The four phases

Rued Langgaard's musical development was not at all linear or regular. Works that point towards the future are to be found side by side with romantic pastiches and music that is typical of the time in which it was written. As regards the oeuvre as a whole, one can hardly speak of 'artistic development' in the usual, chronological sense of the term. In his youth Langgaard was extraordinarily progressive, in his latter years extraordinarily conservative, though he never stopped developing as an artist. Even so, it is possible to distinguish three marked 'leaps' or 'shifts' in his production. They took place in 1916, 1924/25 and 1944/45, thus dividing his production into four main phases:


Spiritual Music 1906-16


Basic artistic attitude: Objectivity, classicism

Characterisation: A striving towards spiritual music marked by beauty and harmony

Character of the music: Youthfully naive, optimistic

Style of the music: Late Romantic with traits harking back to Romanticism

Form of the music: Classical forms (sonata, variations)

Typical works: Symphonies Nos. 1, 2 and 3, the orchestral work Sfinx

Sample of music: The beginning of the 4th movement, Tusindfryd (Daisy), of Blomstervignetter (Flower Vignettes) for piano (1913)


The problems of modern life 1916-24/25


Basic artistic attitude: Subjectivity, exspressionism, unprejudiced, open to what is new

Characterisation: At the beginning of the period the music sought to express despondency and resignation, later on the actual religious and existential problems of the modern age, against the backdrop of uncertainty about the future and the idea that the raising of spiritual awareness was necessary for the survival of mankind

Character of the music: Melancholic, jaded moods - conflicts and opposites, visionary elements

Style of the music: Late Romantic mixed with experimental modernism, elements of both 'new realism' and impressionism ('static surfaces')

Form of the music: Complex, unconventional forms

Typical works: Symphonies Nos. 4 and 6, Sfærernes Musik (Music of the Spheres), Afgrundsmusik (Music of the Abyss), String Quartet No. 3, the opera Antikrist (Antichrist)

Sample of music: Excerpt from the 2nd movement of Afgrundsmusik (Music of the Abyss) for piano (1921-24)


Dreams, echoes, and reminiscences 1925-44/45


Basic artistic attitude: Anonymity, impersonal, nostalgia, stereotype artistic conservatism

Characterisation: An attempt to arrive at a pure, classical type of music, 'anonymous' and available to all (in contrast to what Langgaard saw as modernism's hysterical pursuit of originality); an echo of music's 'fateful time' and (according to Langgaard) of the golden age of music from romanticism up to 1914; reflections on the world of childhood

Character of the music: Simplified, stylised, naive

Style of the music: High Romantic, Late Romantic, certain neoclassical elements

Form of the music: Mostly simple forms

Typical works: Symphonies Nos. 7-10, the organ work, Messis

Sample of music: The beginning of the 3rdmovement of Piano Sonata No. 3, Minder fra Høstens Tid (Reminiscences of Harvest Time) (1941)


Obstinacy and absurdity 1944/45-52


Basic artistic attitude: Obstinacy, protest, lack of inhibition in the realisation of ideas (complete disregard of conventions)

Characterisation: Expresses ambivalence with regard to the work of the composer - conflict between a 'chosen', idealistic insistence by the composer on the high, spiritual aims of music, and the awareness that this task is meaningless in an age that ignores the spiritual dimensions of music

Character of the music: In part consciously naive romanticism, often with a special kind of emphasis, and in part violent, abrupt music full of conflicts; absurd, 'autobiographical' and 'private' elements

Style of the music: High Romantic, Late Romantic, some modernist elements and also examples of a more typical kind of post-war music

Form of the music: Mostly short movements and simple forms

Typical works: Symphonies Nos. 11, 12, 14, & 15, the piano sonata, Le Béguinage, Écrasez l'infâme (violin and piano)

Sample of music: Beginning of the 2nd movement of the piano sonata, Le Béguinage (1948-49)

Bendt Viinholt Nielsen, 1996-97.