Langgaard: String Quartets 1 & 5
26 November 2014
InfodadThe effects of the music of Rued Langgaard are highly varied
and by no means universally enjoyed – Langgaard (1893-1952) never achieved the acceptance he sought in his native Denmark, for example. Part of the problem is that Langgaard did himself no favors in making his music presentable. The Nightingale String Quartet has now completed a survey of Langgaard’s string quartets, which number more or less 10 but are hard to pin down because of numerous revisions, reuse of movements in different contexts, and Langgaard’s failure to number the works in any reasonable order (one chronological sequence goes 6, 3, 5, 4). Four of the quartets were all called Rosengaardsspil
(“Rose Garden Play”), referring to a summer during which the young Langgaard fell in love, but the composer later changed three of the works’ designations, keeping the title for the fourth work but not giving that one a sequence number. Langgaard was difficult compositionally, too, with some of his works sounding genuinely modern more than half a century after they were composed. The latest Dacapo release of Langgaard’s quartets includes
both his first significant work in the form and his last one. Indeed, the Quartet No. 1, completed in 1915, is Langgaard’s first major chamber work of any sort. It has never been recorded before and was performed only once, in private, in 1916. Langgaard subsequently tore it apart, reusing some elements and discarding others, then remade the whole thing in 1936. Quotations from Goethe songs and a hymnlike tune in the finale are among the work’s distinguishing features. Its most interesting movement is its third, the slow movement, in which very modern-sounding, almost motionless music is periodically interrupted by sudden agitated injections that seem to be commenting on the main material dismissively. At the other end of Langgaard’s production for string quartet is the very brief Italian Scherzo from 1950, which also gets its first-ever recording here. It was one of a number of draft elements that Langgaard wrote over the years without develop[ping them further – in this case, he said he could not be bothered to compose the remaining parts. Also on this CD is String Quartet No. 5, the last-conceived of Langgaard’s quartets, whose first form dates to 1925; it was significantly revised in 1926-28 and then modified again in 1938. This is the easiest music on the disc to listen to: Langgaard specifically wrote it as an alternative to then-modern music that he considered horrible to hear, and it has a sweetness, an idyllic flow, that is uncomplicated and comes with an old-fashioned pastoral cast. The Nightingale String Quartet handles these very different pieces with skill and understanding
, allowing the thorny elements their difficulties and the expressive ones their beauties, thus showing how extreme the mood swings tend to be in all Langgaard’s music.