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