Aspects & Points

Strange endings


Langgaard almost always starts a piece of music with great gusto and energy, going to the heart of the work without further ado. On the other hand, it would appear that in many cases the composer had some difficulty concluding his works. Sometimes the ending is unpredictable, sometimes Langgaard drags the conclusion out for a long time. There are also examples of works without any conclusion in the traditional sense - the music just stops. 'Strange' endings after sudden modulations can also be found, and in his Fri Klaversonate (Free Piano Sonata) Langgaard ends an F major movement on the 'wrong' note, G flat.

Finally, there are endings of a very dissonant nature. Sfærernes Musik (Music of the Spheres), for example, ends with a nine-note chord (a cluster).

As examples of strange endings, here are two from Langgard's later years: the endings of the organs works Som Lynet er Kristi Genkomst (1948) and Dantes Helvede (Dante's Inferno) (1951).

Langgaard originally let Som Lynet er Kristi Genkomst (As Lightning Cometh Christ Again) end in F-sharp major, which is the key of the piece, as may be seen from the section of an early manuscript of the work reproduced below. He later changed the final chord to a dissonant five-note chord, and later still - in the final version - added two more notes, giving the impression of a tonal cluster, though the Tonic is still maintained in the pedal.

Som Lynet er Kristi Genkomst
Listen to the whole movement, or just the end.
Music reproduced with the permission of Edition Egtved.

Dante's Inferno
The music is unpublished. Reproduced with the permission of Edition Samfundet.

Jørgen Mortensen has the following comment to make on these two endings:

The conclusion of "Som Lynet er Kristi Genkomst" seems strangely abrupt and absurd. There is an extremely insistent character about the motto of the first bar: the F sharp chord, the Tonic, is followed in the second half of the bar by a D major seventh chord, the A oscillating to B flat and back again. The D major chord is - and also sounds like - a very peculiarly mixed submediant. The shift between A and B flat can also be heard as a shift between a minor and a major third in the F sharp chord. This first bar - the initial bar of the movement - is very pregnant in terms of the character of the whole piece.

The second measure contrasts by not been chordic, but by having two voices, fluently expressing the second half of the first bar in a new way.

The insistent character of the piece is brought to a culmination in the conclusion. The two initial bars are quoted in bars 75-76 and 77-78. After that they are heard four times (79-82), and the final chord comes in bar 83.

The pedal note on F sharp has a calming effect, but the left hand plays a seventh chord on D, either major or minor, we cannot tell as we have neither F nor F sharp. But as the harmonics from the pedal are sounding as well, it would not be difficult to hear an F sharp and a D major seventh chord - and this was actually part of the "motto".

In the final version the right hand plays the notes B flat, C, F, G sharp, and B flat. The B flat is still enharmonic with the third of the F sharp chord or the sixth of the D major chord, so it is a natural part of the intensification. The C was the seventh of D. The F - a harsh dissonance to the pedal note - is less understandable - like the note G sharp.

The diabolically mocking and sneering final chord arises out of a gradual intensification, as a consequence of the absurdly insistent character of the movement. Christianity being taken seriously - and that is what will happen when 'Christ cometh again like lightning' - is overwhelming and dangerous beyond the niceties of salon conversation.

Dantes Helvede also ends in an extremely odd manner.

In the fifth bar from the end (just before the excerpt from the score starts) pedal note F is maintained, so that we think this must be the end, especially because there is both a Dominant 7th chord (C7), and the following Tonic F minor. However, this last tonic chord carried little weight, because the pedal note has stopped, and only the notes F and A flat remain; in other words, C is missing in the F minor chord.

So now it would appear that "something else" is going to take over and finish the work off. After a cæsura (breath sign and corona on the barline) this "something else" takes over. As the music proceeds at a stately tempo (Adagio), where one can hear the special sound of each chord, an F major chord sets in (beginning of the extract from the score). It is brought forward as a six-four chord with C in the bass, and it could be the beginning of an F major conclusion.

But this is not what happens. We turn off with a G major chord with A in the bass (and from this point onwards my understanding of harmonic functions falls short) over the note E to the note E flat sounding in three octaves, so that it becomes a cry - a shout. The notes B flat and G flat are added to E flat, so that in fact we have an E flat minor triad, which after a little phrase on the pedal becomes a six-four chord with B flat in the bass, which only adds to the general uncertainty.

Then, however, G flat shifts to to G natural, so that the triad is not E flat minor, but E flat major, and D sets in at the same time as G. In other words, we hear an E flat major chord that is undermined by the sharp dissonance between D and E flat.

We are held in the agony of suspense for a long time, and the mysterious "angle fermata" has been set up! When the last chord sounds, it does not diminish the agony, but merely changes its nature. In the final chord a dangerous D is brought down to C - a less sharp dissonance when all is said and done - but at the same time other notes are changed as well, so that we have the following notes: B flat, C, E flat F and A flat in the left hand, and E flat, A flat, C and E flat in the right. Together, this is a F minor seventh chord with B flat (not belonging to the harmony) in the bass.

And so we are a long way away from a peaceful and supportive F minor final chord. Admitedly, the notes F, A flat and C are still present, but B as the bass tone and A flat in both the left and right hands sabotage any hope of final security and affirmation. The movement ends unredeemed.

The final chord is held for a very long time. We are forced to turn our spiritual gaze in a completely new direction, turning to face something unexpected, surprising and dangerous. And so "where in Hell" are we?