Rued Langgaard (1893–1952) was one of the original wild men of music who, despite or perhaps because of his eccentricity, wrote some startlingly visionary music. He is very hard to place. Think of him as Denmark’s answer to the great British visionary eccentric, Havergal Brian. During his lifetime, Langgaard was largely ignored by the Danish music world; so he simply went his own wild way. What we have here is far more than a curiosity. Langgaard’s music is passionate, stirring and highly colorful. It can be mystifying and hair-raising at the same time. He wanders among styles and through centuries. The subtitles to some of the works will give an idea of their expressive content:
Mountain Pastorals (no. 1); Awakening of Spring (no. 2); Fall (no. 4); The Heaven-Rending (no. 6); Yon Hall of Thunder (no. 10); Belief in Wonders 2101 (no. 13); and The Sea Storm (no. 15).
The Dacapo label issued a complete set of Langgaard’s 16 symphonies (seven SACDs) in wonderful sound, with very gripping performances by the Danish National Symphony Orchestra, under conductor Thomas Dausgaard. When Dacapo completes a project like the recording all of a composer’s symphonies, it most laudably puts them in a handsome box and offers them at a big discount. Therefore, these seven state-of-the-artCDs can be found on Amazon for less than 10 dollars each, far below what they first cost together as individual releases. In his early days, Langgaard seemed to follow Richard Wagner and Richard Strauss. They later drop into the background and the influence of Carl Nielsen’s music comes to the foreground. Occasionally, Langgaard reverts to a reactionary style that sounds like a hearkening back to Karl Goldmark. The massive forces Langgaard assembles and so effective deploys will also call to mind Gustav Mahler. Anyone who aims this high sometimes fails and there are patches of banality and bombast, but they are few. I find Langgaard’s music extremely fascinating. I guarantee you will not be bored. In fact, some of this music is unforgettable. Thanks to Dacapo, Langgaard’s day has come. This is a very special release (Dacapo 6.200001).
Carl Nielsen (1865–1931) was a composer of such dominating genius that few Danish composers emerged from his shadows. (Vagn Holmboe was one.) Poul Schierbeck (1888–1949) never made it. He was a Nielsen student who produced a symphony in 1921 so in his master’s style (Nielsen conducted the work’s premiere) that I was in shock when I first heard it because his assimilation of Nielsen’s language was complete. But there was also an element of genius in his highly imitative work. Ilya Stupel conducts the Artur Rubinstein State Philharmonic Orchestra in the Symphony and Radio-Rhapsody on an excellent Danacord CD (DACOCD 417). Anyone impressed by Nielsen’s Third and Fourth Symphonies must hear this work to believe it.
Several further releases of Schierbeck’s music prove that he was a composer of extraordinary refinement and considerable gifts, even if he never completely shook Nielsen’s shadow. Dacapo has issued two CDs, one featuring Schierbeck’s songs (8.224017), and the other, three of his vocal and choral works with orchestra (8.224104). The latter has The Chinese Flute; Queen Dagmar; a cantata; and The Tinder-Box, based on a fairy tale by Hans Christian Andersen. The first of these is a gem that is simply not to be missed. The Chinese Flute contains some of the most beautifully refined song settings I have heard. Queen Dagmar is far more dramatic, but is equally refined and very moving. The Tinder-Box is a musical illustration of the spoken text of the Andersen fairy tale and an imaginative example of its genre. The performances by the soloists and the Odense Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Giordano 2105 Bellincampi, are revelatory. This is something special.
Schierbeck also wrote an opera, Fete galante, which has finally been recorded and released by Dacapo with the Danish National Symphony Orchestra and Choir, conducted by Michael Schønwandt. Sure enough, the overture immediately reminds one of Nielsen’s brilliant comic opera Maskarade, but there are strong hints of Puccini, as well. That is not an indictment but a recommendation of this delightful romp.