This is the seventh and final disc in Danacord's
life-enhancing and scholarly series. The involvement of Bendt
Viinholt Nielsen - who provides the notes and editorial supervision
- has ensured contemporary authority for the annotation. Thomas
Dausgaard has been our warranty of constancy of vision across
the enigma that is the orchestral output.
While the neglect of Langgaard by Danish Radio
drew the composer's contempt and satire he eventually owed much
to the Corporation's radio revivals of the 1960s and 1970s.
Ole Schmidt, John Frandsen and others took up these works with
encouragement from anew generation of Danish broadcast producers.
Busy Philips, Grundig, Tandberg, Revox and Akai reel-to-reel
machines across Denmark were whirring. The resulting tapes spread
through a network of enthusiasts across the world. That the
music was intriguing and fervently romantic was all that mattered.
That its style was out of step with the times in which the music
was written no longer mattered. That Langgaard had died twenty
plus years ago and could not witness its revival was sad but
that was no obstacle to the music beginning to travel and find
a place for itself.
Like Joseph Holbrooke and many another of that
generation Langgaard had considerable success in Europe's concert
halls in the first decade or so of the last century. It was
the haphazard compass of fashion that left his music floundering
and lost. While Langgaard was resentful of Nielsen it's worth
bearing in mind that on the international stage Nielsen's music
did not travel significantly until the 1950s - again after that
The Drapa (on the death of Grieg)
dates from 1907 although there were various revisions before
the final edition was made in 1913. It is this latter edition
that we hear from Danacord. It comprises a monothematic grand
funeral cortege. This fervently sturdy march, in its five or
so minutes, gives a satisfying epitome of the Langgaard credo
- its confident tread and romantic accent.
Sphinx is another mystical piece
in which music is the Sphinx: a great tower reaching in its
foundations below the surface of the earth and ascending to
infinite heights out into space. It was performed in Berlin
1913 at the famous Berlin Phil 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. Here it is 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 accompanied
by a blazingly magnificent choral part. It just ends and the
listener is left stunned – rather like Ives in that sense.
Danmarks Radio is another wild
romp. It has bells, the Dies Irae and an unstoppable
enegry - even a touch of dissonance. That propulsion - and some
of the accents - recall Nielsen at his most choleric. The effect
across its very short duration is like an episode from Grainger's
Res Absurda is lit from the same
gunpowder but with a whooping Straussian accelerant to add to
the flames. In its exuberant repetitive brevity 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.
Langgaard's last two symphonies are quite compact
and are in four and five movements respectively.
No.15 has as its last movement a piece
for baritone, chorus and orchestra. It sets Thoger Larsen's
poem Sostormen – which the composer completed in 1937.
In 1949 after a night time walk in Ribe he was gripped to write
the first three movements between 4am and 7am that night and
to see the 1937 setting as an organic conclusion to the resulting
piece. The first movement is full of what I can only describe
as energetic foreboding. This is given the fugal treatment.
The second movement is strong on restfully sweet charm and on
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 that strange work by Bruckner,
Heligoland and of Grieg's Landkjenning. The helden
bass-baritone is the unshakable Johan Reuter. All the movements
are played attacca.
No. 16, Langgaard's last symphony stands
as the composer's testament to the lofty commitment to romanticism.
In this he saw himself as an isolated trustee of an apostolic
mission. This symphony is warmly Straussian – gold-tinged by
horns, confidently expressed and warmly enwrapped by the strings.
In the second movement Langgaard writes a Schumann-inflected
Scherzo entitled Straffe which 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 the wild-eyed plunge into romance. This
enjoys a more stripped down athletic style - yet still pensive
and brooding. The penultimate movement Elegy has a smilingly
placid Griegian air. It provides an off-centre ‘centre of gravity’.
The finale returns to euphoria of the first movement with a
heaviness of heart and a more stolid tread. Is there now doubt
in the composer's mind?
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.
This is fascinating music in which the romantic
spirit is unquenched.