Aspects & Points

Modernist piano effects

Langgaard was an imaginative composer - not least as regards the imitation of sounds. Works from the period 1916- 18 especially contain many musical imitations of natural sounds. When Langgaard in his piano piece Insektarium (Insectarium) from 1917 attempted to create a 'tonal picture' of a death-watch beetle - a beetle that bores its way into woodwork and makes a knocking sound, it was natural for him in this connection to prescribe "a blow with the knuckles on the lid of the piano":

Now this is of course an unpretentious and humourous composition, but Langgaard seems to have been the first composer in the history of music to make use of this effect.

The same is true of playing directly on the piano strings. In Insektarium this effect, where the pianist has to play on the strings, appears twice, and in Sfærernes Musik (Music of the Spheres) (1916-18) the line-up of instruments includes what Langgaard calls a "glissando piano", that is, a piano or grand piano of which the cover or lid has been removed, so that glissandos can be played directly over all the strings. The effect thus produced can be clearly heard towards the end of the work.

The example of the score of Insektarium is reproduced with the permission of the Society for the Publication of Danish Music.