The ideas behind the music

Langgaard's imaginative universe

Music and religion
Titles such as Afgrundsmusik (Music of the Abyss), Syndflod af Sol (Sun Deluge), Det himmelrivende (The Heaven-Rending), and Antikrist (Antichrist) reveal that Rued Langgaard's music revolves around religious notions and philosophical ideas. This makes it difficult to regard Langgaard's works as 'pure' music. They are always 'about' something; this is music with ideas, music with a message.

Langgaard's fixed point was Christianity. He was a Protestant, but was much attracted by Catholicism, by Theosophy, and by mystical tendencies in general. He did not wish to confess any particular authoritative Christian creed, but based his faith on personal religious experiences.

For Langgaard, music and religion were two sides of the same coin. Music appealed to the religious instinct, and musical experience is a religious experience. For this reason Langgaard did not find it relevant to distinguish between church music and the music of the concert hall.

Music with a mission
His belief in the religious significance of music was imbibed, so to speak, at his mother's breast. His father, Siegfried Langgaard, was - apart from being a pianist and composer - a philosopher of music. He regarded music as "a cosmic idea in tonal form" - the cosmos and the human soul were symbolically reflected in music, and music was the main instrument in mankind's striving after deification. Siegfried Langgaard - especially inspired by Theosophical ideas - wrote two long manuscripts of 1440 pages in all, with the common title Om Kunstarternes Samklang i Verdensharmonien (On the Concord of the Arts within the Harmony of the Universe). He also left behind another manuscript of 700 pages on the central concept of the mission of music.

The artist as prophet
According to Siegfried Langgaard, very special gifts are called for to penetrate the inner depths of music. Rued Langgaard possessed such gifts, and was brought up to theperfection of sensibility and obedience. This became central to his conception of music - and to his own self-image. He regarded himself as a chosen person, one who in virtue of his hereditary gifts had the duty to strive for the highest artistic goals in harmony with the link between music and religion. As his life gradually developed the way it did, the only fixed points he could hang onto in the end were his creative abilities, and the belief that by developing them he was serving higher cause.

Rued Langgaard came to work within a completely different frame of reality than Siegfried Langgaard (who died before the outbreak of the First World War in 1914) could ever have imagined. As the history of the century developed, it became imperative for Rued Langgaard to express the dualistic principle - the essential conflict between good and evil. Langgaard - possibly incited by his mother's disillusioned view of the world - became deeply involved in apocalyptic ideas, and especially Antichrist motif.

Music as a column
Langgaard developed a conception of music as something 'vertical', reaching down into the deepest levels of the psyche, down to 'the evil', and stretching at the other end of the scale up to the heavenly spheres, to the realm of the sublime and the divine. The scope and range of music lie within this vertiginous and boundless space, which allows for all that is visionary and unconfined.

Langgaard brought all his imagination into play in order to express the extremities of contrast within this space. More precisely, it could be said that the whole of his production relates to and interprets the dualistic pair of concepts we could call beauty and decline.

The power of music
For Rued Langgaard music was a source of spiritual power. Indeed, he saw the potential of music as so important that it could help to revolutionise the world in a spiritual sense and create the basis for a new and improved world order. In this way he also ascribed to the composer's superhuman powers, and placed a heavy responsibility on his shoulders. This brings Nietzsche to mind, not least because he, too, imagined the formation of a state based on music. In fact, as late as 1934 Langgaard used an excerpt from Nietzsche's book, Jenseits von Gut und Böse (1886), as the text for a version of Sfærernes Musik (Music of the Spheres) which has not survived.

The music of all things
In the beginning of the 1920's, Langgaard wrote an essay about the music of the future, and about a future society based on religion, in which art and music play a major role. Langgaard's thinking in this respect was inspired by Wagner's ideas about art and religion. If this ideal society was to become a reality, art and the Church would have to join forces, and as a political partner Langgaard suggested the party known as the "Single-Tax Party", at that time a completely new party based on the ideas of the philosopher, Severin Christensen.

Art in this society was called by Langgaard "the Theosophical art of the 20th century". A more detailed account of the musical aspect of this new art is to be found in the chapter entitled The music of all things.

The Star in the East
The sort of utopia imagined by Langgaard was a world theocracy in which music - and the composer - would attain their rightful position. Behind these ideas lay the expectation that 'something had to happen' in the world. After the political déroute of the First World War, spiritual forces were bound to break through and take over power. As he orbited around various apocalyptic ideas, Langgard found support for his views in the world-wide philosophical movement, The Star in the East.

Cultural pessimism
This optimism, however, would appear to have quickly turned to pessimism. At the end of the 1920's, Langgaard rewrote his opera libretto and revised the music, so that the opera now became the expression of a revolt, mocking western civilisation from the standpoint of mysticism and more or less unfounded assertions that the end of the world was nigh. Langgaard found support for his forebodings in a collection of contemporary literature concerned with politics and the philosophy of culture - in books by authors such as Albert Schweizer, Walther Rathenau, Gerhard von Mutius and of course Oswald Spengler, whose famous work, Der Untergang des Abendlandes (finished in 1922), is the archetypal expression of the cultural pessimism to which Langgaard subscribed.

Dreams of the world of yesteryear
Central to Langgaard's imaginative universe as it developed in the 1930's was the idea that the period around the turn of the century - his own childhood years - was the axis around which both the past and the future revolved. This was a time when everything was shone through by a strange kind of double light, enveloped in a fin-de-siècle atmosphere full of contrasts, offering both 'explanations' and 'insight' into the fate of mankind.

Between 1890 and 1914 music, in Langgaard's view, reached an artistic culmination. In his notes he returns constantly to this epoch, which, using a biblical expression, he called "the harvest time", and his music contains conscious echoes of the mood of the time. He was convinced that a new musical era had started here. In this way, recollection became a source of artistic inspiration for him, and he was acutely aware that his work was paradoxical, and he himself an anachronism, a 'survivor from the past' - "What I am has passed away", he said in 1936.

Art and the sun
The idea that Christ is the sun, or the clear shining light, was to be found in the kind of Christianity embraced by Langgaard's parents. In Langgaard's later years, the light of the sun reappears as a symbol of the art that points heavenwards and lights up all things, and also as a symbol for the light which the initiated artist must constantly see before him, even though his reality may be a hell. It is therefore not so strange that Langgaard developed a specially ambivalent relationship to the sun symbol.

Thus it is that many of the tendencies in the spiritual currents of the time meet and interact 'behind' Langgaard's music. We should not expect to find a logical connection between everything that Langgaard referred to, but rather a certain line of approach arising from the composer's basic belief that music is the most important thing that exists, and that religion, philosophy, poetry, mysticism and the fate of mankind are all connected with music. The belief, too, that music does not only mediate spiritual experiences, but also has the power to influence developments.

There is one particular concept that Langgaard only sporadically touches on in his many notes and remarks, yet this concept may be said to be central to the composer's imaginative universe. The concept in question is symbolism.

Bendt Viinholt Nielsen, 1997.