The Dark Music of Langgaard

8.226152 cover

LANGGAARD: Septet.1,2 Augustinusiana.3 I Blomstringstiden.3,4 Scherzo after “Ach, du lieber Augustin.” Lenaustemningen.3,4 Humoreske.1 Afgrundsmusik (Music of the Abyss) (arr. A.G. Madsen for chamber ens.)1,3 / Esbjerg Ensemble; 1Pina Mohs, ob; 2Bue Skov Thomasson, cl & Renske Wijma, Fr-hn; 3Amane Horie, vln; 4Signe Asmussen, sop; 5Eva Vrtacnik, E-hn / Dacapo 8226152

Here is yet another composer whose music has been lost to history for more than a century. From the publicity blurb for this CD:

Rued Langgaard’s (1893-1952) inner division can be experienced at its extreme in the chamber music written between 1913 and 1924, in which the secure world of his youth is undercut by a dark musical undercurrent. This is most apparent in the work for piano, Music of the Abyss, which is presented here in a transcription for chamber ensemble by Allan Gravgaard Madsen (born 1984) of which this is the first recording. This meeting between Langgaard and Gravgaard brings to a climax the work’s view of modern man’s destructive strength in a crazy ride towards the abyss.

And why has he been forgotten? To quote Wikipedia:

His then-unconventional music was at odds with that of his Danish contemporaries but was recognized 16 years after his death…[he] composed in a late Romantic style, emphatically dramatic and endowed with colossal mood swings. Unquestionably, he was influenced by Richard Wagner and Richard Strauss.

Even from the opening of the Septet, you can tell that Langgaard was kind of quirky, not by any means a centrist composer. The music takes unusual paths both during the theme statement and the development, thought in this particular case the music is chipper and not really dark in mood. You begin to notice the juxtaposition of unrelated moods and phrases in the second piece, Augustinusiana; this is clearly out-of-center music, even more schizophrenic in mood than some of Mahler’s works. Yet the two songs that make up I Blomstringstiden are in a more conventional Romantic vein, though the second is a bit more interesting in its shifting moods. Our soprano, Signe Asmussen, just gets by. Her voice is somewhat nasal and acidic with a wobble, but she has a basically nice tone beneath the defects and her diction is good.

There are more odd mood swings in the Scherzo after “Ach, du liebe Augustin” in which the little German song, which most people know very well, is thoroughly disguised. Our sad-sack soprano returns for Lenaustemningen, which is somewhat more interesting and original than Blomstringstiden. Things pick up again with the quirky Humoreske, clearly one of the most interesting pieces on this disc, but it is his Music of the Abyss—of which this is the first commercial recording—that really grabs you. This is music so strange, particularly for its period of time (1921-24), that you might be forgiven for thinking that it was written in the late 1940s or early ‘50s. The eerie, fragmented thematic material is broken up, interspersed with both silence and lyrical moments, and always fascinating.

A mixed review, then. Some of these pieces are clearly more conventional than others, and I could have lived without Madame Squally (our erstwhile soprano), but by and large this is a good introduction to a composer who definitely had his quirky moments. I fully intend to investigate his 16 symphonies, and will get back to you on them in due time.

—© 2021 Lynn René Bayley

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