that any composer three times his age would have been proud of.

A reaction to, or at least an engagement with, the problems of the early twentieth century marks the second phase. This period not surprisingly includes part of the First World War and the years of the Depression. This phase lasted 1916 to 1925. Langgaard was prepared to open his mind to what was happening in the rest of the musical world at that time. This is the era of the fourth and sixth symphonies - the 'Leaf Fall' and the 'Storming of Heaven'. It is also the time of the notorious 'Music of the Spheres', which has been well described as being a work of genius and touching the insane! It was at this period that Langgaard felt able to use a whole range of musical devices to express himself. There are definite elements of modernism, impressionism and of course his beloved 'late-romantic' style.

The third period is over twenty years - from 1925 to the end of the Second World War. It marks a return to the style of High romantic and Late Romantic in its somewhat conservative format. It was a reaction against the 'experimental' music of the time; most especially experiments using tone rows. It is an attempt to get back to what Langgaard regarded as a golden age of music. This is the period of the 7th, 8th, 9th and 10th Symphonies. It is the time of his great work for organ solo, designed to be played over a period of three days, the Messis. Nielsen describes the music of this period as being 'simplified, stylised and naïve'. However there are fine things in the pages of these works.

The last phase is from 1944/45 to his death in 1952. This is the period of the last symphonies. These are nearly all short works, in the single movement format. Here we have Langgaard protesting. He has abandoned the conventions of his age and of his musical background. He is outside of any recognisable 'school' of composition. His music is a confusion of disparate elements. Sometimes it is almost aleatory and then the romantic breaks out once more. This is not the place to carry out a full debate on the structure, content and style of Langgaard's music. However it is important to make a few general points at this stage before we look at a path through the symphonies.

Firstly Langgaard can be rightly counted a genius. Like many geniuses his output can be quite uneven. There are wonderful moments in his works and then there are times when one actually asks oneself if he knows what he is doing.

Secondly religion is a vital part of the background of Langgaard's muse. The idea of music containing within itself a great spiritual power that is capable of transforming mankind is never absent. However, I believe it is possible to enjoy these works without having to understand or sympathise with his religious views.

Thirdly, the main keys to Langgaard's music are the parameters of 'style, tone, time and space' rather than the usual elements of form and melody. Langgaard uses blocks of composition rather than any kind of through development. This is vital to the appreciation of his music. There can be good blocks and bad blocks of compositional structure in any given piece. However, the composer is not too bothered if they 'hang together' or not. It is what he wanted to write at that time - it is what he was inspired to write. And for Langgaard inspiration was absolutely critical.

The Way through the Symphonies.

The listener who is new to Langgaard has to start with the symphonies somewhere. But before we plunge into the music for the first time I want to make an important, if not controversial suggestion. It is easy to be put off Langgaard's music by balking at the 'programmes' and the titles of these works. However I have an easy answer. And I believe the composer's method of working perhaps encourages my approach. Forget the titles. Forget the programmes. Forget the complex of religious ideas behind some of these works. Just listen to the music. Imagine that the entire corpus is pure music. Absolute music. For in many ways that is exactly what it is. If we consider the trouble that Langgaard had in deciding on titles for his works or the number of times he chose to change the symbolism behind some of these symphonies we would not be obsessed by getting to the bottom of the programme. Furthermore he often lifted a complete movement from elsewhere and changed the programmatic nature of it. I think we can safely say we are on the right track - at least whilst trying to arrive at a 'first impression'- by ignoring the programme and the titles.

If we listen to the music 'qua' music we will find that it is full of enjoyment. We need not be inhibited by so many words of description. In my brief notes on each symphony I shall of course give a sentence on the 'sitz in leben' of the work. However I do urge listeners to get to know the works first and then worry about the ideas expressed.

The whole cycle of symphonies somehow seems to be linked. They do not develop like many other composers' works do. For example Ralph Vaughan Williams has a definite thread throughout his symphonic cycle - from the Parry-esque 'Sea' Symphony through to the almost minimalist last movement of the 6th and then to the 'new' direction of the 9th. Not so with Langgaard. He can easily use any style of composition at any time in his symphonies. Like it, or lump it. Do not try to work out a path of development.

The place to begin is the 11th Symphony - short, not necessarily sweet, but an excellent example of the Langgaard style. This is the shortest work in the cycle; but that bears no relevance to the scale of the work. In its own way it is massive. Written when the composer was 50 years old, in 1944. Here straightaway in our exploration, we have a case in point for ignoring titles. 'Ixion' was a name given not by the composer to this work but by his wife. This was based on a note on the score. Langgaard himself had proposed many titles for this symphony. Included amongst these suggestions were, 'Sun Terror', 'Under Satan's Sun,' 'As lightning is the Second Coming' and last but not least 'The Devil Himself.'

The programme notes suggest that the work is marked by a sense of 'horror and desperation.' I must confess that I do not see it that way. To me there is a yearning quality here that never quite reaches where it wants to go. A touch of violence? Yes. Horrific? No! It is a strange piece however, the composer calling for a huge orchestra including four bass tubas. As a first exploration it is good to hear both the highly romantic side to Langgaard's work and also to come face to face with the somewhat more 'off the wall' idiom. Five minutes and fifty-nine seconds. Play it, then have a rest for ten minutes and play it again. This symphony comes from the last phase in Langgaard's life when he was quite outside any 'school'. It is full of disparate elements. Yet I feel that the composer wins the argument at the end of the day.

The next step along the pathway ought to be the 1st Symphony. There is no doubt in my mind that this work is a minor masterpiece; it is certainly a major creation. Langgaard began work on this symphony when he was only fourteen years old; yet who would really guess? Obviously this is from the composer's first period of creativity. It is a fine example of the late-romantic epic, especially the twenty minute long first movement. It is scored for a massive orchestra with an expanded brass section. Two tenor tubas and two bass tubas augment this even further. Eight horns are called for in the score. Langgaard was definitely in thrall to Wagner somewhere along the way!

There are five movements in this symphony. Each one had been given a programmatic title. Sun and Surf; Mountain Flora; Saga; Mountain Ascent and Courage. Now these programmatic titles can be ignored; for the actual title of the symphony, 'Pastoral of the Rocks,' was not bestowed on the work by the composer until 1946 - some 38 years after its composition. So it is not really necessary. I accept that there are elements of the music that may be reflected in the movement titles. However I truly feel it is best to consider the work as a five-movement symphony in the high romantic tradition. All the marks of the era are present in the music. The yearning, the struggle, the 'plunging romanticism' so common to works of the genre. It is quite definitely the work of a young man. It has been condemned as innocent, naïve and longwinded. Yet it is great music. If we were told that it was a work by a more 'established' composer, say a long lost early symphony by Richard Strauss, we would marvel at the sounds, the harmonies and most important of all the superb, competent orchestration.

The contemporary reviewers thought well of the piece when it was given its first performance in Berlin: - "Quite aside from the fact that Rud (sic) Langgaard in his technique reveals an astonishing maturity and sureness of hand, we find with him something even more important: in his thematic ingenuity, in the development and exploitation of his ideas, there is an exceptional, creative Urkraft, thoroughly sound."

For our next stage of the journey through this symphonic cycle I suggest the 10th Symphony.

This comes from the third period of Langgaard creative life, when he was trying to find a 'perfect' music. It is retrospective, looking back to a golden age. To Langgaard the 'high point' of musical endeavour was the turn of the twentieth century. The work was completed on 20th February 1945. Once again we are in the world of programme music; once again we are free to ignore it. However, there is a film music quality to this work, which does actually carry with it some of the baggage of the symphonic title. Let me explain. There is a 'sea symphony' connotation in the title. As always with Langgaard he tried out a number of working titles. One of them, which was later discarded, seems highly applicable; "The Flying Dutchman over Kullen." If we regard this symphony as a nod in the direction of Richard Strauss and Richard Wagner, we shall not be far from the mark. Much of the 'visual' quality of this work is a 'seascape.' The concept of the work derives from a description by the Danish poet Blicher of a wild, rocky headland in Sweden called the 'Kullen'. The poet writes, "that rock dwelling of wind and thunder…" This seascape was well known to the composer; he had holidayed there since childhood. The title is an allusion to Shakespeare's 'Hamlet'. The cliffs at Kullen can be seen from the ramparts of Kronborg Castle at Elsinore. Langgaard is known to have abandoned a complex catena of allusion for the simple quotation; 'Yon Dwelling of Thunder.' We are free to imagine what we will as we hear this fine work. It would be difficult, however, to put thoughts of the sea far from our minds. Storms and calm are vividly described in this work. Of course all the other attributes of Langgaard's 'third period style are present.

We now move back to the second period where Langgaard engages head to head with modern twentieth century attitudes to history, music and religion. At this time his style was dominated by a curious synthesis of 'Late Romantic' and 'experimental modernism'. It is from this period that Langgaard's most original and perhaps most important work was written. 'The Music of the Spheres.' Much of this score was extremely modern in its effect - anticipating much that was to happen in the nineteen sixties. The premise of this work is the unconventional use of blocks of sound rather than orthodox development. Ligeti is known to have studied the score of this work and then to have announced, "that he had been a Langgaard imitator all along!

The 6th Symphony, which was composed between 1919 and 1920, is not quite so radical in its conception as the above-mentioned work. However the symbolism behind this work is cosmic. He pits good against evil, God versus Satan and light against darkness. The motto or text chosen for this work was "Then Jesus used force and drove the storming armies of evil under the canopy of heaven.' Definitely an apocalyptic image. The symphony was later given the sobriquet 'The Heaven Storming.'

The work is in one movement but is subdivided into a strange version of 'theme and variations. The theme is played over twice; the first version being almost pastoral, the second being a spooky chromatic rendition of the same theme. Five variations follow, each bearing a title - Introduction, Fugue, Toccata, Sonata and Coda respectively. It is a tightly constructed work, being built on strict motivic development. There is superb contrapuntal writing and the brass-work is stunning. Much of this symphony has the appearance of modern music. Yet the romantic sound is never far away - even Danish pastoral makes an appearance. It is not quite as aggressive, nightmarish or dark as the title and motto perhaps suggests.

The approach to this symphony is two-fold. Firstly do not look for models. It does not matter if bits of it sound like Reger or Pfitzner, Wagner or Strauss or even Nielsen. The fact is that this is Langgaard at his very best. A fine symphony. Secondly it is little use trying to fit the programme to this music. Enjoy the theme and variations and just remember that here was a composer who at his time was struggling with opposites in his life. Conflicts of music and religion and the advent of the brutal realities of a world of mechanised warfare.

The last part of the structured exploration will be the 4th Symphony; once again this comes from the second phase. This work is quite easy to come to terms with. It way well come to many listeners as a welcome break after the rigours of the above mentioned four weighty essays. Although this symphony was reputed to have been composed by Langgaard in some five days (in 1916), this work is a fine example of the 'symphonic poem,' single movement form of symphony in which he specialised.

The work is full of contrasts. There is music here that is calm and peaceful. There is a definite romantic undercurrent to these pages. Restless and disturbed music, though, is never far away. It is as if the composer is struggling to come to terms with the antitheses between the 'melancholy, autumnal decay' and the images of colour and change so often associated with the autumn season. There are religious overtones here too. Langgaard is once again looking at an apocalyptic view of the end-times of the world. So the 'theory' behind the symphony is working on at least two levels. Once again Langgaard has provided working titles to both the Symphony and to the individual sections, which make up the piece. Originally called 'Løvfald' or Leaf Fall, this has been poorly translated on the occasion of the Danish EMI 1974 recording as 'Defoliation'. The sections are given the word pictures of 'Rustle of the Forest; Ray of Sunshine; Thunder; Autumnal Weariness; Despair; Sunday Morning (the bells) and Over'. The work was considerably shortened in the 1920s. Listen to this work with no programme in your mind except perhaps the colours of an autumn day. And do not forget that life is short.

We have come to the end of our initial exploration of these great symphonies. It is up to us whether we wish to continue exploring the early symphonies (2nd & 3rd) the struggle to come to terms with the twentieth century (5th), the reflection of past late-romantic musical styles (7th 8th & 9th) or the years of 'absurdity.' (12th 13th, 14th 15th & 16th) Or perhaps a digression onto some of the lesser works on these discs. I will give notes on these works in order of composition rather than in any programmed listening plan.

Symphony No.2 was largely thought out and composed whilst Langgaard was on holiday with his parents in Sweden. It was begun 1912 and finished some time in 1914. However like most of his works it was revised many years later. At the time of composition the composer was studying the works of the German poet Emil Rittershaus; he set a number of his songs to music. This interest was expressed in the final movement that has a soprano solo. The text is a combination of two of Rittershaus's poems - 'Sounds of Spring' and 'In Spring.'

The work is a little unbalanced; there are two movements (originally three) -the first being twice as long as the slow movement. The work is meant to be about the feelings evoked by spring; it is not descriptive of the landscape.

It begins well with a great plunging theme followed by rather good horn passages; there is the typical romantic string sound, the whole being somewhat Wagnerian in style. There are some restful passages in this movement - sometimes a rarity in this man's music. It is difficult to establish formal relationships in one's mind without an analysis and the score. In many ways the overriding impression is of 'constant creation,' rather than any kind of obvious 'sonata form.'

This first movement has a number of contrasts. There is Scherzo-like material - music on the move! Then suddenly a gorgeous tune is pulled out of nowhere.

The problem with this work is that it is difficult to define where the heart of it lies. This first movement has really three rolled up into one - the slow section being mainly at the end. But somehow it does not really hang together.

The second movement sweeps into being. Very chromatic it cannot help reminding me of the Wesendonck Lieder. However, for the text he is setting it often seems to be too intense: - "White snowdrops on the meadows/Ring in the day!' Sometimes it becomes almost operatic in its attempt at being a young man's rhapsody on the advent of spring. However the way to listen to this is switch off the intellect, lie back and wallow in these beautifully sung lyrics. The last moments of this movement are totally naïve. Not a bad work for a nineteen-year-old lad. Well worth an occasional airing.

The 3rd Symphony is really a piano concerto or concertante in the romantic manner. It opens immediately with a grand theme supported by typical pianistic figurations. All the stylistic factors of the era of the 'big' piano concerti are present here in abundance. Yet it does not have the unity of design that one would expect of Rachmaninov or Tchaikovsky.

The piece began life as a Koncert alla Fantasia for Piano and orchestra that was written in 1915. This metamorphosed into the present symphony. Although this work has all the marks of the classical or romantic piano concerto, it certainly does not fall into this category as far as formal design is concerned. The structure is actually quite difficult to pin down. It is given as a single movement lasting some 30 minutes, however it is subdivided into a number of basically unrelated sections. Interest begins to wane in the last section; it is as if Langgaard is pushing material around in the hope of padding this work out a bit. But just as one is thinking of switching off - either physically or mentally, a lovely tune suddenly appears to save the day. This happens three or four times before the ending. The last pages of this score are in many ways quite compelling; a delicious pianistic style that is decidedly over the top. A classic big finish is promised, complete with struggle between the soloist and the band to establish a lasting tonality. Yet the saddest thing about the 'concerto' is that when the final coda arrives it is quite disappointing. I do not know who won. It just somehow fizzles out.

Once again Langgaard has chosen a religious text as a motto for this work:- 'Eternal Light, Holy Flame, always changing, forever the same. Always dying, forever running…'

There is much effective writing for both the piano as a solo instrument and in combination with the orchestra. There are a number of long passages when the soloist is silent. There is much more rest and repose than we come to expect in the later works. There is some neat scoring especially for brass (how often have I said this during this review?).

The work was heavily revised in the 1920s with some considerable cuts and re-arrangements. The symphony we have now is subtitled 'Rustle of Youth'. However Langgaard had also proposed the titles 'Sounds of Midsummer' and 'Melodies of Youth.' We are well conscious of the youthful innocence and the fancies of a young man. It is generally a good if not great example of the 'romantic' piano concerto. It is certainly quite as enjoyable as quite a few works by more famous names.


Symphony No. 5 was composed and revised over a period of some 14 years. It began life in 1917 as a piece called 'Summer Legends Drama' it was then revised and renamed 'Saga Blot' - 'But a Saga'. It was revised again in 1926 as the Symphony No. 5 (1st version) and then again in 1931 as the Symphony No. 5 (2nd version). For good measure another work called 'Symphonic Festival Music' was incorporated into the final revision. It is easy to see how Langgaard scholarship is a complex affair.

The Symphony as we have it in this recording has the subtitle - Steppelands; this is reflected in the 'motto' quotation which is reproduced in the programme notes. "Out flying, where earth and sky are one; Where nature has no boundary to mark; But where the Steppe stretches as far as wide as endless grief, unbounded."

Like much of Langgaard's music it is good in parts. There are a number of almost impressionistic moments. These are quite magical. There is a distinct lack of development - this is the composer using his mosaic form. So much of this symphony appears to be unrelated to itself. However much can be forgiven with the wonderful 'middle section' commencing at about [9.00].

I have recommended throughout this review that one ignore the programme. However, I cannot resist the musical painting of the wind sweeping across the Steppes that seems be suggested in the opening and closing parts of this work. The writing is very concentrated, even intense. There is a distinct easing off toward the 'coda'; a dance theme runs across the score. Why does Malcolm Arnold spring to mind so often whilst listening to this music? Perhaps they are both able to utilise whatever style they feel will best express their musical thoughts. The Symphony ends with a 'niente'.

Like much of Langgaard's music the 7th Symphony has come down to us in more than one version. We are given the revision of 1930/32 in this recording. This comes with a completely new first movement and minor revisions in the other three. The original composition was done in 1925. It is from the third period of the composer's career.

The title of the work as given is 'By Tordenskjold in Holmen's Church.' It is almost meaningless as far as the music is concerned. Though for interest's sake it is worthwhile pointing out that Tordenskjold was a Danish maritime hero who is buried in the above-mentioned church in Copenhagen.

This work is written very much on the classical four-movement form. It is certainly more successful than some of Langgaard's more experimental single movement symphonies.

As usual the composer provides a motto: - "As for man, his days are as the grass; as a flower of the field, so he flourisheth. For the wind passeth over it, and is gone; and the place thereof shall know it no more." This is taken from the 103rd Psalm of David.

Although this work is not about this Psalm or the nautical hero, there is a definite autumnal and transitory feel to the music - especially for a man in his early thirties. The second movement has what I regard to be Langgaard's best melody - it is quite gorgeous. If he had written nothing else but the 'Tranquillamente' section of this work it would have been an achievement. However, typically of Langgaard he immediately spoils the magic with the following 'moderato' section of the same movement. Genius followed by banality. It is the one recurring theme of this cycle.

The 'Fiorito is an attractive moderately fast piece. There is an operatic or ballet feel about his music. It reminds me for some reason of The Nutcracker or even our own beloved Malcolm Arnold. Good stuff.

The finale is the least good of these four movements. It is somewhat foursquare and repetitive. He seems to use echoes of Smetana's 'Moldau' as padding. This 'filling in' takes the place of any kind of development. The ending is weak, without an obvious coda.

The 8th Symphony was given the title of 'Memories at Amalienborg.' It is a bit unusual amongst Langgaard's works in being written in four movements that have traditional titles. No programmatic images here. One can even forget worrying about the title. Langgaard considered any number of ideas before he hit on the current one. The work was composed between 1926 and 1928. However it was heavily revised over the following five years.

The creative process behind this work is another nightmare. Use was made of bits of other pieces and presumably it is a major scholarly task to unravel which is what! I must confess that to my ear the music is totally average; often it is banal. The salvation of the piece is perhaps the Scherzo that in places is almost Beethovian. There is a definite 'classical' feel to this movement, with the trio having an attractive tune. Though even here direction is lacking.

The Molto elegiaco is almost unlistenable. What was Langgaard trying to achieve? The choral ending sounds like any 19th century operatic chorus. This is quite attractive in its own way, but why here. In this symphony?

The last movement, the Finale, has some echoes of the opening movement. This is naïve music at its worst. This symphony is all wrong; it is a collection of bits. It is hardly a major contribution to Langgaard's reputation and to Danish culture.

It is a piece that I hope never to have to listen to again. A low point indeed in this review.

The 9th Symphony is subtitled 'From the Town of Queen Dagomar.' This work was composed shortly after Langgaard had been 'exiled' to Ribe in 1942. It begins straightaway with a sweeping tune - a bit Straussian really. The first movement is really rather good. It shows the composer in an excellent light both in formal design and in orchestration. The music is supposed to be inspired by a folk tradition about Queen Dagomar. She was virtually a secular saint who embodied all the virtues of what was regarded as being a good woman! The folksong that Langgaard quotes in the third movement is supposedly played each day on the carillon at Ribe Cathedral.

The four movements have programmatic titles: - Queen Dagomar sails to Ribe; The Dance at the Ribenhus; Ribe Cathedral and The Turbulent Life of Times Past. However, it is not possible to divine whether it is really a symphony with the story somehow tagged on as an afterthought or whether it is a tone poem cast in symphonic manner. It really does not matter. I listened to his work and enjoyed it; I have no real sympathy for good old Queen Dagomar. It is just good music. The second movement is once again like Tchaikovsky's ballet music. In fact it is one of Langgaard's 'lightest' moments - and certainly none the worse for that. It would certainly stand alone as an encore. The slow movement is quite restrained - with hints of Elgar, perhaps. The folk tune is well to the fore in its minor key. The final movement sweeps in straightaway; this is undulating music, churning almost. The entire work is not troubled or dark in any way. This is quite hard to imagine when compared to some of the later 'horrors' composed whilst in Ribe. The piece seems to be constructed as a mosaic form; yet somehow he is able to bring tunes from nowhere. Some of these are quite gorgeous and moving. The title of the last movement is not really lived up to with this music. It is certainly not 'turbulent'.

If all of Rued Langgaard's music was as good and approachable as this, then I feel that he would have had far more success at securing a following.

Symphony No. 12 was composed in 1946. Langgaard claimed that it was an extremely concentrated version of the early 1st Symphony. This compares as eight minutes for the present work to over sixty minutes for the youthful exercise. According to the programme notes there is no direct quotation. However I seem to recognise a chordal structure occurring once or twice. But without the score…

The work is subtitled 'Hélsingeborg'. This is a town across the straight from Hamlet's Kromborg. We are asked to note that 'Hel' is where the goddess of death resides. This is the second of the composer's 'Hamlet' symphonies; we have already discussed the 10th.

The opening of this work certainly replicated the mood of the 1st Symphony; there is a great, romantic melody. There is little repose in this work, the writing being extremely concentrated and condensed. This work is certainly not Wagner or even Strauss. Yet there is a Tristan feel to this music somewhere down the line. Perhaps it is the association of the sea and the castles? The work finishes with what appears to be a 'national' song.

I quite definitely have a preference for the 1st symphony- even if it is about seven times longer!

The compositional history of the 13th Symphony is well beyond the scope of this review. We can only be exceedingly grateful to the labours of Mrs Constance Langgaard and of course to Bendt Viinholt Nielsen for unravelling the complexities of the composer's revisions of this work and the others.

This symphony was never given the title 'Faithlessness" or any other by the composer. It was added later by his wife Constance based on a pencil marking in the margin of the score.

So we can forget about any programmatic references and listen to the music. This work was written in 1946/7 in the last phase of the composer's creative life. It is therefore in the protest/absurd mould. I must confess that some of this work I find almost unlistenable. However, one is just about to turn the CD player off when a gorgeous phrase captures the heart and mind. Perhaps this is the generic comment about most of Langgaard's music. The main subject, supported at times by a piano obbligato is repetitive. Much of the writing is naïve probably more so than in anything else I have heard of this composer. The slower passages seem to me to be more interesting than the faster ones. At last, when the symphony has finished one is left wondering what it was all about. Where has this work got me? I think it is too much; it is too diverse in styles.

The 14th Symphony (1947/8) (The Morning) is prefixed as 'Suite'. The tenor of the work is a description of the moods of morning, hence the title. It is totally unbalanced as a work. The movements range from over six minutes to fifty-six seconds. This symphony was pieced together in 1947/48. Originally it was joined together with the 13th Symphony, but was separated with better judgement. The titles of these movements are meant to be humorous and the composer himself indicated that they could be safely ignored.

The work opens with a shout from the chorus:- "The Star of Kings and the Star of Lords/Will appear to us in his own good time." Of course this fits in with the underlying theme that the composer is considering the ordinary work-a-day in conjunction with higher thoughts about the dawn of the heavenly day. The short verse is given in just over a minute and ends rather well on a totally unresolved 'non-plagal' Amen.

The second movement, 'The Morning Stars Unheeded' is actually quite a lovely little tone poem - there is a definite 'starry' quality about it. It may even be able to stand on its own as an extract from this symphonic cycle. The 'Bells of the Marble Church' begins with a great operatic opening tune. One is left waiting for the tenor to begin! It is quite a 'big' piece, over six minutes and is really rather good. Movement four, 'Weary they rise to Life' is quite similar to what has gone before. However this is also a potential candidate for 'stand-alone' tone poem. There is some fine writing here and the orchestration is never in doubt. This is the best thing in this symphony; a gorgeous little tone poem that the musical public will never get a chance to know. How sad.

The title of the next section 'Wireless Caruso and Compulsive Energy is a misnomer. It does not live up to its title in any way. Perhaps there is a hint of 'bel canto' somewhere in the note spinning? I am certainly not conscious of any form of compulsive energy! A brief outburst from the chorus of 'In the outer darkness pray for us' confuses the issue. 'Daddies dashing off to the office' is the rather trite title of the sixth movement. This is quite an attractive miniature with neat orchestration. Well done! The last section lasts for less than a minute. 'Sun and Beech Forest' as a title would lead one to expect a Smetana-like tone poem. But here we have a short choral exclamation - 'Vivat, vivat species'. Loosely translated, I suppose as 'Beauty lives'! But what about the forest?

This is probably the most unbalanced work in the Langgaard catalogue. It certainly can have no claim to 'unity'. It was written whilst the composer was in his last, absurd, phase. It is really a series of sketches and miniatures, some good, some bad, lashed together. Not the basis for fine symphonic craftsmanship.

A novel of George Rodenbach entitled 'The Dead Brugge' inspired the penultimate Symphony No.15 (1949). There is no doubt that Langgaard used this story as a kind of allegory for his situation in the remote and musically isolated town of Ribe. In the novel Brugge was dead - so was Ribe - at least in the mind of the composer. Langgaard's then method of working was peculiar to say the least. He composed in the 'wee sma' hours and often wandered the streets at that time to 'gain inspiration.'

This work is very different to much that has gone before in Langgaard's career. It is tortured, dark and certainly not attractive. The cynic would say the massive chip the composer had on his shoulder weighs it down. But who can blame him? He was ostracised by the pro-Carl Nielsen majority in the musical circles of Copenhagen. Yet even amongst this darkness there are a few passages of less anguished writing. As so often in Langgaard's music, this symphony incorporates an earlier choral piece - 'Night Storm'. The words lend effect to the symphony's title 'Storm at Sea' - "The storm sweeps the earth/Taking strength from the night…. The storm tears a door open…" In this work we feel that all the bitterness and resentment and perhaps even hate that Langgaard entertained for the musical establishment is encapsulated. It is really a tragic work from a tragic mind.

The soloist Jan Wolanski has a difficult and certainly most unrewarding part to sing. He copes with this well. The choral finale is wild and frantic; it is a shout really. The part writing is horrendous - perhaps we feel that we have stumbled on a 'out-take' from a Hammer Horror Film? This is a disturbing piece, yet I felt that somehow the composer is deliberately over-egging the pudding. He is using effect for the sake of effect. Perhaps he is trying to make the listener feel sorry for him?

The last of Langgaard's symphonies needs some consideration. The composer has decided for his last essay in the symphonic form to go back to his first symphony. Once again we have a five-movement work. So the whole journey of experimentation and rebellion has come full circle. And this is appropriate; for the opening of the first movement has much of the 'feel' of the 'Ixion' symphony. This final work has the entire struggle, despair and resignation found in much of Langgaard's works. Only here it seems to be in a concentrated form. The title needs a little explanation. Langgaard had been considering various theosophical ideas at the time. He used as a motive the following thoughts: - "After death there are souls, standing at the gate where light and threatening dark reign. What such souls must endure cannot be explained. The world does not believe it, being far too clever- and comprehending nothing."

It is quite easy to see all this as an allegory for Langgaard's own life outside the musical establishment of Copenhagen. For how long had the composer wished that people would listen and try to understand his music? This last symphony is fine stuff. A work more than fifty years behind its time! But so what; Langgaard was certainly never one to follow fashion - whatever that may mean. There are five movements - most given conventional titles: - Allegro; Scherzo; Dance of Chastisement; Elegy and Finale. This is an eclectic piece. Many styles seem to come into play. Suddenly we seem to be in the sound world of Beethoven. It lasts a moment then is gone. What the thoughts behind the Dance of Chastisement are, well only Rued can tell. The elegy could well stand on its own. It is quite retrospective for Langgaard. Is this a summing up of his life's work? There is sadness here - even tenderness. Does the composer regard this movement as his 'visitor's card' to a future generation. There is much exploration of mood in this movement. There is beautiful solo string writing. This, to my mind, is possibly the most moving piece in this cycle. I can forgive the composer a lot of excess baggage on the strength of this movement.

The finale seems to me to be Strauss, Delius and Wagner all rolled up into one; a last fling. Altogether fine music. Does the composer finally claim the victor's crown? I truly believe he does.


The Other Music

Danacord have included a number of other smaller orchestral pieces amongst these seven CDs. These works are representative of the composer's non-symphonic output over the years. Although slighter in concept, design and content than the symphonies they are invariably interesting if not attractive works. Whether they will ever form a part of the Langgaard repertoire is a matter for the listener and for posterity to decide.

Edvard Grieg died on the 4th September 1907. The elder composer had shown an interest in the music of Langgaard. In homage to the life and works of the Norwegian, Langgaard wrote a piece called Drapa (Upon the Death of Edvard Grieg). It was composed between April and June of 1907. The sleeve notes point out that the word 'Drapa' is 'old Norse'. It refers to the heroic legends and religious poems of the Icelandic.

The work begins very much in the minor key. There is a definite 'Death of Ase' feel to this music; it is really a funeral march. However there is soon an impressive climax. This work is nothing like what the Old Norwegian composer had written. There is little repose and certainly no folk elements. I confess that to my ears it is totally over the top. I feel that the piece is quite deliberately turgid; there is little in the way of respite from the dark tones. There is a rather beautiful string melody that makes an appearance toward the last few bars. A successful piece, but never a candidate for Classic FM.

Heltedød (Death of a Hero) was written as a preliminary study for the great 1st Symphony. It does not actually use any of the themes or sound-blocks of this work; it is a symphonic poem in its own right. It was written during the winter of 1907/08.

There is a definite 'cenotaph' feel to this piece of music. The whole piece seems to be couched in the minor key - although this not actually the case. It is quite a short piece, yet it calls for huge orchestral forces. Triple everything I do not doubt. The brass writing is superb. The whole direction of the piece is a struggle towards the apotheosis that does not actually materialise until the final minute. There is a quiet moment at about [5.18] followed by a fine horn melody. There are some spine-tingling suspensions here and there which somehow seem out of style. This is an excellent piece.

Interdikt 'Ved Christoffer den I's Grav I Ribe' At the Grave of Christoper I in Ribe (1947-1948) is actually two short pieces played together. Mistero nemico was a short prelude lasting barely a minute. It is a dramatic interlude really -a miniature symphonic poem. It celebrates, if that is the correct word, the Copenhagen curse or 'interdict' of 1259. It utilises the score of the Concerto of Organ and Orchestra. The piece opens with strange martial music; tonally it is all over the place. One moment extremely dissonant and the next triadic. There is a distinct Ivesian quality to this 'Mistero nemico' opening. Langgaard is shown again to be a brass writer of distinction. This piece is 'film music' if ever there was film music. The attractive second section for organ solo has a touch of Messiaen here and there. Stylistically, however, this piece is quite confused. We hear echoes of the classics and Stravinsky. Not a bad offering; but never liable to be a favourite.

Langgaard wrote the tone poem 'Sphinx' when he was a sixteen-year-old schoolboy. It is of similar standard to his great 1st Symphony written at about the same time. Like much of the composer's works it was revised some years later. It is this revision that is played on this disc. The Swedish songwriter, Victor Rydberg, provides the motto theme for this work. "Sphinx, what is thy command? Only want and radiance, that turned to dust." Very deep stuff indeed for a young man.

The piece opens with a strange chromatic melody that soon builds up to a minor climax. It is composed in the late romantic style, although it is quite hard to pin down. Like much Langgaard it is eclectic in style and in orchestration. There is some fine muted brass scoring. Often in this piece there is a chamber music quality. Langgaard uses the building block method of composition and this tends to hide the developmental flow. However there is a sense of unity to this piece. It ends somewhat enigmatically, although one feels a conclusion of sorts has been arrived at.

This is an attractive essay that deserves more exposure.

The religious element is massively present in the last of the 'minor' works given on these discs. The opera 'Antichrist' shows the composer in all his most apocalyptic mood. The composer said about this opera," [I want] to express the catastrophic, anti-Christian moods of damnation, culminating through time with the end of the world.' This is not the place to review the opera.-save to point out that the Forspil til operaen 'Antikrist' Prelude to Antichrist (1921-1930) given here is a calm introduction to what would seem to be a powerful, cataclysmic work.

This is a truly beautiful extract from the massive work. At the start of this piece there is an almost oriental feel - perhaps even a bolero lurking in there somewhere. However all this is soon supplanted by a fugue subject played as a string cantilena. This leads to a long contrapuntal outworking. This is one of the most tranquil pieces of Langgaard's music on these seven discs. At the back of my mind it seems to sound like something I heard a very long time ago; it is like an old friend. There is a serenity that reminds me of Bach, Handel and Finzi. One wishes the counterpoint would go on forever.

The Recordings

The sound quality of these seven CDs is superb. It is possible to hear all the detail of the instrumentation. Every nuance of this highly complex music is to be heard. The recordings were made during 1991 and 1992. The Artur Rubinstein Philharmonic Orchestra and their conductor-in-chief Ilya Stupel have taken these difficult, complex and sometimes totally unrewarding works to heart. They have given their very best shot with what are often difficult and massive works. There is a definite feeling of enjoyment and enthusiasm that, to me at any rate, comes across the decade since they were recorded. This is the very first complete set of Langgaard's symphonies to be produced. There are, of course the Chandos recordings of the first, the fourth, fifth and a sixth symphony with the Danish National Radio Symphony Orchestra under Neemi Järvi in what seems to promise a complete cycle. However it is to the immense credit of Danacord that they got there first! They have delivered the goods in style. Not only the complete symphonies but also a selection of other lesser pieces that add considerably to our understanding of this composer. In the case of the 8th Symphony these discs represent the first ever performance. Many of the other works are receiving only their second performance.

There is no doubt in my mind that Ilya Stupel has been a tower of strength in this Herculean task. He has shown a great musicianship in the interpretation of these difficult works. He has brought a fine musical ability - both as a conductor and as a scholar to the production of this cycle. Danacord has admirably supported him in this mammoth task. It is to the record company's eternal credit that they have undertaken such an onerous and gigantic pilgrimage. These recordings need to be kept on the books as it were. They must not be allowed to become 'deletions'. The symphonies are a major part of the artistic heritage of Denmark and need to be recognised as such. But not Denmark only. Some of them are fine post romantic symphonies that have the gamut of European music at their core. They are fine examples of music that is not afraid to wear its heart on its sleeve. It is not fair to compare Langgaard with any other composer living or dead. However, the names of Ives, Boughton, Grainger and Havergal Brian have often been quoted by critics as being similar personalities. Many writers regard Langgaard as a musical outsider. This may well be true. The time has come to re-evaluate these novel, if somewhat uneven works.

The programme or sleeve notes are very comprehensive. This is as it should be for works that are not yet in the public domain. Each CD has a photograph of the composer at a different stage in his career; from the bow-tied teenager through to the wild eyed composer in his late fifties. The artwork is not to my taste. In fact the paintings by Ramon de Lecca could put some people off purchasing these discs. They occupy a dark and somewhat troubled world. Now I know that is the received impression of the composer himself, however I feel that perhaps some of the more summery and spring-like sounds of these symphonies could have been reflected in the sleeve design. There is much warmth to be found in these scores.

One omission, as far as I am concerned, is the enigmatic first version of the 4th Symphony, the Sinfonia Interna. There is no relation to the present work. This was composed in 1915/16 and was to have been a monumental work. A 'Gothic' symphony. It was to have combined texts, music, and stage. It was to have been something akin to what Scriabin tried to create; a complete universe in one gigantic work. Langgaard abandoned this work. He utilised elements of it in other works. However the composer took it up again in the 1940s and produced a scheme of revisions. Finally it was realised, in a less grandiose scheme, by Bendt Viinholt Nielsen and Mike Cholewa. It was released on DaCapo (8.224136) in 1997. It would have been good if Danacord were to include this work in their present cycle.


So what are we to make of this great cycle of symphonies? We have seen that there is much naïvety, lots of times when the composer regales us with a total confusion of styles. Some of his music is almost unlistenable. Often we feel that there is no development; that the piece is tacked together. His propensity for making use of the mosaic form of composition causes us a lot of problems. If this composer decides on nine sections for his compositions, he composes nine different panels with no reference to each other and then joins them together. Exaggerations perhaps, but probably true. There are few memorable tunes; nothing to carry away.

However on the positive side, we have a composer who is prepared to both experiment and to be a reactionary. So much of this music is written in a style of overblown high romanticism. We are conscious of a great continuity with a whole range of composers from the late nineteenth/early twentieth century. Yet Langgaard is in thrall to none of them. He is no-one's pupil. He has re-interpreted all these musical fashions through the lens of his own unique inspiration. Religion and religious metaphors play too much of a part in this music - yet it shows the depth of his feelings for the hidden things of life. He is a master of orchestration, and this mastery shines forth in virtually every part of his writing. His scoring for brass is second to none.

It is a fine thing for any composer to achieve such a remarkable, if uneven, cycle of symphonies. But if this composer is virtually excluded from the musical society in which he lives then it is even more remarkable. The only credible way that Langgaard could do this was by forging his own unique path through the rigours of the twentieth century musical landscape.

Langgaard will never be regarded as a composer in the top ten or even the top fifty. His music is too eclectic and confused for that. Genius is offset by a lack of unity and development. However, he will give considerable pleasure to those listeners who enjoy music that is high-romantic and who do not mind their composers wearing their hearts on their sleeves.

I promised my top three symphonies so here they are:

The 1st Symphony for its sheer romantic, over the top, vastness. Great stuff

The 9th Symphony because it is probably the most approachable.

The 16th Symphony because in the last movement Langgaard wins the day!

Many people have visited Portmeirion in North Wales. It is a collection of buildings from different periods and cultures juxtaposed in the Welsh landscape. When viewed from afar it can be seen as an architectural nightmare. A confusion of styles and eras. Yet each building is admired or criticised as a work of art in its own right. Each building is capable of moving us or confusing us. Only after much effort and pondering can we step back and begin to see some kind of unity in the overall plan. For it was one man's vision. The binding feature is the designer of Portmeirion.

And the same can be said of Langgaard's music. I will not pursue this metaphor.


A great complex of works. A huge cycle of symphonies. Some of these pieces are truly great, some exhibit pure genius, some are unlistenable, some are just plain banal. Yet somehow I feel that this man has to be accommodated into the Pantheon of Western composers. These CDs make a very brave attempt at beginning to secure this recognition.

John France.



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