July 28, 2011
Anachronism and visionary, mama’s boy and outcast, composer RUED LANGGAARD (1893-1952) is a character worthy of the trinity of musical Thomases: Mann, Bernhard, Pynchon. Born in Copenhagen the only child of musicians, Langgaard inherited both his parents’ talent and their fervent Romantic ideals; qualities they sought to nurture by home-schooling. Thus the prodigal teenager writing uncannily well-turned mid-19th century music in the age of Debussy’s Pelléas et Mélisande (1902) and Richard Strauss’ Elektra (1903). Carl Nielsen, meanwhile, was Denmark’s national composer and his parents’ modernist bête noir — but in Nielsen’s Symphony #4 (“The Inextinguishable,” 1916), Langgaard found the inspiration for his astonishingly unconventional Sfærernes musik (Music of the Spheres” (1916-1918) for two orchestras, organ, choir and soprano. The response was underwhelming. Undeterred, Langgaard composed the allegorical doomsday opera, Antikrist (1921-1923), to his own libretto, which was rejected by the Royal Danish Theater as “completely foolish.” Numerous revisions and further rejections followed. While he remained productive, Langgaard’s oddity and antagonism towards Denmark’s musical establishment marginalized him. Langgaard’s international rediscovery dates to 1968, when Per Nørgård introduced György Ligeti — whose seemingly unique sound world so defines Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey — to Sfærernes musik, after which Ligeti exclaimed “I’m a Langgaard epigone!” Happily, the Langgaard revival continues, including an Antikrist (see “Lust” below) so stunning one wishes the world could end more often.
READ MORE about men and women born on the cusp between the Modernist (1884-93) and Hardboiled (1894-1903) generations.