More about Rued Langgaard

An "ecstatic outsider"

Rued Langgaard (1893-1952) is one of the 'eccentric' loners in the history of music - and yet of the greatest talents in Danish 20th century music.

Even as a teenager he revealed himself to be an organ virtuoso and symphonic composer in the grand style. Despite his obvious talent, Langgaard was not recognised by his contemporaries and never achieved a position of importance in Danish music.

In the 1960's, however, he was 'rediscovered'. The Swedish musicologist, Bo Wallner, tellingly characterised Langgaard as an "ecstatic outsider", and György Ligeti, one of the most significant composers of our time, described himself as a "Langgaard imitator"!

There has since been an increasing interest in Langgaard, and today more than 100 of his works have been recorded on LP's and CD's, a biography and a list of compositions have been published, and many of his compositions have been made public for the first time.

A paradoxical composer

Langgaard is a unique composer, hard to classify in conventional terms.

His music is unpredictable and unconventional, ranging from romantic pastiche to expressive modernism. Some of his compositions anticipate the tonal landscapes of the 1960's and the musical collages of the 1970's - and even such later phenomena as Minimalism and New Age.

Langgaard turns our ideas about the history of music upside down.

His works are imbued with an earthy anti-academic view of art. For Langgaard, 'Inspiration' was of a divine nature, and he followed it obediently, even though it led his music in the direction of the extreme, the bizarre, or the banal and commonplace.

In his music Langgaard focused on style, tone and space, whilst he was less interested in basic elements such as melody and form, which imparts a somewhat static character to his music.

The usual ways of measuring musical quality are inadequate when applied to Langgaard. He is a sort of "take it or leave it" composer: he is difficult to defend - but cannot be rejected. His music will always arouse discussion, and he will always remain a "problem child" in the history of Danish music.

As Langgaard himself once put it: " To be the very essence of paradox, that is my calling".

Beauty and destruction

The basic points of reference in Langgaard's life were the late romanticism and symbolism of the turn of the century, and an idealistic view of art and the role of the artist, founded on religion.

In his music, 19th century ideals of beauty are confronted with the harsh realities of the 20th century: the world wars, the accelerating pace of life, functionalism, the spread of secularisation and commercialisation. His works are a protest, a commentary, a postulate and a provocation in the face of the time and the spirit of the time (and indeed the absurdly isolated situation in which the composer found himself).

In Langgaard's case, his life's work revolved round the polarisation between 'the constructive' and 'the destructive'. Beauty precedes destruction. The destruction of beauty is the beauty of destruction.

Taken in its entirety, Langgaard's production - in the prophetic words of the music historian, Godtfred Skjerne, in 1916 - is "an inexhaustible source of enrichment and renewal with regard to the general view of music".

We hope you enjoy your further odyssey into Langgaard's challenging, strange and 'private' - but also vividly exciting - universe.

For the special benefit of those meeting Langgaard for the first time
we have made a list of selected works, which we find suitable as a first introduction to the composer.