'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.
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