RUED LANGGAARD: Complete Symphonies (1 to 16); Orchestral Works: Drapa (On the Death of Grieg); Sphinx; Hvidbjerg-Drapa; Fanfares for Orchestra; Res absùrda!? – various perf./Danish Nat. Sym./Thomas Dausgaard – Da Capo (7 SACDs)

by | Mar 30, 2009 | SACD & Other Hi-Res Reviews | 0 comments

RUED LANGGAARD: Complete Symphonies (1 to 16); Orchestral Works: Drapa (On the Death of Edvard Grieg); Sphinx, Tone painting for orchestra; Hvidbjerg-Drapa for choir, organ and orchestra; Fanfares for Orchestra; Res absùrda!? for choir and orchestra – Danish National Symphony Orchestra / Thomas Dausgaard /  Radio Denmark/Soloists: Inger Dam-Jensen, soprano (2)/ Per Salo, piano (3) / Lars Pedersen, tenor (8) / Johan Reuter, baritone (15) / Danish National Choir (3, 11, 14, 15, 16); Da Capo multichannel SACD 6.200001(7 SACDs!) Performance ***** Sound ****1/2 [Distr. by Naxos]:

Over fifty years after the death of Rued Langgaard (1893-1952), and after so many years of neglect and omission, Langgard’s contribution to Denmark’s music is recognised in this superb set of SACDs from DaCapo, the first with a Danish orchestra. In addition, earlier this year, the new concert hall for Danish Radio was opened, and the new road leading to it named ‘Rued Langgaards Vej’. Recorded over a period of ten years, the project has had time to produce lasting results, and recording quality from beginning to end is uniformly excellent.

Thomas Dausgaard writes: “There are three things that have been very important to me in this project: one has been to record the music of this unique talent with the very orchestra that rejected him throughout his life. The second has been that the music has at the same time been published in new critical editions. The Langgaard expert Bendt Viinholt Nielsen and the publisher Edition Samfundet have done fantastic pioneering work with the new editions, and for that reason the recordings are more than just recordings – we have been on a mission to make his music available on more than one level. The third important thing for me has been to present the symphonies in a chronological context. For in Langgaard’s symphonies there are constant references to time. To his own time, to the past and to the time between the works. From wild modernism to retrospective time. It is as if Langgaard brings up the issue of whether the time when a work is written means anything at all. This is a point that emerges when the symphonies are heard in chronological order.”

Langgaard’s cycle of symphonies presents the listener with a wide variety of styles – from the large, remarkably mature and astonishing First Symphony written when he was yet a teenager, to the terse modernist short works and the backward-looking romantic ones from his middle age. Born in 1893 to musical parents, he learned much from his father, a composer and pianist and pupil of Liszt, and his mother who was also a pianist. His aunt on his father’s side was married to Niels Gade’s son. Rued was educated at home and then at the Horneman Conservatoire where he also studied the organ and violin as well as composition, Carl Nielsen being one of his teachers. He was also a talented artist. His first public recital took place in 1905 when he performed improvisations on the organ in the Marmor Church in Copenhagen.

Langgaard’s symphonies come from four phases of his life. The first “spiritual” phase includes the first three symphonies, the second, the more modernist works, including the “Music of the Spheres” and the next three symphonies. The third phase marks the beginning of Langgaard’s looking back to the romantic era of the mid to late 19th century and includes the 7th to 10th symphonies, and the substantial organ work Messis shortly due for DaCapo on SACD. The last phase contains the final, terse symphonies, to a certain extent products of the composer’s frustration with his lot. All need no introduction and survive as absolute music on their own terms; listening to them in chronological order without their attached histories has been a singularly rewarding experience.

Langgaard was fortunate on the one hand to have been given an annual stipend after early successes, but struggled until 1940 to find a full-time post of organist despite very many applications, due to his perceived difficult temperament, and some unwise public criticism of Carl Nielsen whose supporters were merciless in their attacks on Langgaard. The two composers had a little in common but ought not to have been considered as musical rivals. Early successes, in Berlin with his First Symphony, in Darmstadt where he conducted the Fourth, and in Vienna in 1922 where his Second was performed, did not lead to fame in his native Copenhagen. At around this time, his mother made the first of her attacks on the ethos of Copenhagen’s musical life, and coupled with those on Nielsen’s work led Langgaard on precisely the wrong path. As Jesper Buhl wrote “He had – like the hero of an inverse Hans Christian Andersen fairy-tale – turned from a white duckling into an ugly swan.”

After his mother died in 1926, he married Valborg Constance Tetens, who had been living with the Langgaards, and she remained a tremendous support to him and his music until her own death in 1969.

Rued Langgaard’s music will continue to divide opinion, but after years of being thought of as, in Bendt Nielsen’s words, Denmark’s “problem child” composer, his works have been reassessed over the last twenty years and valued more highly. Langgaard said of himself: “To be the very essence of paradox, that is my calling.”

Recording quality is generally superb especially in high resolution surround mode, with the orchestra set in a generous acoustic and voices caught successfully. Performances have been quite palpably lovingly prepared, and DaCapo and Thomas Dausgaard deserve much gratitude for providing this crucially important piece of Danish musical history in top-class readings and sound.

Included below are the numbers of the separate discs, the earlier ones not SACD, and the recording dates, not in the booklet in the boxed set. Bendt Viinholdt Nielsen, who compiled the first printed catalogue of Langgaard’s 432 compositions, provided many of the details about Langgaard here, obtainable at

CD 1 (also on SACD 6.220525)

Symphony No. 1 “Klippepastoraler”
(“Mountain Pastorals”) BVN 32 (1908-11)

1. Brændinger og Solglimt (Surf and Glimpses of Sun). Maestoso
2. Fjeldblomster (Mountain Flowers). Lento
3. Sagn (Legend). Lento misterioso
4. Opad Fjeldet (Mountain Ascent). Marcato
5. Livsmod (Courage). Maestoso allargando – Entusiactico maestoso

Recorded in the Danish Radio Concert Hall on 12-18 May 2007

The first composition to receive a public performance was a choral work, Musae triumphantes, written in 1906, though performed in 1908 to a muted reception. He began writing the First Symphony in the same year, aged just 12, completing it three years later. The first performance was given in 1913 with the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Max Fiedler. The same concert included Sphinx written a little later and included on the last disc in this set.

Lasting an hour and in five substantial movements and written for a large orchestra, this work shows Langgaard had remarkable facility with orchestration, and, as with Franck, there are signs that an organist is at work. Perhaps inspired by Tchaikovsky, Wagner and Bruckner, the work is nonetheless original and features a richly scored journey from the foot of the mountain where the surf breaks against the rocks to the magisterial and wide vista at its summit. In this performance the horns and low brass are particularly impressive in what was considered at the time an unplayable work; there are eight horns, two tenor and two bass tubas to make a wonderfully powerful effect.

CD 2 (also on SACD 6.220516)

Symphony No. 2,  "Awakening of Spring," BVN 53 Original version (1912-14)*

1. Allegro con anima – Lento – Con moto – Tempo primo – Maestoso festivo alla marcia
2. Lento religioso quasi adagio
3. Molto con moto (Soprano: Inger Dam-Jensen)

Symphony No. 3 The Flush of Youth – La melodia, BVN 96 (1915-16, rev. 1925-33)

4. Poco animato festivo
5. Lento (Cadence)
6. Animato festivo (Tempo primo)
7. Grave maestoso
8. Lento misterioso
9. Allegro ma non troppo
10. Più lento – Vivace

Piano: Per Salo
Choir master: Fredrik Malmberg

Recorded in the Danish Radio Concert Hall on 6-9 June 2006 (Symphony No. 2) and 12-14 June 2006 (Symphony No. 3)

The Second Symphony is presented here in its longer, original version with soprano solo. This is a work full of the freshness of youth and joie de vivre, setting in the last movement two poems by Rittershaus, “Sounds of Spring” and In Spring”. Architecturally the work is a little disparate; the first movement could exist on its own, the second is a beautifully written slow movement.

By this stage, Siegfried Langgaard had died, and the introverted Rued came under the sole influence of his somewhat over-protective mother. The Third Symphony is a piano concerto in all but name, a fantasia for piano and orchestra with a chorus in the final movement, here splendidly performed by Per Salo who is perfectly balanced with the orchestra. The work is subtitled “Eternal Light, Holy Flame, always changing, forever the same. Always dying, forever running…” and this goes some way to describe the music.

CD 3 (also on CD 8.224215)

Symphony No. 4 “Løvfald”, BVN 124 (1916, rev. 1920)

1. Fortvivlet skovbrus: Allegro –
2. Solstrejf: Quasi allegretto –
3. Allargando espansivo –
4. Torden: Allegro –
5. Più lento –
6. Allegretto pastorale –
7. Høstligt!: Allegro con moto –
8. Træt: Poco adagio –
9. Fortvivlelse: Allegro appassionato –
10. Tranquillo –
11. Comodo sempre –
12. Søndag-morgen-klokkerne: Sostenuto pesante –
13. Forbi!: Più con moto

Symphony No. 5 (Version I), BVN 191 (1917-18/1926)
Premier Recording

14. Lento misterioso (Introduzione) – Allegro fiero –
15. Lento –
16. Allegro fiero –
17. Lento misterioso

Symphony No. 5 (Version II) “Steppenatur” (“Sommersagnsdrama”),
BVN 216 (1917-18/1920/1931)

18. “Sonate”: Lento misterioso – Fiero pesante preciso –
19. Florido –
20. Pesante –
21. Coda: “Sonate” con variazioni: Fiero pesante –
22. Andante

Recorded at the DR Concert Hall 21-22 August 2001 (no. 4), 23 August 2001 (no. 5,1) and 17 and 21 June 1999 (no. 5,2)

This interesting disc couples the fourth symphony with two versions of the fifth, sufficiently different as are Prokofiev’s Fourths, to warrant both performances. The Fourth Symphony (Leaf Fall) is performed more often than most, and takes its inspiration from Autumn, all its moods and the related moods in people. This makes quite a change from Langgaard’s focus on Spring, for here we encounter death, decay and the taking of leave. This is a powerful and compact work, its popularity unsurprising. In one movement in many sections (Langgaard is said to have completed it in less than a week), the programme is unimportant.

Symphony No. 5 is much more extrovert and its programme concerns the fantasy world of the Nordic summer landscape populated by heroes and legends. The two different forms which the composer himself called Versions I and II contain less than half the music in common, the first ending effectively with a reduction to nothingness.

CD 4 (also on CD 8.224180)

Symphony No. 6 “Det Himmelrivende”, BVN 165 (1919-20, rev. 1928-30)

1. Thema (Versione I) – Thema (Versione II) – Var. I (Introduzione) – Var. II (Fuga) – Var. III (Toccata) – Var. IV (Sonata) – Var. V (Coda)

Symphony No. 7 (version 1926), BVN 188 (1925-26)
Premier Recording

2. Maestoso fiero
3. Allegro moderato maestoso
4. Scherzoso grazioso
5. Fastoso allegro

Symphony No. 8 “Minder ved Amalienborg”, BVN 193 (1926-28, rev. 1929-34)

6. Maestoso pomposo
7. Molto vivace
8. Molto elegiaco – Allegro maestoso serioso (tenor solo: Lars Pedersen)
9. Finale: Moderato sostenuto – Allegro moderato festivo

Recorded at the Danish Radio House 18 and 21-22 August 1998 (No. 6), 7-10 April 2000 (No. 7), and 21-23 June and 15 August 2000 (No. 8)

The Sixth Symphony is the last in Langgaard’s modernist idiom has the title “The Heaven Storming” and this subtitle: ”Then Jesus used force and drove the storming armies of evil under the canopy of heaven.” Strong stuff! The music pictures the battles between Good and Evil in all its forms, though whatever pictures are conjured up will be up to the listener as the music is not written with a tight programme in mind.

There is, as is common with Langgaard’s music, more than one version of the Seventh Symphony, this dating from 1926; another dates from 1932 and that one’s first movement is sufficiently different for us to hope for a recording from these forces. This work marks a change in emphasis in his style, being the first in classical four movement form. It has the title “By Tordenskjold in Holmen’s Church” though this is useful only as an idea for its inspiration. The second movement has a quite delightful middle section, but the last seems to end prematurely in an off-hand way.

The change in style coincides with the change in Langgaard’s circumstances; shortly afterwards his mother died, he became married, and the long trying for a permanent post had already been in full swing.

The Eighth is titled “Memories at Amalienborg” and again is in four movements, though this time without titles. The first two movements are the most successfully written with a fine classical scherzo. Perhaps the music of the last movement is just too trite and without much substance to be entirely successful.

CD 5 (also on CD 8.224182)

Symphony No. 9, “From Queen Dagmar’s City”, BVN 282 (1942)

1. Queen Dagmar sails to Ribe. Molto allegro
2. The Dance at Riberhus. Grandezza
3. Ribe Cathedral. Lento
4. Finale. The turbulent life of the past. Molto allegro

5. Symphony No. 10 “Yon Hall of Thunder”, BVN 298 (1944-45)

6. Symphony No. 11 “Ixion”, BVN 303 (1944-45)

Recorded at Danmarks Radio 7-8- April 1999 (No. 9), 12-13 January (No. 10) and 23 June 1999 (No. 11)

“From Queen Dagmar’s City”, the Ninth Symphony, is a four movement and descriptive work, light in texture and simple in mood and decidedly romantic. Written around the time Langgaard started his only permanent full-time post, as organist in Ribe, this is approachable fare with hints of Richard Strauss in the bolder passages. This symphony marks a return to this form for the first time in well over a decade. In the intervening period Langgaard revised earlier symphonies and devoted himself to writing church and organ music and songs. The symphony’s optimism may well be due to his gaining the new post in Ribe Cathedral.

The Tenth Symphony was completed just before the end of the Second World War, and is the last of the romantically inspired works, this time inspiration coming from seascapes. Vividly recorded and performed this work is both meaty and easily digestible.

The tiny Eleventh Symphony lasts under six minutes but makes its mark with its large orchestra and searing mood; this tiny work packs a massive punch. Named “Ixion” by Constance, a reference to the King of that name being bound on an eternally revolving wheel as a punishment from Zeus for his love for Hera.

CD 6  (SACD 6.220517)

The three symphonies on this CD were written during the years 1946-1948, although the tonal language is provocatively conservative. Symphony No. 12 is an absurd construction full of autobiographical references. In nos.13 and 14 Langgaard revitalizes romantic aesthetics in a simple, yet emphatically insistent manner.

Symphony No. 12 “Hélsingeborg”, BVN 318 (1946)

1. Furiously! – Distinguished! – Increasingly agitated – Wildly – Like triviel last trumps! – Hectically nervous! – Andante lento – Lento misterioso – Poco allegro marcato – Allegro – Furiously! – Amok! A composer explodes

Symphony No. 13 “Belief in Wonders”, BVN 319 (1946-47)

2. Fairly fast
3. Andante
4. A little faster
5. Slow – Rather fast)
6. Same tempo (wildly)
7. Elegant!
8. Faster

Symphony No. 14 “The Morning”, BVN 336 (1947-48/1951)
Suite for chorus and orchestra (Choir Master: Fredrik Malmberg)

9. I Introductory fanfare
10. II Unnoticed morning stars
11. III The Marble Church rings
12. IV The tired get up for life
13. V Radio-Caruso and forced energy
14. VI ‘Dads’ rush to the office)
15. VII Sun and beech forest

Recorded in the Danish Radio Concert Hall on 29 October 2004 (Symphony No. 12), 9-10 June 2006 (Symphony No. 14 and 15-16 June 2006 (Symphony No. 13)

The Twelfth Symphony marks the start of the final phase of Langgaard’s life of composing. This is the product of an angry frustrated man, the movement’s section’s autobiographic titles telling all. Not that the music is all angry by any means, but it is very much a concentrate, reminiscences of the composer of his First Symphony as a sort of highly distorted dream.

Symphony No. 13 again was named by Constance; this work needed much research on the score by Bendt Viinholdt Nielsen and Constance to sort out Langgaard’s remarkably messy manuscript after much reworking. And again, this is the product of the angry ignored composer, master of protest and revolt. Originally this symphony was attached to the next, the Fourteenth, “The Morning”, with its jokey, tongue-in-cheek titles. The words the chorus sings are more serious “The Star of Kings and the Star of Lords/Will appear to us in his own good time” and despite the brevity of some sections in relation to others the overall effect is not as outré as might be predicted. However, it must be said that the result is disparate, some parts having the potential to exist better on their own. One needs to sit back and enjoy this for what it is, something of a notebook symphony.

CD 7 (also on SACD 6.220519)

1. Drapa (On the Death of Edvard Grieg), BVN 20 (1907, rev. 1909-13)

2. Sfinx, BVN 37 (1909-10, rev. 1913)

Tone painting

3. Hvidbjerg-Drapa, BVN 343 (1948)
For mixed chorus, organ and orchestra

4. Danmarks Radio (Radio Denmark), BVN 351 (1948)*
Fanfares for orchestra

5. Res absùrda!?, BVN 354 (1948)*
For mixed chorus and orchestra

Symphony No. 15 “Søstormen” (“The Sea Storm”), BVN 375 (1937/1949)
For bass baritone solo, male chorus and orchestra

6. Bevæget (Moving)
7. Scherzo
8. Adagio funebre
9. Finale. Allegro molto agitato

Baritone solo: Johan Reuter

Symphony No. 16 “Syndflod af Sol” (“Sun Deluge”), BVN 417 (1950-51)

10. Allegro –
11. Scherzo
12. Straffedans (Punishment Dance)
13. Elegi (Elegy)
14. Finale

* = World premiere recordings

Recorded at the Danish Radio Concert Hall on 27-30 October 2004, 10 and 16 June 2006, 11 May 2007 and 5-6 June 2008

The last two symphonies, both short, are musically very different. The Fifteenth hints back to the modernist phase, the “Sea Storm” being more a picture of Langgaard’s mind, than one in it, as by this stage, his feeling of neglect by Denmark’s concert promoters, and his continued abandonment fifteen years after Nielsen’s death hurt deeply. His works did get broadcast performances in the 1940s, though he never heard his last, the 16th (“Sun Deluge”). This final symphony harks back to his First, and coupled with his renewed interest in theosophy about which he wrote a great deal, and in which his father had been very interested, the end result is a fine work, a work in which Langgaard’s ethos is summed up.

This last symphony was dedicated to the Danish National Radio Symphony Orchestra but not performed until 1966. The Fourth Symphony had had a nationwide broadcast in 1950.

The collection ends with a compendium of shorter works, some very early, like “Sfinx” (Sphinx), a very proficient piece by any measure, let alone that of a sixteen year old, and others written much later in his neglected and acerbic phase.

Langgaard suffered a stroke in 1951, and struggled to continue with his work in cathedral in Ribe despite the difficulties with one hand. However, he recovered sufficiently to manage to perform the first part of “Messis” on Good Friday, in April 1952. After giving up his post in June 1952, he died a month later in July, aged just 59 years.

— Peter Joelson


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