Without music life would be a mistake.
SIEGFRIED and RUED LANGGAARD
“If a composer could say what he had to say in words he would not bother trying to say it in music.”
The above line sums up the Langgaards . Their music is beyond all words.
A well-researched and written piece (albeit in French):
Le 28 juillet 1893, naît à Copenhague, Rued Langgaard. Le bébé arrive dans un milieu où domine la musique. Le père, Siegfried Langgaard (1852-1914), musicien de la Chambre royale, compose et joue du piano. Une grande partie de ses activités est consacrée à l’enseignement (il professe pendant 33 ans au Conservatoire de Copenhague) et lui-même fut un des élèves de Franz Liszt.
La mère, Emma (née Foss, 1861-1926), est pianiste et donne des cours privés. Le couple n’aura pas d’autre enfant et vivra [jusqu’en 1927] au quatrième étage d’un appartement situé Niels Juelsgade (Copenhague). Le 3 septembre suivant, le bébé est baptisé à l’église Garnison (Garnisonskirke)de la capitale, il se prénomme : Rud Immanuel Langgaard. 1
Dès l’âge de cinq ans sa mère commence à lui enseigner le piano. Plus tard, son père prendra le relais. Ils sont bientôt persuadés d’avoir enfanté un génie. Des professeurs privés sont choisis, on l’isole du monde, on lui évite contraintes et contrariétés, et il ne connaît pas l’existence de la plupart des enfants de son âge. Cette éducation marquera à jamais son caractère : distance d’avec les réalités matérielles et sociales, refus de discipline, fortes impulsions émotives mal maîtrisées.
Pendant une dizaine d’années (1898-1908) les Langgaard passent les vacances d’été en Suède. 2
Conditionné de la sorte, la précocité de l’enfant ne fait aucun doute. Ainsi, à l’âge de six ans joue-t-il sur un orgue d’église, pour la première fois. A sept ans, il est capable de jouer les Davidsbündlertänze de Schumann et les Mazurkas de Chopin. 3
En 1901, à 8 ans, il commence à très bien jouer de l’orgue et à composer de courtes pièces pour piano. Ses talents s’avèrent multiples puisqu’il dessine et réalise des peintures à l’huile alors qu’il n’a pas atteint sa dixième année. 4
Ses progrès sont tels qu’on le confie pendant trois ans environ à l’organiste de la Jesuskirken de Valby, Gustav Helsted, un personnage qui jouit d’une grande notoriété et au violoniste Christian Petersen, ancien membre de l’Orchestre royal de Copenhague. 5
Sa première apparition publique en concert comme organiste et aussi comme improvisateur se place le 19 mars 1905 à Frederikskirken (Marmorkirken/Eglise de marbre) de Copenhague. L’interprète a 11 ans ! Mais déjà, il souhaite avant tout devenir compositeur. Quelques temps plus tard, le 7 juillet, a lieu son premier concert indépendant dans la même église. Il met à son programme une « improvisation libre », une passacaille de Frescobaldi, la Sonate pour orgue n° 3 d’Alexandre Guilmant, compositeur et organiste français de haute renommée. Afin de compléter sa formation, il étudie sous l’autorité du grand chef norvégien installé à Copenhague, Johan Svendsen, qui avait alors comme élève privé Hakon Børresen promis à une belle carrière.
En janvier 1906 il commence à étudier la théorie musicale à l’Institut de musique de C.F.E. Horneman, avec ce dernier en personne. Mais sa disparition en juin suivant l’amena à poursuivre sa formation avec le compositeur Vilhelm Rosenberg (1862-1944). Le garçonnet de 12 ans reçoit en mai une bourse « Au nom de l’art et de la science » de 200 couronnes pour l’aider à poursuivre ses études. 6
Les espoirs que génère l’adolescent sont immenses et ses précoces talents reconnus, comme le prouvent ses premières publications à 13 ans, à la fin de 1906, chez le grand éditeur danois Wilhelm Hansen Musikforlag. Il s’agit de deux pièces pour piano (Sommerdag /Jour d’été et Sarabande) et de deux chansons ! Il travaille également sur Musae triumphantes pour solistes vocaux, chœur d’hommes et orchestre (1906-1907)…
To continue, please follow:
For the English alone peruser
…please take a large moment of your life to explore this brilliant man. Here is a small bit of his life:
In his unsettled mind, he was not just a great composer, he was a prophet—a chosen person. He, and not Denmark’s darling, Carl Nielsen, possessed a truth, bequeathed to him by his parents, that music—particularly his music—could bring about a new theocratic world order with the true creative artist at the summit.
But to his horror, Langgaard saw music of the new 20th century falling from perfection into “dissolution” and “vulgarization,” and he believed that his efforts to stop this were being thwarted. Never taken seriously in his home country, the strain of his burden was overwhelming and when, in 1924, the Danish Royal Opera rejected his opera Antikrist, an allegory of his battle against modern decadence, the 31-year-old composer snapped. Publicly and repeatedly, Langgaard lashed out at his perceived enemies, Nielsen and the Danish musical establishment, permanently alienating himself from the very public and institutions upon whom his longed-for success depended. Unperformed and dismissed as a crackpot, the eccentric chosen one sank into near madness.
On a government stipend, he remained unemployed as a musician until 1940, when he managed to secure a position as organist in rural Denmark. His huge body of work remained essentially unheard during his life. He died in 1952, at the age of 59, convinced that his latter works “mark[ed] the end of the mission of music in the world.”
So it stood for years, until Denmark, no longer bedeviled by Langgaard’s hostility, began a reassessment of his legacy. Bendt Viinholt Nielsen, Langgaard’s biographer and the editor of the critical edition used for these recordings, has been a committed advocate. Danish Radio, which, despite the abuse it suffered from Langgaard, sponsored most of the performances of his music while he was alive, has continued to do so since his death. With Segerstam and Neeme Järvi, the Danish National Radio Symphony Orchestra set down the First Symphony and the Fourth through Sixth respectively for Chandos (9249 and 9064). On Danacord (307 and 340–341, re-released on 560), they recorded, with conductors Frandsen, Schmidt, and Schønwandt, the Symphonies Nos. 4, 6, 10 and 14. There were a few earlier LP releases, but these were the recordings that first introduced many to the symphonies of the eccentric Dane. They are still an excellent sampling of the 16, and created enough interest that I purchased the 1992 Danacord symphonies set with the Artur Rubinstein Philharmonic Orchestra under Ilya Stupel. As it happened, the experience of the rest of the Langgaard canon cured me for years. I kept the earlier discs, found other homes for the Stupel discs, and haven’t thought much about Langgaard since. It was the appearance of this set, under Thomas Dausgaard, a conductor whose Nielsen, Berwald, and Beethoven I admire, that convinced me to try again.
Alas, Dausgaard and his excellent Danish orchestra could not persuade me of the value of most of these works, either. A couple of weeks of immersion in this new set, along with a reappraisal of the earlier CDs, has confirmed that Langgaard was a composer with compositional gifts—especially for brilliant orchestration—but not enough of them. He lacked, in particular, a talent for formal structure and an adequate sense of proportion, shortcomings fatal to the writing of symphonies. The 16 works that he chose to designate as such are too often bewildering juxtapositions of powerful, often beautiful, inspirations and banal effects, patchworks of themes with little coherent organization, and grandiose ideas with little or no development. What is more, throughout his life he wrote works not just inspired by, but consciously imitative of Romantic composers like Schumann, Grieg, Strauss, Wagner, and Liszt. These composers had iconic significance for him—their music represented good and evil in the world—but to the unassimilated listener, the results sound like neophyte borrowing. After 1924, as he became consumed by his anger and self-pity, he began writing in protest of what he perceived as his mistreatment, often parodying his assumed tormentors and confronting them with his disdain.
The result of all this is a body of symphonic works of wildly varying character and quality. In many, he appears petulantly to celebrate his shortcomings, as in the overblown and unrelievedly trite Eighth, or the completely disjointed 13th. The 11th, a caricature of a symphonic structure with no content, is a six-minute long temper tantrum by the perennially angry composer. Several works, like the ebullient Ninth, disappoint because they are so derivative. The Ninth is the worst case; he seemingly used Schumann’s “Rhenish,” complete with cathedral movement, as a template. (In addition, it was written at the height of World War II, during the Nazi occupation of Denmark, yet it reflects nothing of the turmoil in his homeland or the world. Very odd.)
There are effective works, as well. The First, in particular, and the valedictory 16th, transcend their self-indulgence. The quirky 14th is amusing because of it. The vaguely Hindemith-like Sixth boasts a uniquely styled theme and variations to provide structure. The regret-filled, pastoral Fourth disappoints as a symphony, but can be appreciated as a tone poem. Yet, pleasing as these works are—and these are the ones that initially attracted me to Langgaard—none of the 16 symphonies really achieve mastery of form or substance. Langgaard’s contemporaries, seemingly, weren’t so wrong in their assessment.
Still, there are now those who value Langgaard for his eccentricities, and who view his peculiar traits as the signs of a unique creative genius. For them, this newly compiled dacapo edition is a treasure. Dausgaard presents Langgaard in all his oddball glory; brilliant and muscular in style, hiding nothing and apparently reveling in his peculiarity. Dausgaard is generally precise and powerful, not willing to smooth out the stylistic shifts, and he uses rubato more sparingly than the conductors in competing releases do. This works best when Langgaard is in stentorian mode: the buildup in the finale of the Sixth to the last massive chord is hair-raising. But where expressive imagination is needed, especially when repetitions of inadequately developed material threaten to get tiresome, Dausgaard tends to play it straight where other conductors have shaped and varied the repetitions to maintain interest. Charm is not Dausgaard’s strength here, either. The capricious 14th, so captivating in Schønwandt’s hands on Danacord, becomes stiff in Dausgaard’s performance. Still, this set supersedes the pioneering Danacord complete edition, which memory tells me—and a download of the First confirms—was rather rough in execution. Here, the playing of all sections of the orchestra, from silken strings to characterful woodwinds to massive brass, is superlative. This would be an easy recommendation on the basis of orchestral prowess alone. Completeness is its other compelling virtue.
For those of us less enamored of the idiosyncratic and extravagant, though, completeness may not be a selling point. For doubters, I would suggest a more measured approach, starting with the precocious First, arguably Langgaard’s best symphony. This hour-long teenage exuberance, in the style of Wagner and Strauss, can be rather wearing for anyone not devoted to Scriabin-like intemperance. However, paradoxically, I would recommend the most indulgent recording, Segerstam’s at over 67 minutes, as the most effective. Stupel’s recording, 10 minutes faster, misses much of the poetry of the work. Dausgaard’s, at a bit over 60, is much the same. His forward momentum, steadiness, and transparency, such virtues in Nielsen and Beethoven, work less well here. Segerstam—darker, more flexible and above all more Wagnerian—gives the work time to breathe, characterizes each section with an unerring sense of the whole, and molds rough transitions so that the seams hardly show.
After Segerstam, I would explore the Danacord compilation. These two discs provide a broad prospectus of Langgaard’s symphonic output, including the charmingly peculiar 14th, a suite in subtitle and fact, with some very odd movement names (“Radio-Caruso and Forced Energy,” for instance), some unique use of the chorus and organ, and a gorgeously ecstatic string climax in the second movement. Schønwandt paces it all beautifully, as does Frandsen in both the Fourth and Sixth Symphonies, finding the perfect tempos and phrasing to bring the works alive. The pacing of the Poco adagio (“Tired”) section of the Fourth, for instance, with its plaintive English horn solo, is breathtaking. Despite my affection for the Järvi on Chandos, and the superior Chandos sound, these three live performances from 1981 and 1977, respectively, are my essential Langgaard.
The uneven 10th Symphony, another tone poem masquerading as a symphony, is presented with searing conviction by Ole Schmidt, though the 1977 DNRSO, again captured in concert, is occasionally overawed by the technical demands. Completing the two-disc set is another technically respectable but musically inspired performance, this of Langgaard’s most avant-garde work, the 1918 Music of the Spheres. Almost giving credence to Langgaard’s claim to prophetic vision—when Ligeti first heard it in 1968, he commented, “I didn’t realize that I was actually imitating Langgaard”—this revolutionary work is as close to a masterpiece as Langgaard wrote, and shows the challenging direction his music was taking before conflict and paranoia sent him down another path. This Danacord set and the Segerstam First, which includes the strange but darkly moving Fra Dybet, may be all the Langgaard you will need. I would, in addition, recommend Jarvi’s dramatic take on the Fourth and Sixth—which includes his fine performance of the second version of the Fifth—to those satisfied with having only the best of Langgaard’s symphonic output.
Beyond that, one must look to Dausgaard. If I wanted to sample the Dausgaard set, it would be the seventh disc (6.220519) which I would buy first. The dark, angry 15th Symphony, despite some stirring storm music and decidedly Romantic writing for bass-baritone and men’s choir, is too unhinged, thematically disorganized, and bitter to be very satisfying, but the Straussian 16th, written a year before Langgaard’s death, reveals a resigned, seemingly saner—though still flamboyant— composer writing from the heart. It is not much more structurally coherent than its predecessors are, but it recaptures some of the exuberance of the First and, in the Elegy and Finale, movingly takes leave. The shorter pieces, terse, mostly somber works—two are funeral dirges—come from the beginning and end of his life. With lesser need for structural logic, they showcase Langgaard’s talents and are worth having. Res absùrda!? is the one oddity, with its angry parodic repetitions. I don’t need to hear that again. Also desirable is the otherwise unavailable, longer, first version of the Fifth—with its more satisfying ending—coupled, on disc 3 (8.224215), with Dausgaard’s darker, less pastoral Fourth and a powerful reading of the second version of the Fifth.
Bendt Viinholt Nielsen’s detailed program notes, which are not included in the edition booklet, are a welcome bonus with the single CDs (though much of the information is available at http://www.langgaard.dk/indexe.htm.). Still, the box set offers economy, completeness, and clever packaging of the discs and booklet in a folded heavy paper fan that rises out of the attractively illustrated box. It is as beautiful and functional as fine Danish furniture. The sound is first-rate from both CD and SACD layers and the playing is beyond criticism. The commitment of all involved in the enterprise is incontrovertible. Those wishing a complete set of Langgaard symphonies can do no better. In truth, if I only liked Langgaard’s symphonies more and the other performances less, this might have been a more enthusiastic review.
Ronald E. Grames
Epic doesn’t even come close to describing the emotional range of this piece, the height of pure ecstasy and pain:
This brilliant expression of a life mesmerized:
I. Like sunbeams on a coffin decorated with sweet-smelling flowers
II. Like the twinkling of stars in the blue sky at sunset
III. Like light andd the depths
IV. Like the refraction of sunbeams in the waves
V. Like the twinkling of a pearl of dew in the sun on a beautiful summer’s morning
VI. Longing – Despair – ecstasy
VII. Soul of the world – Abyss – All soul’s day
VIII. I wish …!
IX. Chaos – Run – Far and near
X. Flower wither
XI. Glimpse of the sun through tears
XII. Bells pealing: Look ! He comes
XIII. The gospel of flowers – From the far distance
XIV. The new day
XV. The end : Antichrist – Christ
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