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Dausgaard on Langgaard

INTERVIEW - A mission is accomplished. Thomas Dausgaard and the Danish National Symphony Orchestra have now completed ten years' work with Rued Langgaard's symphonies. All sixteen of the symphonies have been recorded, and as a consummation of the releases of the individual CDs the Langgaard symphonies are now appearing in a boxed collection. This is the first collected Danish recording of these sixteen unique works.


Rued Langgaard (1983-1952) is the most controversial and enigmatic composer in Danish music, but he is also one the of the most talented composers Denmark has ever had. "We simply can't afford to do without him," says Thomas Dausgaard. The work with Langgaard's music has taken up almost a quarter of Thomas Dausgaard's life(!). Along the way he and the DNSO have also given the first stage performance in Denmark of Langgaard's ‘church opera' Antikrist. The performance was a sensation and was subsequently released on DVD and SACD.

The box of Rued Langgaard's sixteen symphonies is being released on the same day as the opening of the spectacular new DR Concert Hall. A few metres from the Concert Hall, a new road has been built and called ‘Rued Langgaards Vej'. The 7-SACD box and the road are the two most recent accolades Langgaard has received after the torments that DR once caused him by rejecting his works again and again.

Thomas Dausgaard is keenly aware of Langgaard's fate. Here he talks about his ten years of recording Rued Langgaard's symphonies:
"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."

The work with the new editions of the music has among other things brought to light the full version of Symphony no. 2 and two different versions of the Fifth Symphony, both of which have been recorded. Thomas Dausgaard has been greatly fascinated by the insight he has gained into the composer's workshop:
"Langgaard often revised his symphonies, and when he made cuts in them he did so quite literally with scissors! In many cases it was the transitions in the music that he cut out, and in some of the symphonies the content is therefore put together in wildly experimental ways, in raw ‘filmic' shots. In Langgaard's symphonies everything is permitted to exist alongside everything else. All sorts of worlds, all sorts of music. You meet Langgaard at all his ages as a human being. This creates abrupt discontinuities in the music. It has preoccupied me to an incredible extent, for it requires you to find another approach to his music than to traditional classical works.

"You might imagine that a composer like Langgaard, who had roots in Late Romanticism, wrote great slow movements like Bruckner, but that kind of thing is in fact totally absent. There are rarely great arches of tension of that kind. With Langgaard the tension often arises instead from the contrasts or in the ‘cutting'. It is fascinating to search for the right key to the music."

The contrasts are also very much to be found between the individual symphonies. "I think it is quite unique that the symphonies have such a varied range - and at such a high level," says Thomas Dausgaard. "From the First Symphony, where, as a boy, he demonstrates incredible mastery of the large orchestra right from the first bar, to the Sixth and the Eleventh Symphonies, for example, which are razor-sharp modernism, and the Fifteenth Symphony, which begins as absurd theatre - and a perfect example of absurd theatre at that.

"If one likes you can sit down and listen to the sixteen symphonies as one whole work in sixteen parts. Of course you are allowed to have your favourites. You can also follow the chronological relationships and hear the leaps that he takes from work to work. This is a mystery that appeals greatly to me."

Thomas Dausgaard (b. 1963) is old enough to have met people who knew Rued Langgaard, yet young enough to be free of the Danish musical establishment's earlier prejudices against Langgaard and Late Romantic music in general.

"My first encounter with Langgaard's music was in 1977, when I heard John Frandsen conducting the Danish National Symphony Orchestra in the Sixth Symphony, The Heaven-Rending. I had never heard ‘old' music that was so wild! It whetted my interest and after that I listened to recordings of the Fourth Symphony and the Third String Quartet.

"Gradually it dawned on me how poorly Langgaard had been treated. No one respected him, and the broadcasting corporation's rejection of his music provoked him hugely. Rued Langgaard was a strange man, but the old attitudes to his personality must be allowed to die out before we can get any further with his music. For in his works he never stands in the way of the listener. He presents his pieces quite nakedly, so that they can be experienced at a direct level." 

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