A personal view...

The composer and conductor, Ole Schmidt, gives his account of Rued Langgaard


Ole Schmidt (b. 1928) has conducted in concert Langgaard's Symphonies Nos. 2, 4, 6, 10, 12, 13, as well as the opera, Antikrist (Antichrist), which he has also recorded.

Langgaard was 'out'
It took some courage to open a score by Rued Langgaard for the first time. This was connected with the fact that Carl Nielsen was "in" and Langgaard "out", at least when I attended The Royal Academy of Music in Copenhagen. I have since found out the reason for this: there was a clique of three professors, all educated at Copenhagen University, who regarded it as their sacred duty to use all the means in their power to spread the knowledge of Carl Nielsen's works. One of the methods they used was to make it difficult for people to get to know other contemporary Danish composers. Rued Langgaard was clearly the composer who in their opinion was the strongest competitor. Posterity has realised that these three usurpers had every reason to fear him..

"Klippepastoraler" (Pastorals of the Rocks)
Many years were to pass, even after my recordings (with the LSO) of all Carl Nielsen's symphonies, before I was presented with Rued Langgaard's 1st Symphony, Klippepastoraler (Cliff Pastorales). Sten Uldal, secretary of the Langgaard Foundation, sent the work to me. I knew that Rued Langgaard was hardly out of boyhood when he wrote it. When I saw the score, it struck me that in terms of orchestration it was an exceedingly fine piece of work. In terms of musical handicraft there would appear to be no problems. One glance at a page of the score convinced me that basic requirements, such as a balance between strings, wood and wind instruments, harps and percussion, had all been met - and moreover in a natural, even virtuoso manner, which in no way led one to think of his lack of "maturity". What did tend to point in this direction was rather the musical content, the "language"!

Langgaard and Nielsen
What a misunderstanding I was guilty of!!! By studying a large number of other works, I soon realised that Langgaard's so-called "immaturity" was more of a synonym for "innocence", and that precisely in terms of his youthful innocence he could follow Carl Nielsen a long way along the road.

The three professors had clearly not found it easy to decide who was the most innocent of the two - or "innocent" in the right way, that is, the real, genuine, unadulterated "Danish" way, with themes relating to fields of waving corn, the green beech groves, the placid forest lakes and the clean beaches, washed by the sparkling, salty sea... And yet it has to be said that Nielsen and Langgaard where as different as night and day. Here was Carl Nielsen - the product of a family environment with four brothers and sisters, growing up on a little homestead near the village of Nr. Lyndelse on Funen, in close contact with nature and the hard physical labour of the farmers. He received his first instruction at the local school.

And here was Rued Langgaard - born in Copenhagen as the only child of intellectual and deeply religious parents - both professional musicians - who took him out of school at an early age to teach him at home. There is good reason to believe that Langgaard's religious background was a contributory cause to his being trained as an organist. Tradition has it that he - like Bach - was able to improvise eight-stop fugues for hours. There is no doubt that he was a genius, and like so many other "loners" Rued Langgaard felt himself barred, rightly or wrongly, from the conventional inner circles. He was well aware of how the land lay; there was only one composer, and that was Carl Nielsen.

Rued Langgaard had written 6 symphonies before he began his epoch-making work, Antikrist (Antichrist), at the age of 28. At two concerts on 11 and 12 December 1986 I conducted this work before a full house in the Tivoli Gardens - 34 years after the composer's death, and 53 years after it had been written! It lasts two hours and requires a very large orchestra, an ensemble backstage, a reader, an organ and a mixed choir, and had only previously been performed as a radio broadcast. For a time it was intended to be a "Church Opera"! It was rejected three times by the Royal Theatre in Copenhagen, but the concert in Tivoli in 1986 was a roaring success! On the same occasion the work was recorded by EMI for release as a CD. The instrumentation reminds one of Richard Strauss, as does the harmonisation in long sections of the work. The score makes ultimate demands on the musicians, and therefore also on the conductor, and indeed on the soloists as well.

Late Romantic expressionism
There is a Danish expression that says "nothing comes out of nothing", and Rued Langgard was no exception to this rule. His parents often took him with them on long journeys to Germany, where he was introduced to the conductors Carl Muck, Arthur Nikisch and Max Fiedler, and there is no doubt that these excellent conductors made a great impression on him. German Late Romantic trends in composition form an unmistakable characteristic of his orchestral works. Thus one of the special traits of Langgaard's production - even the basic material - is that it is often heavily expressionist, and extremely passionate. Langgaard insists on telling us something at any price, and this "something" has a rule a religious content. However, more simple themes can also sometimes appear; themes reflecting a certain "conscious primitivism", which in their instrumentation as well remind us of (Danish?) folk music. In this regard, therefore, Langgaard again walks hand in hand with Nielsen.

Increasing interest
Antikrist as an opera would have posed a serious challenge to the theatrical conventions of the time, perhaps not so much because of the technical requirements as because of the message of the text. In our day - even so only about fifty years after the work was composed - acceptance and assimilation of the ideas Rued Langgaard stood for apparently comes easier, presumably because the media daily confront us with a variety of religious forms from around the world. I have no doubt that interest in Langgaard, as in Carl Nielsen, will continue to increase. Both possessed a will of steel, a passionate power of expression that cannot fail to move a sensitive and receptive mind, and which without doubt will appeal to conductors throughout the world. A study of Rued Langgaard's works, not least his extremely demanding orchestral scores, poses a major, yet enriching challenge to us all.

Ole Schmidt, Sjællands Odde, 1996

(This article was written specially for this website, 1996)