In the composer's workshop

How did Langgaard write his music?

Inspiration and intuition
In an interview given in 1922 Langgaard explained that he saw what he wanted to express as a picture, after which the music developed of its own accord. In a note written later he explained that he relied on his ear when composing. In other words, an intellectual approach to the creative process was foreign to Langgaard, and his attitude to the craft of writing music can almost be called anti-academic - which corresponds very well to his romantic and passionate view of the artist and the role of the artist.

INTUITION and INSPIRATION were the be-all and end-all for Langgaard. Whatever came to him in his inspired moments he regarded with reverence, as if it were a divine communication.
For Langgaard, composing never became a question of routine and fixed hours of work. He waited for the inspiration to come, and then took whatever time was necessary. He had no job, and his calendar contained no commissions with deadlines to be met. At the same time, Langgaard did not regard this freedom as a privilege. As he put it, he needed a practical and not too demanding position as a musician - a church organist - in order to "keep the spark alive". However, this situation did not materialise until at the age of 47 he was given a permanent position as organist at Ribe Cathedral.

We know very little about the pictures Langgaard saw before his inner eye, and about how the music took shape in this thoughts, but the manuscripts he left behind tell us what happened when the music was written down on paper - what happened in the composer's workshop.


Many of Langgaard's manuscripts contain corrections that are haphazard and hard to interpret. This section of an organ prelude, used by Langgaard at a service in Ribe Cathedral in 1948, provides one of the worst examples!

Getting into a mood
The first thing Langgaard put to paper when composing was never just a tune or a theme. The ideas he wanted to materialise were part of a melodic and harmonic whole, and were therefore noted down in two staves (like piano music). Often, though, there were only a few bars. An indication, a mood precisely noted in a short moment, were seemingly enough to define a composition as far as Langgaard was concerned. And this observation accords well with the fact that in general Langgaard's music is not carried along by the melody, but on the contrary by the style, the tone and the 'mood' - and by the fact that the musical character and the tonal universe established in the first seconds of a work were in Langgaard's eyes decisive for the work as a whole.

The work of composition
When Langgaard was gripped by his muse, he was able to outline a whole symphony in the course of a few days (Symphony No. 4) or even a few hours (Symphony No. 15). He had perfect pitch and liked to compose without the piano. After the outline phase, however, came the process of working out the music in detail and making a fair copy of the score, which often took a long time. As a craftsman Langgaard was technically very assured, and as a rule also very careful when working out the music in detail.

In connection with the orchestral works, the next stage was to make a detailed outline in the form of a reduced score, known as aparticell. This formed the basis of the final score.
However, this process over several stages was not evident in Langgaard's later years. It is as if he lost patience in the 1940's, and gave far more scope to his immediate inspiration. He began to work in a more impulsive and less disciplined way, which meant among other things that he moved from a hastily scribbled draft to the final score. In some cases only a few hours passed before the first idea was realised in the form of a finished manuscript. This can be seen from the notes written on the manuscripts, which in his hectic creative period in 1947-49 not only indicated the date, but also the time of day! They also contain strange and mysterious signs.
The impulsive way of working used by Langgaard in the 1940's is also reflected in the apparently haphazard and illogical manner in which some of his works were composed.

Revisions, new versions and 'recycling'
A special characteristic of Langgaard as an artist is that he never really put his compositions 'behind him'. His works continued to rummage around in his head, and he often returned to earlier compositions, used material from them in new works, changed them, revised them and invented new titles for them. As Langgaard's works were normally not printed, but remained as a rule at home with him in their original manuscript form, he had every opportunity to change and correct them. Even the fact that a work had been printed, however, did not deter him from revising it. Symphony No. 7 was published in 1927 at Langgaard's own expense, but the year after he launched upon a long process of revising it!
When we look at the periods of composition and revision of the 16 symphonies, a clear pattern emerges.
'Recycling' was especially to the fore in Langgaard's later years, when time after time he took up music from his youth and approached it from a new angle.

Change of title
As time went on, the titles of his works became more and more important to Langgaard. He was always looking for pithy titles that could precisely express the ideas behind a work. There are examples of compositions that have been given as many as 10-12 different suggested titles. Conversely, the same title was also used for different works, and different versions of a work may have widely different titles. No wonder we sometimes find ourselves at sixes and sevens!

Bendt Viinholt Nielsen, 1996.