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Rued Langgaard

Born: 1893

Died: 1952

Nationality: Danish

Publisher: Edition Wilhelm Hansen

Rued Langgaard was probably the oddest loner in Danish music. On the one hand a child prodigy and a musical talent beyond the ordinary, on the other hand – perhaps mostly as a result of his upbringing – asocial eccentric, profoundly dependent on his closest surroundings.

Rued Langgaard was the son of the pianist Siegfried Langgaard. Because of the musical abilities he developed at an early age Rued Langgaard was very deliberately steered towards becoming a musical genius in the Romantic sense – a loner destined to revolutionize the world through his music.

At the general level Rued Langgaard’s production appears very irregular and confusing. The same music may appear for example in different works with different titles and in different versions – indeed, numbered differently by the composer himself.

The constant strand in Langgaard’s production is represented by his sixteen symphonies, which mark a relatively clear development. The stylistic starting points in the early symphonies are Niels W. Gade and Robert Schumann. Later came more modernist-inspired and experimental works. These were in turn followed by music where both modes of expression live side by side.

It is tempting to see the last period as a kind of postmodernism. The composite and sometimes chaotic and cliché-ridden elements are however rather an expression of Langgaard’s almost impro­visa­tional way of working. The working process took the form of creative rapture, and material from earlier works could be used and re-used – without great artistic reservations – in new contexts. The musical ideas were statements that did not lose their value or meaning by being used again.

Langgaard was a Protestant, but in some periods he was strongly attracted to Catholicism, Theosophical philosophy and mysticism. In Langgaard’s self-understanding music was the medium in which he was predestined to express himself, partly as a way of providing the public with a more profound awareness of the world.

In many ways Rued Langgaard felt he was in opposition to the leading Danish composer of the time, Carl Nielsen. Carl Nielsen actually came to represent a regular opposite pole for Langgaard. This was probably more a result of the frustration Langgaard felt over the lack of understanding for his music in his time than any actual truly oppositional relationship between the two artists.

On the one hand Rued Langgaard’s production included deeply original and personal works like the opera Antichrist (1923-1930), Music of the Spheres (1918), the Sixth (1920), Eleventh (1945) and Sixteenth (1951) Symphonies; on the other hand the oeuvre also includes works that quite unambiguously did not succeed despite thoroughly elaborated artistic ideas and programmes.

Hjarne Fessel 2014
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