Langgaard had considerable success in Europe's concert halls in
the first decade of the last century. This was cruelly short-lived
as fashion and ‘wisdom’, received and embraced, trampled his music
down. His unrestrained pot-shots at Nielsen and at Danish state
broadcasting for its neglect of his work may not have helped.
Two waves of irony
followed on. The first was that during the period 1960-80 Danish
Radio broadcast many of the symphonies in studio or concert
performances. These went around the world, courtesy of messrs
Telefunken, Grundig, Revox, Tandberg, Philips, Sony and Akai.
They in effect kick-started the Langgaard revival in parallel
with a meagre handful of 12 inch vinyl. Secondly, the Danish
Broadcasting Corporation are now the instigators and supporters
of the present great endeavour now brought to full harvest.
As for Langgaard’s Nielsen resentment it is worth remembering
that on the international stage Nielsen's own music did not
travel significantly until the 1950s - again after that
This Dacapo series
has been issued piece-meal from 2001 to 2008 on individual discs.
It is now the only single box set of the complete Langgaard
symphonies and the only way of hearing the two versions of Symphony
No. 5. Its competition is oblique, indirect and fragmentary.
Such as it is – and there are some wonderful performances there
- it comes from Danacord and Chandos. Danacord enlisted Ilya
Stupel and the Artur Rubinstein Symphony Orchestra for recordings
of all 16 and a few of the shorter pieces in thwe 1980s to early
1990s. There are also individual CDs of a small clutch of the
symphonies from Chandos. The Dacapo cycle differs from these
in that Dausgaard used the corrected edition of the symphonies
issued by Edition Samfundet – Rued Langgaard Udgaven. The
involvement of Bendt Viinholt Nielsen - who provides the notes
and editorial supervision - ensures contemporary authority.
Dacapo offer what amounts to the definitive edition. It could
perhaps have been a dull academic affair but not with Dausgaard
at the helm. We must look to this conductor as a beaming prospect
in the international orchestral stakes.
Many of the Langgaard
symphonies sound as if they were written many years earlier;
at least going by the received stylistic orthodoxy. Then again
Langgaard was hardly ever one for contemporary fashion except
perhaps in the early years of the century. The first of his
two style components is a euphoric and amplified reflection
of Schumann's orchestral music – that nostalgic embrace with
high romance also beloved in some measure of Lange-Muller and
J.P.E. Hartmann. The second is revolutionary and equally out
of kilter with its times. It can be heard in such works as the
Insectarium, the Sinfonia Interna, the opera-cantata
Antikrist and the choral-orchestral Music of the Spheres
- all works from the period 1915-1923. Langgaard seemed
nobly unconcerned by criticism of pastiche anachronism on one
hand and of alien avant-garde-ism on the other.
The Fourth Symphony
was the first of the Sixteen in what I will call ‘modern times’
to put Langgaard on anyone's map. There was a DMA LP and then
an EMI LP of the symphony, coupled, I seem to recall, with some
Lange-Muller. This came out in 1973. It was the first Langgaard
I heard. That version did not impress me greatly at the time.
It was only when a friend lent me some reel-to-reel tapes of
the mid-period symphonies (10-11) that I began to take to Langgaard
with his Schumann-like voluptuously ecstatic cresting sunrises.
Dausgaard gives the Fourth, which ranges over an autumn landscape,
a world-beating performance. It is full of gusty downpours,
thunderstorms, sunlight and repose. The bell-evocation in section
12 is strikingly cold and gaunt; seeming to look forward to
Grimes. It is staggering to think that this piece was
written during the Great War by a composer still only 23.
Then come two versions
of the Fifth Symphony. In fact four exist. The original was
an orchestral fantasia entitled Summer Legend Drama.
The two versions recorded here are the later ones in which the
music emerged as a symphony. The first is based on Summer
Legend Drama and receives its world premiere recording here.
Once again nature is the stepping-off point. A language partly
shaped by Schumann and partly by Wagner makes for a powerful
work. There is even a strong suggestion of Elgar from time to
time. Dausgaard keeps things buzzing along and would make a
revelatory Bax conductor. Listen to the solo violin which writhes
its way through the soft wailing of the orchestra. This utterly
original music is punctuated with shudders from Tapiola and
from the upheavals of Nielsen's Symphonies 4 and 5.
The second edition
recorded here is entitled Steppenatur and it is this
version that you are most likely to have encountered before.
This is very different and I think far less effective than the
first version. The principal weakness is the unrounded and unconvincing
ending. Great Bachian fugal patterns stride forward with the
sort of Beethovenian stompings that were soon to be transfigured
in the Nielsen Third Symphony. Other elements include Sibelian
chatter, Griegian regret, Mahlerian ländler (III) and a pastoral
summer serenading of the type familiar from Nielsen's Springtime
The Sixth Symphony
represents a combination of the type of Franckian luxuriance
to be found in Psyché, a peaceable Finzian 'kingdom'
as in the Thema Version 1, the orientally-challenging
Turandot and the swerving unpredictability of a Tippett-like
fugue (Variation II). It is no wonder that Calum Macdonald in
his still extremely readable book 'Opus Est' (Kahn & Averill,
1979) placed him alongside such 'outsiders' as Havergal Brian
whose own 20 minute symphonies have something of the same feeling
though more gawky in expression. Nielsen's influence can be
discerned in the Sonata movement. The work’s Danish title is
variously translated as 'Heavens Asunder' and 'The Heaven Storming'.
is fleeter in the Sixth Symphony and does not have the poise
of the Dausgaard. The sound on the Chandos is a shade superior.
Stupel's recording bands the symphony in one segment as does
Danacord's ADD Frandsen from 1977. There is little to choose
between them if you can live with the light speckle of coughs
from the Danish audience in the Frandsen, specifically in Thema
The Seventh has
the air of a Beethoven symphony (perhaps No. 4) cross-bred with
Nielsen's First, Mendelssohn's Ruy Blas and Schumann's
Rhenish. The only comparison is not a direct one and
that is with its own later version as rather beautifully recorded
by Ilya Stupel for Danacord (DACOCD 407) in Lodz in 1991. The
brass of the Artur Rubinstein Philharmonic sound rather hesitant
by comparison with the Dausgaard. Stupel takes the score at
a dancing lick. The Symphony is only 16.25 (18.19 in the 1932
Stupel version) and is far less controversial and 'modern' than
its predecessor from 1920 - at least until we get to the macabre
play of the Scherzoso.
Symphony No. 8 (Memories
at Amalienborg) is another compact piece - playing for 18.48
under Dausggaard and 16.42 under Stupel (DACOCD 409). The piano
plays a prominent concertante part in the first movement but
this is no piano concerto. Beethoven and Schumann had clearly
imprinted themselves on Langgaard's creative 'forge' by the
time he came to write and revise this symphony. As the Danacord
notes comment, the symphony is problematic and fewer eyebrows
would have been raised if he had hedged his bets and termed
it a 'suite' as he did with the Fourteenth Symphony Morning.
Call it what you will, this is pleasant stuff. Symphonic fibre?
Not really .. and that Finale is quite repetitive.
saw the writing of symphonies 9-11. The Ninth is an example
of Langgaard’s high-tilt romanticism tapping directly into the
style of Schumann's Spring and Rhenish. The only
jolt comes with the Ribe Cathedral movement where bells
follow the melodic line established by the slow wash and surge
of the strings. A similar shock attends the piano role
among doom and storm-clouds towards the end of number 10. Did
Langgaard recall Schumann's Cathedral movement from the
Rhenish symphony? The movements are: Queen Dagmar sails to
Ribe; The Dance at Riberhus; Ribe Cathedral;
The turbulent life of the past.
The Tenth Symphony
was my second experience of Langgaard which I recall playing
back on an old Philips reel-to-reel tape recorder. This is a
single movement work full of pugnacious and unbridled fantasy.
This is much closer to the zest and rush of Elgar's In the
South and Second Symphony. There are even insurgent elements
from Tchaikovsky, Mendelssohn, Liszt and even Miaskovsky.
The Eleventh is
a symphony of a similar brevity to Havergal Brian's Twenty-Second
Sinfonia Brevis. Whereas the Brian is full of variety
and 'travel', Langgaard's is iterative. The volcanic-romantic,
gestural, cycling, raucous minimalism of the piece expresses
itself in the language of Bruckner and Wagner. Four tubas placed
at the front of the orchestra enter towards the end of the piece.
This is the same Langgaard who wrote a piece in which Carl Nielsen's
name is called out repeatedly. There is something Satie-esque
By the way Ixion
is the hapless mortal who, having offending the Gods, found
himself bound to a flaming wheel rotating for eternity. Yon
Hall of Thunder is the name given to a rocky peninsula at
Kullen in Denmark where Langgaard spent twenty-six happy summers.
The Twelfth Symphony
is in a continuous span of only seven minutes with episodes
marked in the score as follows: Furiously! - Distinguished!
- Increasingly agitated - Wildly - Like trivial last trumps!
- Hectically nervous! - Andante lento - Lento misterioso - Poco
allegro marcato - Allegro - Furiously! - Amok! A composer explodes.
This symphony is a reinterpretation of the epic First Symphony
premiered in Berlin in 1909. The music has its roots resolutely
struck into the nineteenth century mulch with exuberant infusions
from Richard Strauss.
The opening and
closing figure of the seven movement Thirteenth Symphony is
shared with Langgaard’s Seventh. The language is much as its
predecessor but I also detect some Brahms in the mix as well
as some Beethovenian bluster. The music shivers with vitality.
The finale sports a Nielsen-like skirl, lighter inspirations,
brass ‘over-emphasis’, a Schumann scherzo and with the concert
piano used to the point of vulgarity to adumbrate rhythm.
The Fourteenth Symphony
opens with a massively exultant Introductory fanfare for chorus
and full orchestra. Its tone is part Beethoven’s Choral Symphony
and part Verdi Requiem. It’s a glorious din invocatory
of the Second Coming. The other movements of Morgenen are: II
Unnoticed morning stars (serene and gleaming strings);
III The Marble Church rings (rapturous and glowing writing
with a decidedly Schumann-like character; rather like the later
movements); IV The tired get up for life; V Radio-Caruso
and forced energy; VI ‘Dads’ rush to the office (nothing
pell-mell – more a leisurely Mendelssohnian procession made
original by the repeated spinning ostinato on the violins at
1:12); VII Sun and beech forest. That finale sees the
return of the chorus but the music is now more leisurely. The
exaltation and exultation of the first movement has faded into
a soothing sunset bathed in sentimental light.
The Drapa (on
the death of Grieg) dates from 1907 although there were various
revisions before the final edition was made in 1913. This is
a monothematic grand funeral cortege. It is a fervently sturdy
march which in its five or so minutes gives a satisfying epitome
of the Langgaard credo - its confident tread and romantic accent.
another mystical piece in which music is the Sphinx - a great
tower reaching below the surface of the earth and ascending
out into space. It was performed in Berlin 1913 at the famous
Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra concert where Max Fiedler also
conducted the Langgaard First Symphony. It is an intense little
piece built from a single cell which has some similarities with
the winding and unwinding melodic cell that makes up the mysterious
start of Nielsen's Helios overture but here used to quite different
effect and over a shorter time-span. It is an impressive and
very memorable piece which rises from silence to exultant climax
and sinks back into silence.
Half as long as
the first two pieces yet immediately wild-eyed and stormy is
the Hvidbjerg-Drapa. This is a crashing Tchaikovskian
tempest with organ and bells and a blazingly magnificent choral
part. It just ends and the listener is left stunned.
is another wild romp. It has bells, the Dies Irae
and unstoppable energy - even a touch of dissonance. That propulsion
and some of the accents recall Nielsen at his most choleric.
The effect across its very short time-span is like an episode
from Grainger's The Warriors.
Res Absurda is
lit from the same gunpowder but with a whooping Straussian accelerant
to add to the flames. In its brief exuberant repetitive span
we might think of Verdi's Requiem and Delius's A Mass
of Life. The choir throw themselves into this piece as they
do with the abandoned eagerness of Hvidbjerg Drapa.
two symphonies are quite compact and are in four and five movements
No.15 has its last
movement a piece for baritone, chorus and orchestra which set
Thoger Larsen's poem Sostormen in 1937. In 1949 after
a night-time walk in Ribe he was gripped to write the first
three movements between 4 and 7 am that night and to apply the
1937 setting as a natural conclusion to the piece. The first
movement is full of what I can only describe as energetic foreboding
fashioned around fugal treatment. This is more mordant than
usual. The second movement is strong on restfully sweet charm,
and a swaying beguiling innocence that you might relate to the
Tchaikovsky ballets. The adagio funebre returns to the
brooding and threatening eerily hesitant style of the first
movement. The orchestration has a more airily transparent style
than the shorter works here. The finale introduces us to the
voices. The setting crashes with that seething fervent energy
that is a Langgaard hallmark. It also reminded me of Bruckner’s
Heligoland and Grieg's Landkjenning.
symphony stands as the composer's testament to the lofty commitment
to romanticism of which he saw himself as an isolated trustee
of the apostolic mission. This symphony is warmly Straussian
– golden-tinged by the horns, confidently expressed and warmly
enwrapped by the strings. In the second movement Langgaard writes
a Schumann-inflected Scherzo. It had originally been written
in 1950 as a freestanding prelude to Strindberg's play Storm.
It stands out in the company of the other movements as being
more hesitant; less of a wild-eyed plunge into romance. It enjoys
a more stripped down athletic style - yet pensive and brooding.
The penultimate movement, Elegy, has a smilingly placid Grieg-like
air and proves an oddball ‘centre of gravity’ for the piece.
The finale returns to the euphoria of the first movement with
what seems to be a heaviness of heart. Overall it has a more
stolid tread. Is there now doubt in the composer's mind?
A criticism is that
the gaps between tracks are too short. Dacapo should in this
sense take Lyrita's practice to heart where the end of one piece
is allowed to subside and impressions to clear from the mind
before the next work begins.
The first three
CDs in the series have been re-mastered as SACDs (playable on
normal CD players). I reviewed this set using a standard CD
The box is custom-built.
When it is opened the floor of the box rises carrying eight
sleeves which form an integral part of the box frame. Each can
be fanned forward and the individual disc extracted. The final
sleeve carries the booklet. It’s a thoughtful design.
The booklet is in
English, French, German and Danish. Given Dacapo’s usual punctilious
approach I was surprised to find that the lavishly detailed
notes of the original single discs had disappeared. In their
place we have a fairly brief essay by Bendt Viinholt Nielsen.
Even so, this approach does pay respect to those who bought
each of these discs as issued at full price. The words, as sung
in symphonies 2, 8, 14 and 15, are reproduced in Danish and
with translations into the other three languages. Disappointingly
the translations are not side-by-side with the original. This
is a design flaw in an otherwise wonderful product.
What do we take
from this set? Langgaard often wrote in an idiom completely
incongruous with the range of contemporary expression. The evidence
is everywhere in this set. That hardly matters and will matter
even less as the decades pass. What does matter is that he writes
fascinating and vulnerable music that still has the capacity
to surprise and enchant. Let’s also not forget that in the 1910s
and 1920s in particular he wrote works of a stimulating contemporary
strangeness that would have startled his then contemporaries.
It is then a matter of thanks to everyone involved in the making
of this disc that this epic-heroic eccentric can still speak
affectingly and sometimes grippingly to today’s audiences.
Rued Langgaard website
of MWI Langgaard reviews
Reviews of separate issues:
CD 1 6.220525
by Jens F Laurson
CD 2 not yet reviewed here
CD 3 8.224215
CD 4 8.224180
by Terry Barfoot and RB
CD 5 8.224182
CD 6 6.220517
CD 7 not yet reviewed here
Detailed track-listing for Dacapo set
CD 1 [60:30]
Symphony no. 1 “Klippepastoraler” (“Mountain Pastorals”) BVN
32 (1908-11) [60:30]
CD 2 [65:43]
Symphony no. 2 “Vårbrud” (Awakening of Spring) for soprano solo
and orchestra BVN 53 Original Version (1912-14) [37:36]
Symphony no. 3 “Ungdomsbrus – La melodia” (The Flush of Youth
– La melodia) for piano solo, orchestra and choir BVN 96 (1915-16,
rev. 1925-33) [28:07]
CD 3 [57:31]
Symphony no. 4 “Løvfald” (Fall) BVN 124 (1916, rev. 1920) [23:38]
Symphony no. 5 (Version I) BVN 191 (1917-18/1926) [14:22]
Symphony no. 5 (Version II) “Steppenatur” (“Sommersagnsdrama”)
(Steppe Landscape) (Summer Legend Drama) BVN 216 (1917-18/1920/1931)
CD 4 [56:54]
Symphony no. 6 “Det himmelrivende” (The Heaven-Rending) BVN
165 (1919-20, rev. 1928-30) [21:41]
Symphony no. 7 (Version 1926) BVN 188 (1925-26) [16:25]
Symphony no. 8 “Minder ved Amalienborg” (Memories at Amalienborg)
for chorus with tenor solo and orchestra BVN 193 (1926-28, rev.
CD 5 [53:35]
Symphony no. 9 “Fra Dronning Dagmars by” (From Queen Dagmar’s
City) BVN 282 (1942) [21:22]
Symphony no. 10 “Hin Torden-bolig” (Yon Hall of Thunder) BVN
298 (1944-45) [25:53]
Symphony no. 11 “Ixion” BVN 303 (1944-45) [6:20]
CD 6 [63:41]
Symphony no. 12 “Hélsingeborg” BVN 318 (1946) [7:06]
Symphony no. 13 “Undertro” (Belief in Wonders) BVN 319 (1946-47)
Symphony no. 14 “Morgenen” (The Morning) - suite for choir and
orchestra BVN 336 (1947-48/1951) [28:55]
CD 7 [61:43]
Drapa (On the Death of Edvard Grieg) BVN 20 (1907, rev. 1909-13)
Sphinx - tone painting for orchestra BVN 37 (1909-10, rev. 1913)
Hvidbjerg-Drapa for choir, organ and orchestra BVN 343 (1948)
Danmarks Radio (Radio Denmark) fanfares for orchestra BVN 351
Res absùrda!? for choir and orchestra BVN 354 (1948) [5:35]
Symphony no. 15 “Søstormen” (“The Sea Storm”) for bass baritone
solo, male chorus and orchestra BVN 375 (1937/1949) [17:40]
Symphony no. 16 “Syndflod af Sol” (“Sun Deluge”) BVN 417 (1950-51)