Symphonies Nos. 2 and 3
Symphonies Nos. 2 and 3
Rued Langgaard (1893-1952) was an odd, lonely figure in Danish music. His 16 symphonies make up a thought-provoking, original contribution to the history of the symphony. The two symphonies on this CD radiate youthful freshness, courage and the infectious joy of music-making. The very young Langgaard was not afraid to refer directly to ideals like Beethoven, Wagner and Richard Strauss, but his distinctively irrational features were not to be denied either. Symphony No. 2 with soprano solo is presented here for the first time in the long original version. Symphony no. 3 is a true Classical-Romantic piano concerto - with a choral section.
Rued Langgaard is an outsider in Danish music. His Late Romantic and Symbolist background and his passionate views on art and the role of the artist brought him into conflict with the sober, anti-Romantic view of art that reigned supreme in Denmark in the inter-war years. Langgaard did not shrink from the visionary and experimental, the eccentric and extreme, and his music ventured into areas where the outlooks, musical styles and qualitative norms of the twentieth century break down.
Rued Langgaard was born in 1893, the son of a highly respected Copenhagen piano teacher, Siegfried Langgaard, who was also active as a composer and was greatly preoccupied with musical/philosophical speculations along Theosophical lines. Langgaard’s mother was a pianist too, and he had his basic musical education from his parents. In 1905, at the age of 11, he made his debut as an organ improviser in Copenhagen, and when he was 14 his first major orchestral and choral work was performed. But the young composer got off to a bad start, since the reviewers gave it the thumbs-down; and in fact Langgaard never succeeded in being properly accepted either by the press or by the musical powers-that-be in Denmark.
So in 1911, when Rued Langgaard had completed his hour-long first symphony, it proved impossible to have the work performed in Denmark. Langgaard had been on several study trips to Berlin, accompanied by his parents, and the Langgaard family’s contacts with conductors like Arthur Nikisch and Max Fiedler led to a world premiere of the symphony in 1913 in Berlin by the Berlin Philharmonic conducted by Max Fiedler. Yet the overwhelming success enjoyed on this occasion by the 19-year-old composer did not result in a performance of the symphony in Denmark, and the outbreak of the Great War in 1914 made it impossible for Langgaard to follow up his success in Germany itself.
The scepticism of the Danish musical establishment towards Langgaard meant that he had difficulty getting his compositions performed, and had to organize his own concerts to present his music. The expansive artistic development he experienced in the 1910s therefore went un-noticed by both critics and audiences. Important experimental works like Sinfonia interna (1915-16), Sfærernes musik (The Music of the Spheres) (1916-18), Symphony No. 6 (1919-20) and the opera Antikrist (1921-23) were either not performed or not understood in Denmark.
In this country Rued Langgaard was alone in striving for a visionary musical idiom as a continuation of the Romantic tradition with a Symbolist basis of the kind one finds in the works of Scriabin. The tendency in Denmark was towards a questioning of the whole Late Romantic spirit, and Langgaard had to go to Germany – at the beginning of the 1920s – to experience successful performances of his sym-phonies. Yet there was no question of any widespread or general interest in Langgaard in the south, and the performances soon ebbed out.
The years around 1924/25 marked a major turning-point in Langgaard’s life and music. After many years of openness and responsiveness to currents in the most recent music – not least in Carl Nielsen’s progressive works – Langgaard changed tack and turned to a Romantic, pastiche-like style with Niels W. Gade and Wagner as his mentors. He indicated that he felt betrayed by the age and by the musical establishment, and he hit out at Carl Nielsen, who in his view had a status that was far too guru-like. The result was that Langgaard was now given the cold shoulder in earnest. After 1930 concert performances of his works became rare indeed (they were however given quite a few radio broadcasts, especially in the 1940s). He was unable to find a job as a church organist, although he applied for innumerable posts all over the country. He did not succeed until 1940, at the age of 47, when he was given the position as organist at the cathedral in Ribe in South Jutland. In Ribe Langgaard’s music entered a new phase in which the defiant, the jagged and the absurd became more prominent.
After Langgaard’s death in 1952 his name seemed threatened by oblivion; but in the 1960s the renewed interest in ‘neglected’ Late Romantics shed new light on Langgaard: it was discovered that although Langgaard had fundamentally been a conservative composer, there were features in his music that strangely prefigured the static music, collage music and minimalism of the 1960s and 1970s.
Today innumerable of his 431 compositions have been recorded, his output and life have been recorded in book form, and his works, most of which are still unprinted, are being published.
Further information: www.langgaard.dk
Langgaard as symphonist
One has to look hard through the music of the twentieth century to find as long, distinctive and varied a series of symphonies as Langgaard’s. With 16 numbered symphonies – composed in 1908-51 – he has only been exceeded quantitatively on Danish soil by Niels Viggo Bentzon (1919-2000), who reached number 24. Langgaard’s symphonies vary enormously in duration, form and tonal -idiom. No clear development from No. 1 to No. 16 is evident, but there are interfaces between Symphonies 3 and 4, 6 and 7 and 10 and 11. The formal extremes are the great Late Romantic Symphony No. 1 (60 mins.) and the monothematic one-move-ment Symphony No. 11 (6 mins.). There are vocal elements in Symphonies 2, 3, 8, 14 and 15, and Symphony No. 3 is in reality a piano concerto. In the musical style, the Romantic and Late Romantic preponderate, but there are striking examples of forms of expression that are a match for the progressive idioms of the period (Symphony No. 6 and the beginning of No. 15).
Langgaard had no wish to create an independent, original, modern musical language. On the contrary, he deliberately took his point of departure in the legacy of Gade, Wagner, Tchai-kov-sky and Richard Strauss. On the face of it some of the works in fact sound as if they were composed 50-75 years too late. But viewed as a whole Langgaard’s symphonic cycle is an original and thought-provoking contribution to the musical history of the twentieth century. In the first six symphonies he tries out the possibilities of the genre in very different styles. From Symphony No. 7 the outsider emerges in earnest with the paradoxical and hazardous project of demonstrating the continued relevance and potential of the Romantic aesthetic in a modern, secularized age.
The tonal idiom of the Romantic epoch exhibits ‘truth’ in Langgaard’s view, because it communicates a spiritual message that is generally comprehensible. Langgaard therefore culls all the shelves of Romanticism uninhibitedly, but often gives the familiar a special new emphasis and puts it in an unconventional setting, such that the demonstrative, abrupt and theatri-cal emerge. One feels a sense of awe, but also of distance from the Romantic clichés. In order to be understood, Langgaard felt that he had to go to extremes, and with Symphonies 11 and 12 in particular the concept of the symphony is pushed to the point of absurdity. Thus Lang-gaard sacrifices his own role as declared exponent of a harmonious message of beauty. The conservative, nostalgic composer at the same time becomes a modern ‘divided’ composer who relates with seismographic sensitivity, if not desperation, to his time and his isolated situation.
The concept of Late Romanticism is not adequate to Langgaard’s symphonies if in using it one thinks of organic breadth, great contrasts and symphonic climaxes. Langgaard is as a rule firm and succinct in his formulations and rhapsodic in his form. One can see an affinity with ‘effective’ utility music like Korngold’s film music or Prokofiev’s ballet music; but unlike Korngold, Langgaard eschews all sentimentality. It is characteristic that the symphonies begin pithily and clearly – there are no slow, searching introductions. And it is the mood and character of the beginning that institute the development of a work, not a predetermined form such as sonata form. With the one-movement form he often uses, Langgaard can maintain an evocative world peculiar to the work throughout its course.
The colourful titles express an insistence that music has a meaning beyond the musical, a mission religious in nature. Although Langgaard only began his career after the Symbolist epoch around 1900, it has proved fruitful to see Langgaard as a Symbolist artist. Each of the various stylistic idioms has its own symbolic meaning, and the sixteen works shed light on one another, together forming a universe with its own fascinating coherence.
Symphony No. 2 (original version)
The symphony is presented here in the original version (1912-14) with a few retouchings made by Langgaard up to 1920. The basis for the recording is a new critical edition (published by Edition Samfundet), which was first used for two performances in 2002 by the Odense Symphony Orchestra conducted by Paul Mann with Ann Petersen as soprano soloist. This version had not been performed since 1925; it was Langgaard’s much abridged adaptation from 1933 that had become known, mainly through the CD production with the conductor Ilya Stupel and the Polish Artur Rubinstein Philharmonia (1992).
Although Langgaard had apparently abandoned the original score in favour of the reworked version, there were good reasons to resuscitate the original version and to choose it to represent the work in Thomas Dausgaard’s symphony cycle. With six concert performances in the years 1914-22, it was the most frequently performed Langgaard symphony in the composer’s lifetime, and at the same time his most successful work with audiences. Langgaard garnered these successes in Germany and Austria. The Danish Wagnerian soprano Ellen Overgaard, along with a German conductor, Hans Seeber van der Floe, included the symphony in their repertoire and began with a performance in Essen in 1921. Langgaard quarreled with Mrs Overgaard during the rehearsals and had to placate her with a bouquet of flowers. Nevertheless she sang the soprano solo “in a very unfriendly way”, as Langgaard wrote home in a letter – but the success was in the bag and the composer had to take a whole five bows. In 1922 this was followed by a performance in Berlin by Das Blüthner Orchester, and shortly afterwards the symphony was presented at the Musikverein in Vienna by the Vienna Symphony Orchestra. Finally there was a radio performance in 1925 by the Orchestra of the Süddeutscher Rundfunk.
After this Langgaard embarked on an extended rewrite that reduced the playing time of the symphony by ten minutes. Of the first movement he retained only the first 200 of the original 474 bars. The movement, thus amputated, was combined with the revised second movement into one movement, and several passages in the final movement were reworked. The ‘adult’ Langgaard’s very substantial interventions in the work of his youth had the aim of removing the contrastful, more irrational elements from what was originally a highly composite work. However, the sketch material for the symphony that has been preserved testifies that the work created by the 18-20-year-old composer was the result of thorough compositional deliberations. The symphony was begun in 1912, and the score was end-dated 5th March 1914. The three-movement form with the concluding lied, as well as the title “Vårbrud” (Awakening of Spring) were already established when the work was conceived in 1912. It is hardly imaginable that the distinctive form was not inspired by Mahler’s Fourth Symphony. Langgaard must have heard of Mahler’s work or seen the score, for it was not until January 1914, while Langgaard was fair-copying his score, that Mahler’s Fourth was performed in Copenhagen for the first time. Langgaard actually attended the performance.
The first performance of “Awakening of Spring” in Copenhagen on 17th November 1914 was conducted by the composer Louis Glass – but to the great dissatisfaction of Langgaard. And the performance did not mean the breakthrough in Denmark for which the young composer had hoped after the successful performance in Berlin of his first symphony the previous year. The critics acknowledged Langgaard’s ability, but thought he relied far too much on his models, and that the symphony was formally a ‘monstrosity’. The second performance of the symphony in 1917, which Langgaard conducted, was an audience success, and in 1920 the work was presented in the Tivoli Concert Hall. On this occasion Langgaard had changed the end of the Lento movement, inserting a passage with “strange, hypermodern tones that have as surprising an effect at this point as fauns and satyrs would in our peaceful beech woods,” as one reviewer remarked. In fact the passage had originally been part of the movement, but was omitted before the first performance of the symphony and instead slipped into Sfærernes musik (Music of the Spheres) (1916-18). Now the section came back to the symphony. Langgaard must have had a programmatic point in having the religious, meditative mood interrupted by the alien, ‘spheric’ sounds.
After the monumental Symphony No. 1 it is noteworthy that in his Symphony No. 2 Langgaard chose a modest orchestral ensemble of Beethoven-like proportions – and a much more intimate symphonic style. One can only agree with the contemporary critics that Langgaard drew a great deal on his models. The first movement (A major) alone has reminiscences of Beethoven, Liszt’s Faust Symphony, the Siegfried Idyll, the Ride of the Valkyries and Richard Straussian horn motifs. But the form is unconventional and improvisation-like. The first subject and a rhythmic motif are varied and generate new themes and motifs. In the middle of the movement there is a Scherzo section that leads on to a combination of recapitulation and development, where Langgaard gradually introduces fanfare signals, such that the movement can end Maestoso festivo. The slow, chorale-like movement is in D flat major, and in the final movement with the soprano solo we are back in A major. The text is a Romantic nature lyric with the title Lenz-klänge by the poet Emil Rittershaus (1834-97), who was very popular in the nineteenth century, but is obscure today.
The first movement in particular may seem rather naïve, but that in fact accords well with the programmatic course of the symphony. For the first movement (according to Langgaard) describes child-like, spontaneous, unreflecting joy in the budding spring. The second movement deals with the religious reflection that the miracle of spring prompts, and in the third movement the joy is expressed by the human voice which is drawn upon, as in Beethoven’s Ninth, to specify the message in words. The symphony thus moves, so to speak, from an unconscious to a conscious level.
Emil Rittershaus (1834-1897): Lenzklänge (Spring Sounds)
When the larks sing all around me
And the sun sheds gentle rays
I feel as if I ne’er had wept
O’er the world and its ways.
Then the old tale I believe –
That the larks high in the blue
See Our Lord up in the Heavens
And the lovely angels too!
See the birches and the beeches
In their Sunday mantles furled;
For the sweetness of the springtime
Is the Sunday of the world.
Through the fields and through the forest
Hear a hundred voices sing
Greetings after days of winter,
This new Sunday welcoming.
Nodding bells across the meadow
Peal this Sunday to the skies;
Scented flowers now awakened
Open up their lovely eyes.
On the breeze a gentle soughing
Faint as far-off organ swell;
From the forest sounds the tuneful
Sermon of the nightingale.
Heart, rejoicing in the sunlight –
Let the splendour of the spring
Soar up from thy deepest soul!
Symphony No. 3
Unlike Symphony No. 2, Langgaard’s third symphony exists only in the version recorded here, which is the result of several abridgements and revisions made by Langgaard between 1925 and 1933. The original sources for the work have disappeared, but at the first performance in 1918 the symphony was considerably longer than in its final form.
The symphony was begun in 1915 in the form of a solo piano work which Langgaard expanded so that, at the beginning of 1916, he was able to finish the work under the title Symphony No. 3, “La melodia”. Despite the genre designation it is a classic piano concerto. It is not quite clear which ‘melody’ Langgaard is referring to in the title. Prior to the first performance he wrote a rather vague article about the symphony, which provides no answer. He says that the music symbolizes something in the world of music that words cannot express; elsewhere he speaks of “an eternally sounding harmony”, and in a third context it would appear that the work is an expression of truth-seeking artistic creative power, symbolized by an eternal flame. However this may be, it is one of Langgaard’s most backward-looking works, and clearly takes its point of departure in Schumann’s music.
The work was given short shrift by the critics after the first performance in 1918, which Langgaard himself conducted, with the just 19-year-old piano talent Victor Schiøler as soloist. The symphony, then almost three-quarters of an hour long with a brief choral section (with no text) at the end, was described as “an endless invertebrate”. In 1926 Langgaard and Schiøler performed the work again in a revised form (without the choir) at a concert organized by Langgaard himself, and in 1934 the final version was given a -studio performance at the Danish Broadcasting Corporation under the title Symphony No. 3, B major, “Midsommerklange” (Midsummer Sounds). The title “Ungdomsbrus” (Flush of Youth) is of even later date.
The work follows the conventional structure for solo concertos of three movements, here however combined in one continuous sequence. Both outer movements are in sonata form with inserted solo cadenzas for the piano, and the middle movement, which could be called an intermezzo, is a short funeral march, where the piano plays a less prominent role. The work is held together thematically by the first subject in the first movement, which is repeated in the subsequent movements and which incidentally seems inspired by the second subject of Mendelssohn’s overture to A Midsummer Night’s Dream. In the present recording the choral section is included for the first time, since Langgaard noted in the score that the original choral movement can be added ad libitum.
Bendt Viinholt Nielsen, 2007