A biographical multimedia mosaic...


... in words, pictures, music and spoken reminiscences


Chapter 1: The child prodigy
Chapter 2: Symphonist in the grand style
Chapter 3: The Music of nature, machinery and space
Chapter 4: The loner and the musical establishment
Chapter 5: "The Music of All Things"
Chapter 6: Neoromantic revival
Chapter 7: The struggle with the Zeitgeist
Chapter 8: Cathedral organist in Ribe
Chapter 9: The bizarre and the absurd
Chapter 10: Professor Langgaard

The child prodigy

Chapter 1

Rued Langgaard was born on 28th July 1893 in Copenhagen.

His parents were Siegfried Langgaard, the pianist, composer and philosopher of music, and the pianist Emma Langgaard.

Art with a capital A was the order of the day in his childhood home, which was also permeated by deep religious feeling. Langgaard's parents felt themselves to be aristocrats in the realm of Art, and they viewed developments in musical life with scepticism.

Rued - his name was originally Rud, but he changed the spelling in 1932 - proved to be unusually musically gifted.With the talent he had been granted, his parents considered their child nothing less than 'God's gift to mankind'. So Rued was brought up to serve 'true' art.

It was a solitary childhood, in which young Langgaard's artistic development was the be-all and end-all. He did not go to school, but was taught at home by private tutors, and his musical education was guided with a firm hand by his parents.

It was only in the summer, when the Langgaard family holidayed at the idyllic fishing hamlet of Arild on Kullen (Sweden), that Rued had the chance to be a child and to be with children his own age. This was a sanctuary where he had a good opportunity to draw and paint, and in this area - as in music - he had a decided natural talent.

In March 1905 the 11-year-old Rued Langgaard performed for the first time in public on the organ, and shortly afterwards he gave a concert of his own at the Marmorkirken in Copenhagen. It was his amazing talent for improvisation that made a particular impression. Among the audience was Edvard Grieg, who in his enthusiasm immediately wrote a letter to the boy's mother.

Symphonist in the grand style

Chapter 2

Rued Langgaard made his official debut as a composer in March 1908 with a large-scale work, Musae Triumphantes. The shy young composer was acclaimed by the public, but the press called the work immature and uncommitted.

Langgaard wanted to show his mettle, and three years later the then 17-year-old composer was ready with his gigantic First Symphony. But neither Copenhagen nor Stockholm felt able to perform it. The work was in fact extraordinarily demanding, but behind the rejection one glimpses the unwillingness of the musical establishment to support the young Promethean.

In the years 1908-13 Rued Langgaard was in Berlin every winter with his parents. There he heard lots of music, and Rued studied all the scores he could get hold of. And in Berlin he encountered interest in his symphony.

The result was that Langgaard's parents and relatives privately funded an all- Langgaard_concert with the Berlin Philharmonic and the conductor Max Fiedler in 1913, when the composer was 19.

Yet the considerable success Langgaard achieved in Berlin was not the cue for a career on Danish soil. The world premiere of his Symphony No. 2 Vaarbrud (Spring) in Copenhagen the following year thus did not to lead to a breakthrough for the composer. The critics were particularly sceptical.

In 1914 Rued Langgaard made his debut as a conductor in Copenhagen. Over the next few years he did quite a bit of conducting, but only of his own works. If we are to believe contemporary judgements, Langgaard had no striking talent as a conductor.

The music of nature, machinery and space

Chapter 3

In the years 1914-18 large and small works flowed from the pen of Langgaard in a constant stream. In the middle of this period we find one of the marked watersheds in Langgaard's oeuvre. The optimism of the early works now yields to a more personal, melancholy and dissonant idiom. At the same time Langgaard begins to experiment with the form of the works. The work that begins this new phase in Langgaard's music is his Symphony No. 4 Løvfald (Fall of the Leaf) (1916) - a one-movement symphonic "autumn diary".

The sounds of nature, machinery and 'space' are brought into the works. This is done in miniature format in Insektarium, a series of small, aphoristic piano pieces, each describing an insect, and in String Quartet No. 2, which includes a 'futuristic' impression of a locomotive in a delirious, Bartók-like idiom.

In some of the highly imaginative, experimental works from these years Langgaard was ahead of his time. This is particularly true of Sfærernes_Musik (Music of the Spheres), the most visionary work from Langgaard's pen. It was first performed in Germany in 1921 and 1922, but then forgotten and neglected until 1968, when it was performed again and became the focus of a renewed interest in Langgaard.

The loner and the musical scene

Chapter 4

When Langgaard was trying to make his mark as a symphonist the performance options for orchestral music in Denmark were extremely poor. So Langgaard organized a concert of his own in 1917, presenting his new Fourth Symphony, among other works. The concert was a success with the audience, while the critics - as usual - had their reservations.

The very few, scattered performances gave the public no opportunity to follow the expansive artistic development of the composer. And several of the important works Langgaard wrote in his younger years were either not performed in Copenhagen, or were badly received.

Langgaard was a loner, and although his original talents were recognized, the critics soon had him marked down as a 'child prodigy' who had not received the rigorous training necessary to bridle his talent.

Rued Langgaard, for his part, was not good at "selling himself". He was shy and never became part of an artistic environment which could balance the introverted, self-conscious atmosphere that surrounded his parents and their circle. Langgaard never acquired any strong advocates in the musical world, and only a small group of musicians supported him.

Another thing was that in these crucial years for Langgaard a new standard for progressive music was set in Danmark. For Carl Nielsen began in earnest to draw up the aesthetic agenda, while the opposition to Nielsen, to which the Langgaard family belonged, lost ground.

And finally, there must have been something in the personality of the brilliant, introverted youth that made people feel uncertain about him. In the 1910's Langgaard began to look around for a position as a church organist in Copenhagen, but despite his legendary organ-playing, he only succeeded in getting a couple of relatively short-term assistant jobs.

"The Music of All Things"

Chapter 5

The years 1919-24 are the 'modernist' phase in Rued Langgaard's output. In these years he composed a handful of works full of contrasts, which seek ways of expressing existential, religious truths and dealing with apocalyptic subjects; works like Symphony No. 6, Violin Sonata No. 2 and the piano work Afgrundsmusik (Music of the Abyss). At the centre stands the opera Antikrist (Antichrist).

At the same time it was a period when Langgaard's music seems to have enjoyed some success. At the beginning of the 1920's several of his orchestral works - for example Symphonies Nos. 2 and 4 and Sfærernes Musik - were performed in Germany and Austria. And in contemporary music circles in Copenhagen it also appeared for a while that Langgaard was among the young composers to be reckoned with.

One of his most important works, his Symphony No. 6 (later given the title Det Himmelrivende - the Heaven-Rending), was given its first performance in Karlsruhe in 1923 with the composer conducting. The work was received with enthusiasm, while the Danish premiere a few months later can only be described as a scandal.

Langgaard himself saw the symphony as a work that pointed to the future, when a new era for music had to dawn, if everything was not to become meaningless. It was Langgaard's dream that music and art could become part of the life of society and culture in a crucially meaningful way. Around 1923 he formulated his - Utopian - ideas about this in writing in Fremtidens Frelser og Jesu musikalske Selskab (The Saviour of the Future and the Musical Society of Jesus), where he attempts to conceive of the kind of music the future needs, and calls it "The Music of All Things".

Neoromantic revival

Chapter 6

Around New Year 1924/25, Rued Langgaard took an unsual mental and stylistic 'U-turn'. His music was never again to sound as it had done before this turning-point, which divides his oeuvre in two.

After an explosive development from Late Romanticism to the point where he had become one of the most relentless Danish Modernists, Langgaard suddenly began to compose idyllic Romantic music that could have been written in the decades before his birth.

Apparently, Langgaard could no longer stomach the idea that art should give expression to existential problems.

He now advocated an 'impersonal', classically pure music, uncomplicated, with a simple message. And for him this meant Romantic music with beauty, memory and nostalgia as its pivotal values.

The change was sudden, and although Langgaard did develop further from this 'zero point', twenty years were to pass before he broke out of its constraints.

But Rued Langgaard was not the only composer who, in the turbulence of the twenties, sought an objective artistic foundation, a truth beyond the personal. It was a tendency of the period, which affected both Stravinsky and Carl Nielsen. But Langgaard's reaction was out of step with most others, in that it moved towards Romanticism rather than Neoclassicism or the "new objectivity".

In Langgaard's case, though, it was not simply a 'period' reaction. Its background was a series of artistic defeats, most recently the rejection of his opera. For an ambitious artist like Langgaard, doubts about his own value, and artistic heart-searching, were inevitable. That he was affected by these things at a deeply personal level is, interestingly enough, reflected in the composer's handwriting.

Nor was it only in music that Langgaard looked back towards his roots. In 1927 he moved, shortly after marrying ConstanceTetens, to a house his grandfather had once built far out in the open fields at Høje Tåstrup. But the next year the couple moved back to Langgaard's childhood neighbourhood in Copenhagen. And their summers were spent in places he had visited with his parents as a child.

In these years Langgaard worked temporarily as an organist at the Christiansborg Palace Chapel in Copenhagen. He was still looking for a position, even in the provinces - but without success. And when the post at Christiansborg Palace Chapel was announced as vacant in 1931, it was more or less promised to him - but he did not get it.

The struggle with the Zeitgeist

Chapter 7

Rued Langgaard now turned his anger outward - against Carl Nielsen and all that he stood for, and against the musical establishment. Langgaard's life took on an unfortunate dimension and character, after a long, exhausting struggle for acceptance as an artist and as a loner; a struggle that loomed larger and larger in his consciousness and helped to drive him off course, artistically and mentally.

For a few years around 1930 Langgaard contributed in various ways to the intense cultural and musical debate of the day. In 1927, for example, he established "De kedeliges Musikforening" (The Boring Music Society) as an ironic bastion against what he saw as the cultural poverty of the period. It was short-lived.

Langgaard also wrote articles and readers' letters in the newspapers where his idealistic, religious view of music was expressed. Few were actually printed - among other things a polemic against Thomas Laub's influential church music reform. Langgaard was unemployed as an organist and had no opportunity to put his views into practice in church music. Personal and artistic motives prompted him to continue the struggle for a position as a church organist. Financial considerations were not a crucial factor for him.

In the 1930's Langgaard almost came to a standstill as far as the composition of new works was concerned, and instead he worked on the revision and reworking of previous compositions. And he read and read, seeking confirmation for his cultural pessimism, filling loose sheets of paper, notebooks and blocks with quotations and - sometimes very personal - notes.

The musical establishment by and large ignored him, and the situation was not improved by the way he presented himself in newspaper interviews as a martyr persecuted and betrayed by the age and its musical institutions. Only Danmarks Radio (the national broadcasting corporation, then called Statsradiofonien) felt a certain obligation towards Langgaard.

In the middle of this 'tragic decade' in Langgaard's life, when both external and internal problems came to a head, Langgaard succeeded in creating the mighty organ work Messis (Høstens Tid), (Messis - The Harvest Time), which stands as a central monument in his oeuvre.

Cathedral organist in Ribe

Chapter 8

Langgaard's persistent lobbying was one of the things that paved the way for his success in obtaining - at the age of 47, and among 48 applicants - the job as cathedral organist and precentor at Ribe Cathedral in 1940, shortly after the German occupation of the country.

Ribe is far from Copenhagen, so Langgaard's engagement there inevitably took on the character of a 'banishment' of someone who was an undesirable in the capital. But for Langgaard the most important thing was the feeling that he was needed. For more than 15-20 years his greatest wish had been a modest organist's job, so it is not surprising that his mental state, which in the 1930's had reached a critical point, immediately improved on his arrival in Ribe.

His stable activities as a musican in the historic city stimulated his creativitity, and in 1942, after fourteen years, Langgaard took up the symphonic genre again in his Symphony No. 9 Fra Dronning Dagmars By (From the City of Queen Dagmar).

But Langgaard never tuned in to the mentality of the provincial city, and most of the citizens of Ribe had an uncomprehending attitude to this 'odd' artist. The children teased him, and he became entangled in innumerable petty clashes with the clergy, the congregational council and organist colleagues. If he was riled, his attitude could be provocative, bad-tempered and devil-may-care. Very few people got to know about his more good-humoured side.

Langgaard felt isolated as an artist in Ribe, but drew support from Constance, who also helped him by making fair copies of his scores and generally took charge of all practical matters.

The bizarre and the absurd

Chapter 9

Contrary to what one might think, Langgaard had not stagnated as an artist. A new phase in his oeuvre began with the inspired Symphony No. 10 Hin Torden-Bolig (Yon Dwelling of Thunder) from 1944-45, which was the last of his 16 symphonies that he was to hear performed.

With Symphonies Nos. 11 and 12 and the Fri Klaversonate (Free Piano Sonata), strange 'autobiographical', bizarre and absurd features were added to the pastiche-like Romantic style Langgaard had long cultivated. An opaque - often 'private' - symbolism permeates the musical idiom.

Some of Langgaard's later works can be seen as protests against the composer's situation and as comments on his time - and on the musical tradition. This is true for example of the ultra-short Symphony No. 11 Ixion, written for an orchestra with four extra tubas.

The new tendency was a consequence of Langgaard's isolated position as a composer. After all, it seemed meaningless to carry on creating music to illuminate and open up the spiritual dimension of life when no one seemed to need it. Langgaard's later, contrast-filled and fragmented works express a dilemma: on the one hand the conviction that the composer brings us vital artistic/religious messages - and on the other the realization that the world is profoundly indifferent to them.

But Langgaard persisted. The period from May 1947 to September 1949 was his most productive ever. His list of works grew in this interval by some 60 items, including Symphonies No. 13 Undertro (Oh Ye of Little Faith), No. 14 Morgenen (Morning) and No. 15 Søstormen (Tempest), a strange piano work like Le Béguinage- and the choral work Carl Nielsen, vor store Komponist (Carl Nielsen, Our Great Composer).


Professor Langgaard

Chapter 10

Langgaard's last years were dominated by resignation and physical frailty. After October 1949 he composed only minor works, with the exception of Symphony No. 16 Syndflod af Sol (Sun Deluge). The symphony was dedicated to the National Danish Radio Symphony Orchestra in gratitude for what the orchestra had done for the composer, but was not given its first performance until 1966.

In 1951 Langgaard was appointed Honorary Professor at a music institute in Lausanne, Switzerland. Langgaard was proud of the title and brandished it right and left, but in reality it was of highly dubious value and nowhere near as fancy as the diploma he was sent.

But the lifelong struggle had left its scars, and in January 1951 Langgaard suffered a stroke which was the decisive blow to his health. He attempted with great will-power to carry on with his job as an organist, but in the end could not complete a whole church service. Shortly before his 59th birthday, in July 1952, Rued Langgaard died and was buried in Holmens Churchyard in Copenhagen.