Classical Editor: Rob Barnett

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Len Mullenger:

RUED LANGGAARD (1893-1952) Music of the Spheres (Sfaerernes musik) (1916-18) [35.29] Four Tone Pictures (1917) [17.44]   Gitta-Maria Sjöberg (sop) Danish National Radio Choir Danish National Radio SO/Gennadi Rozhdestvensky    rec Danish Radio, 21-24 Feb 1996 CHANDOS CHAN9517 [53.21]

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Rued Langgaard's aversion to Carl Nielsen was no passing whim. Nielsen's success represented to Langgaard door after closed door. Prolific, notwithstanding his isolation, his creative urge was undimmed. It is characteristic of Langgaard's fate that he should end up as the organist at Ribe Cathedral isolated from the swim of Denmark's musical life.

There are circa 400 works including seven quartets and sixteen symphonies. Many of these works have now been recorded. There is a staggeringly full website at which you will also find Bendt Viinholt Nielsen's Langgaard catalogue (Odense University Press 1991). (

The parallels with such diverse characters as Havergal Brian, Allan Pettersson, George Lloyd and Sorabji are obvious. All were prolific and all were excluded by the mainstream musical community. All continued their production regardless of neglect and changed fashion.

The music is very varied in style (and perhaps also variable in quality though never lacking intrigue and surprise) but a Schumann-like exuberance is one hallmark as is a mystic urge, a Straussian sympathy for the human voice and an uncannily premature tendency towards tone-clusters and experimental techniques we more readily associate with the 1960s. When Gyorgy Ligeti saw the score for Music of the Spheres he commented that he had discovered that all along he had been a 'Langgaard imitator'!

Music of the Spheres was completed during the last two years of the Great War, premiered in Karlsruhe and then given in Berlin. Neglect followed until the adventurous cold air of the 1960s resulted in performances - at least one piloted by Sergiu Commissiona. An abbreviated version was recorded by the Stockholm PO under Commissiona on HMV LP CSDS1087. Latterly Danacord (a company for whose acumen and artistic judgement I have the highest regard) recorded the complete version with the Danish RSO/Frandsen (DACOCD340/1 rec 9 December 1977).

The Chandos version is recorded complete. The score is alive with challenging and attractive ideas from violins' trembling crescendo (a recurrent effect throughout the work) over a drum roll, stabbing woodwind figures buzzing with excitement, deep brass step-down fanfares, the slithering roll of the timpani and dancing high violins (Hovhaness would have been proud of this). Other notable landmarks include the Ravel-like upward striking flute swirls at the end of track 4. This work is the musical equivalent of Virgil Finlay fantasy illustrations with souls whirlpooled upwards to some higher plain amid stars, flowers and darting flute eddies. The music is involved but not complex. There is no tendency towards the suffocating Gobelin tapestries of Scriabin's orchestral poems. The sound-world remains breezy and alive. The vocal contributions are minimal, a fragment for chorus and solo voices and briefly, a solo in Gospel of the Flowers. In the Chaos section (9) the music is strikingly like the prelude from The Tempest (Sibelius) with towards the end one of the slowly unfolding brass calls familiar from Howard Hanson's Nordic Symphony. The eddying string writing at 11 1.23 is woven richly - closer to Schoenberg's Gurrelieder than to Strauss.

Mystically rich, the Mahlerian chasm of this music is intensified by a passionate violin solo and the clarinet part - as in Rosenkavalier 'Presentation of the rose'. Finally a great wailing wave of sound is summoned up from a tornado of drums, cymbals, held violin notes fff, eruptive brass, oppressively sustained. This is then released into a netherworld of thrumming on the strings of an exposed piano, harp glissandi, mysterious chords all bathed in a Gade-like choral contentment. Anyone who likes Delius's Song of the High Hills will have no difficulty with this part of the work.

The Four Tone Pictures is a song cycle for soprano and orchestra. Delian ambience, voluptuous vocal writing, birdsong-inflected woodwind and nature-pictures are commingled. Nystroem's Sinfonia del Mare may well have been the affected by the second song. The dewy web of sound to be found in Havergal Brian's pre-Raphaelite symphony (for baritone and orchestra) The Wine of Summer finds its echo in this largely warm and warming cycle.

Full texts and notes provided as for all three of these Langgaard productions.


Rob Barnett


Rob Barnett

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