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Langgaard: Music of the Spheres Hybrid SACD - DSD

4.4 out of 5 stars 5 customer reviews

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Audio CD, Hybrid SACD - DSD, August 31, 2010
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Editorial Reviews

Product Description

'The celestial and earthly chaotic music from red glowing chords with which life plays with claws of beast of prey with an iris-crown round its marble-face with its stereotypic yet living demoniac and lily-like smile.'
This surreal description is Danish composer Rued Langgaard's inscription in the score to his visionary 1919 work, Music of the Spheres - one of the few works published in his lifetime and written when the composer was just 26 years old. Premiered in Germany in 1921 and performed again in 1922, the work was then entirely forgotten, or possibly ignored, until after the
composer's death in 1952. Rediscovery came only in 1968 when the composer György Ligeti, who was adjudicating new scores by Scandinavian composers, began reading Music of the Spheres. Ligeti was astonished that many of the techniques he had been employing in his own music had in fact been foreshadowed by Langgaard a half century earlier. 'So after all, I'm
only a follower of Langgaard' commented Ligeti at the time.
Music of the Spheres is a symphonic work of great complexity, calling for a large orchestra, organ and choir, a supporting (distant) orchestra including a soprano voice, and a further piano on which the strings are played directly rather than via the
keys. Langgaard described his intentions, saying 'In Music of the Spheres, I have completely given up everything one understands by themes, consistency, form, and continuity. It is music veiled in black and impenetrable by mists of death.'
Thomas Dausgaard has long been a champion of Rued Langgaard's works and has recorded all 16 symphonies with the Danish National Symphony Orchestra on Dacapo, a project which was completed in 2009 with the release of the full box set. For this new and important recording Dausgaard couples Music of the Spheres with two later works by Langgaard - The Time of the End and From the Deep - bringing an overview to the composer's music over a period of 35 years.

Review

This disc is a must for collectors of 20th-century choral music, late-Romantic 'monsterpieces', and apocalyptic memorabilia of the World War I era. Rued Langgaard's Music of the Spheres, for solo soprano, chorus, and two orchestras (including organ, piano played on the strings, eight horns, four timpanists, and other enticing goodies), is a totally original conception that not only prefigures much later music (as Ligeti observed on seeing the score), but does so in a wholly captivating and aurally riveting way. Although consisting of a mostly static series of 'sound fields', the constantly changing textures and spatial effects, including a mysteriously evocative song (excellently performed by Inger Dam Jensen), effortlessly sustain the listener's interest throughout the work's 40 minutes. It may be too weird to be a repertory item, but it surely deserves to be.
The Time of the End consists of the slightly rearranged extracts from Langgaard's opera Antikrist that did not survive his 1930 revision of the complete opera. Like that work, the music combines a Straussian seductiveness of scoring with a phantasmagoric sensibility that is entirely Langgaard's own. The story, in case you forgot, has something to do with the Antikrist taking over the universe along with his buddy, The Great Whore, but not in time for the apocalypse and eventual triumph of the real Christ--or something like that. It really doesn't matter: the music is terrific and wholly gripping, even if the text is nonsense as often as not.
From the Abyss, a setting of a few lines of the Requiem liturgy, was Langgaard's last completed work, a moving testament to his enduring religious faith after a lifetime of relative misery and near total neglect. It is absolutely wonderful to have this music available on disc at last, stunningly recorded and beautifully performed by the various soloists, choir, and orchestra under Thomas Dausgaard. A truly awesome event. --ClassicsToday.com, David Hurwitz, 9/14/2010
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Product Details

  • Performer: Inger Dam Jensen, Hetna Regitze Bruun, Peter Lodahl, John Reuter
  • Orchestra: Danish National Symphony Orchestra
  • Conductor: Thomas Dausgaard
  • Composer: Rued Langgaard
  • Audio CD (August 31, 2010)
  • Number of Discs: 1
  • Format: Hybrid SACD - DSD
  • Label: Dacapo Classical
  • ASIN: B003T68VOE
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #168,454 in Music (See Top 100 in Music)

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I'm thinking - that I can't believe that I just have discovered this work recently - I write this fore-an-most because I'm Danish - because to me this music is unbelievable.
I rate this music as important and special as works like; The Unanswered Question (Ives) , Atmospheres (Ligeti) or The Planets (Holst).

This music is truly otherworldly and I can't really compare it to anything else I've heard. This piece was written by the Danish composer Rued Langgaard in 1916-18 and it has cluster chords, repetitive patterns and figures - 'endless' chords and an extra distant orchestra, to create a 3-dimentional effect + a choir and soprano solo voice. And although the work is very unusual it is actually quite beautiful (this is not the usual disharmonious music associated with most modern music) - and after listening to this music, it sort of stays with you, creating a wonderful sense, in the best of meaning.

And on this 2010 live-recording with the Danish National Symphony Orchestra and Choirs with conductor Thomas Dausgaard I don't believe that it can get any better. Because here the conductor more than understands the music - he is not afraid to play real quite - and of the silence in the music - and therefore the music reaches a meditative quality where all the layers stands out beautifully. It is really 3-dimentional and the actual recording is excellent. There is also a timpani "theme" constantly going on, creating a fundamental-like effect throughout the work. And although we have this real huge ensemble, it is used very sparsely and it isn't before towards the end that we actually get a real tutti passage.
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I largely endorse the comments of the reviewer who preceded me here. Endens Tid and Fra Dybet are, well, short apocalyptic works for orchestra, chorus and -- in the former -- vocal soloists. They're not without their strengths, though I must admit that apocalyptic choral pieces all sound much the same to me. Music of the Spheres, on the other hand, is rather a different kettle of fish, comprised more of quiet, exquisite moments of sound. The more conservative might consider those moments to be on the borders of what might be termed music, but for me there is no question that they play on the emotions through sound and thus are music in my book. You won't be humming parts of the composition afterward, but you may well feel some after effects. I've tried to get into Langgaard's music before and have never managed to make it work for me. Music of the Spheres, oddly enough, is perhaps his most unconventional work and yet has had more success in reaching me than the Dane's other pieces. It might not work for you, but it can't hurt to try.
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The Danish composer Rued Langgaard (1893-1952) spent most of his career as an angry eccentric who, jealous of Carl Nielsen's success, turned his back on his the musical world and wrote a long series of warmed-over Romantic works. However, at a certain point in his career, Langgaard was one of the most visionary composers of his time, exploring sounds and techniques that classical music audiences would not hear again until after the war. This Dacapo hybrid SACD brings us performances by the Danish National Symphony Orchestra and Choir, conducted by Soren K. Hansen.

The most astounding work is "Music of the Spheres" for soprano, chorus, orchestra, and distant orchestra (1916-1918). The innovations here are considerable: exploiting the performance space in the use of two orchestras, writing for an "open" piano where glissandi are produced directly on the strings, and of course the clusters and polyphonic webs, massive and seemingly motionless blocks of sound reminiscent of Gyorgy Ligeti. Indeed, the Hungarian composer exclaimed that he was a Langaard imitator when Per Norgard showed him a copy of the score in 1968. However, the writing has a purity to it that makes it very distinct from mid-century modernism or Hollywood film scores.

But, as is often said, it wouldn't matter how much Langgaard were ahead of his time in "Music of the Spheres" if the music wasn't great. And it is, one of the most moving half-hours of orchestral music I'm acquainted with. Langgaard was a Romantic in a time when Romanticism was out of fashion, and the proportions of what the listener may recognize as struggle, momentary defeat, and victory are just as powerful as in Mahler, it's just in a never-before-heard language.
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Um, OK, I did order this, and I have listened to it. But I don't know quite what to say. Langgaard (1893-1952) was a sort of post-Romantic lost soul whose music never caught on in his native Denmark. The Danes were more taken with emotionally conservative modernists like Carl Nielsen; they didn't know what to make of a young man who by his mid-twenties was "set[ting] aside all that is normally understood by motifs, development, form and continuity." (Bendt Viinholt Nielsen, liner notes)

Well, neither do I, frankly. There are three works on this disc: Sfaerernes Musik (The Music of the Spheres), Endens Tid (The Time of the End), and Fra Dybet (From the Abyss). As you might judge from their titles, they strike cosmic and apocalyptic postures more in line with Mahler and the young Schoenberg. B. V. Nielsen also mentions the Jugend / Art Nouveau style, at least in connection with Sfaerernes Musik. That piece is in fifteen short sections, each with a programmatic title ("Sehnsucht - Verzweiflung - Extase," "Chaos - Ruin - fern und nah") and relying largely on static stretches of extremely quiet material, or childlike ostinati, or timpani rolls and tattoos. (Ligeti saw a score in 1968 and remarked, "I didn't know I was a Langgaard imitator!")

The other two works are shorter (24' and 7'30") and more dramatic. Langgaard apparently became, and remained, obsessed with the Antichrist after World War I. Endens Tid is an arrangement of cuttings from his opera on the Antichrist, and Fra Dybet a sort of personal requiem he composed shortly before his death. There's some virtuosic solo singing here.

The performances, by the Danish National Choir and Symphony Orchestra, with vocal soloists, conducted by Thomas Dausgaard, probably do full justice to the composer's vision.
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