These symphonies just do not sound as if they were
written in the 1940s; at least not going by the received stylistic orthodoxy.
Then again Langgaard was never one for contemporary fashion. He found
his own bipartite style and used it thoroughly. The first of the two
style components is a euphoric reflection of Schumann's orchestral music
- a nostalgic embrace with high romance also beloved of Lange-Muller
and J.P.E. Hartmann. The second part is equally out of kilter with the
argot of the times and 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. In this way Langgaard looks back nobly unconcerned
by criticism of pastiche anachronism on one hand and of alien avant-garde-ism
on the other.
Nazi-occupied Denmark saw the writing of these three
symphonies. The Ninth is an example of his high-tilt romanticism
tapping directly into the style of Robert Schumann's Spring and
Rhenish symphonies. 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. Listen to the vol-planing of the heaven-scouring
strings which begins within minutes of that exciting surging opening.
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
(much more apparent in Louis Glass's Fifth Symphony than here), Mendelssohn,
Liszt and even Miaskovsky (17.10). However it is the super-charged Schumannic
stream that predominates alongside far from inconsequential Straussian
hallmarks such as the rollingly rapturous horns, Mephisto allusions
and Asgard-like episodes (18.12, 22.40). The notes, by world Langgaard
authority (and his cataloguer), Bendt Viinholt Nielsen, remind us that
the work was premiered by Launy Grøndahl in 1947 (who stood the
same service for the Ninth in 1943). The present recording uses a new
critically revised edition of the score.
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 about
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
DACAPO'S LANGGAARD SYMPHONY CYCLE
Symphonies 4-5 8.224215
Symphonies 6-8 8.224180
Symphonies 9-11 8.224182