Complete Works for Violin and Piano Vol. 3
Complete Works for Violin and Piano Vol. 3
The last stage on a long journey, here is the third and final instalment of a warmly received Langgaard cycle undertaken by violinist Gunvor Sihm and pianist Berit Johansen Tange. The present volume includes the Violin Sonatas nos. 2 and 3 – highly accomplished works with strong individual features – and two single-movement pieces composed by Langgaard the precocious teenager: the charming Aubade written on a summer holiday with his parents, and the dark-coloured Night Watchman’s Song.
An excentric romantic
By Bendt Viinholt Nielsen
Rued Langgaard was born on 28 July 1893 in Copenhagen and died on 10 July 1952 in Ribe. Already as an 11-year-old boy he had a remarkable debut as an organist and organ improviser, and when he was nineteen his first symphony had its first performance in Berlin by the Berlin Philharmonic. In the early 1920s, Langgaard experienced a brief interest in his symphonic works in Germany, where his most progressive compositions, Music of the Spheres (1916-18) and Symphony No. 6 (1919-20) had their first performances. In Denmark, however, the music scene regarded the introverted and solitary soul-filled composer with considerable scepticism. An artistic breakthrough never came, and after Langgaard had had his opera Antichrist turned down by the Royal Danish Theatre, he reacted strongly by turning his back on modernism and openly criticising Danish musical life. Langgaard’s religiously and symbolically tinged conception of music accorded badly with the anti-Romantic, down-to-earth attitude that predominated in Denmark after 1930. Musical life followed the norms and the aesthetical track laid down by Carl Nielsen, and there was no room for an eccentric Romantic like Langgaard. After a struggle lasting many years to gain a position as organist within the Danish state church, in 1940 Langgaard was appointed cathedral organist in Ribe. After his death in 1952, it looked as if he would remain a parenthesis in Danish musical history. A performance of Music of the Spheres in 1968, however, started a renaissance for Langgaard’s music, and today, now that his main works are known, he is counted among the most important Danish composers of the 20th century.
Rued Langgaard’s music is characterised by great stylistic variation. His works are often complex and unconventional in form and borne by a striving towards expressive, image-creating and visionary modes of expression. In his music there are elements that point forward to the 1960s and the avant-garde, minimalism and postmodernism of subsequent decades.
Rued Langgaard’s works for violin and piano 1907-1950
Langgaard’s compositions for violin and piano are like fixed points in his production, since all four main phases of his musical development are represented within this genre. A sonata in three movements with the title Digtning – Rosengaarden in memoriam (Poetry – Rosengaarden in memoriam) (1918) would have been an interesting supplement, but the work has quite simply disappeared and must therefore be dispensed with in this collected recording of Langgaard’s compositions for violin and piano, which comprises three CDs.
Langgaard was taught the violin as a child, but only for a short while, for at the early age of ten he began to study the organ, which was to become his main instrument. The impulse to write music for the violin was, however, a completely natural one, as his aunt was married to the violinist Axel Gade (1860-1921), son of the composer Niels W. Gade and for a long period the leader of the Royal Danish Orchestra – and incidentally also a composer. Langgaard’s first work for the violin, Aubade (1907), is dedicated to Axel Gade, who gave it its first performance. The first major chamber music work that Langgaard began after his grandiose B minor Symphony (No. 1) was a sonata for violin and piano (also in B minor), which he worked on between 1909-11. Only the first two movements were completed. They were performed separately in 1911 as independent pieces on their first performance by Axel Gade and the then 18-year-old composer. Four years later, Langgaard composed what was going to be his most comprehensive chamber music work, the 40-minute-long Violin Sonata No. 1. This work was composed in only four days in June 1915. Like the unfinished sonata and the almost contemporaneous String Quartet No. 1, in musical idiom and form it looks towards classical ideals. Sonata No. 1 was performed by Axel Gade in 1918 and was posthumously dedicated to him. But at the first performance in Stockholm, two years earlier, it featured the 25-year-old Danish violinist Gunna Breuning-Storm, with the composer of the same age at the piano.
Breuning-Storm was one of the few musicians who appreciated Langgaard’s music, and it was naturally with her in mind that Langgaard, in 1920-21, wrote another sonata for violin and piano (No. 2). Breuning-Storm gave the sonata its first performance together with the composer in 1922 and played it a few more times during the 1920s, so for instance at an official Danish concert in Paris in 1923. Langgaard was not present, but Carl Nielsen – who also had a work included in the programme – was. In Violin Sonata No. 2, Langgaard has clearly allowed himself to be inspired by Nielsen’s powerful musical idiom, which is however integrated into an experimental work in a single movement and with stark contrasts. The sonata, along with other works from 1920-24 – Symphony No. 6, the opera Antichrist and String Quartet No. 3 – is counted among Langgaard’s major works. It was published in Berlin in 1922.
Almost 25 years were to pass before Langgaard contributed once more to the violin sonata genre. In the meantime he had drastically changed his musical idiom and adopted a neo-Romantic style of composition that was a continuation of compositions by such composers as Schumann, Wagner, Grieg and Niels W. Gade. In 1940, together with his wife Constance, he had moved from Copenhagen to Ribe to take up a post as organist and precentor at Ribe Cathedral. The 1930s had been a disheartening decade for the composer, and his composing had come to a halt. In Ribe his creativity returned, and in 1945 he wrote an extremely short violin sonata in one movement with nothing but repetitions, a work that in the following years was expanded time after time, until it had five movements and the title Sonata No. 3 in 1949. It is an example of Langgaard in a solely Romantic, nostalgic mood. But this work was succeeded by a whole series of new works for violin and piano, inspired by his collaboration with the violinist Haakon Raskmark, who came to Ribe in 1946 as a teacher at Ribe Teacher Training College. Langgaard and Raskmark played together privately, especially Romantic sonatas such as those by César Franck and Schumann, whose late sonatas were clearly a source of inspiration to Langgaard. In the veritable ‘musical frenzy’ that seized Langgaard in 1947-49, he wrote 14 pieces or movements for violin and piano. They were composed individually or in pairs and partly placed in the already mentioned Violin Sonata No. 3, partly grouped in Violin Sonata No. 4 and in Écrasez l’infâme, both of which are key works in Langgaard’s late production. Added to these was Short Violin Sonata (1949), followed in 1950 by Andante religioso, which was performed in Ribe the same year. Apart from this piece, the works from the 1940s were not publicly performed during Langgaard’s lifetime. Violin Sonata No. 3 only had its first performance as late as 1995, and at the Rued Langgaard Festival 2016 in Ribe it was possible for the first time to hear Sunday Sonata from 1949-50. The two first movements are for violin and piano, the last two for organ and orchestra.
Only Aubade and Violin Sonata No. 2 were published in Langgaard’s lifetime, the other violin works recorded here are based on the Rued Langgaard Edition’s critical musical material published in 2002-04. The BVN numbers used refer to Bent Viinholt Nielsen: Rued Langgaard’s Compositions. An Annotated Catalogue of Works. With an English Introduction, Odense Universitetsforlag (1991).
This small piece was composed in August 1907 at the fishing hamlet of Arild on the Kullen Peninsula in the southern Sweden, where the then 14-year-old Rued was on a summer holiday with his parents, Emma and Siegfried Langgaard. He dedicated the piece to his uncle, violinist Axel Gade. This somewhat ‘salon-inspired’ composition, printed in 1907, is in F sharp major and in a simple three-section form.
Violin Sonata No. 2
This one-movement sonata belongs to the group of works which Langgaard created around 1920 and which comprises some of his most important compositions, including Symphony No. 6, Music of the Abyss for piano and, in particular, the opera Antichrist (1921-23). His music from this period is ‘philosophy-of-life music’, inseparably linked to apocalyptical ideas and – in the wake of the First World War – thoughts of a future, religious-idealistic society where a new kind of spiritual music was to play a major role. One of his sources of inspiration was the international theosophical movement Order of the Star in the East, whose followers were preparing themselves for an imminent, spiritual world upheaval. The energy, form and ‘ meaning’ of the music is created in these works via clashes and interactions between musical statements of various natures and styles. We are clearly dealing with ‘constructive’ and ‘destructive’ elements. Only rarely, however, do these contrasting elements themselves seem to be clearly defined or demarcated. And precisely this would seem to be a cardinal point.
The Violin Sonata No. 2 was published in 1922 by the Berlin publisher Ries & Erler. It bore the motto ‘The Great Master Comes’, based on the well-known hymn by B.S. Ingemann (1789-1862) and with a parallel motto in German, ‘Siehe, er kommt’ – a quotation from the Song of Solomon (ch. II, v. 8) in Herder’s German translation. Much later, Langgaard suggested another motto, namely Goethe’s maxim ‘Nemo contra Deum nisi Deus ipse’ (‘No one against God except God himself’). The composition had its first performance in Copenhagen in January 1922 by Gunna Breuning-Storm and Rued Langgaard. The work ‘practically fell flat’, one reviewer wrote, but it was nevertheless on the programme of an official Danish concert in Paris in 1923 – a choice that was subsequently criticised in the Danish press. The sonata had a total of four performances during the composer’s lifetime, and although this sounds rather unimpressive, it is enough to gain the work a place among the most frequently performed Langgaard works in those days.
The sonata opens with a folk song-like melody which Langgaard later also adapted as a regular four-part hymn melody to the text ‘The Great Master Comes’. The melody is followed in the lower register of the piano by a shadow-like reflection that becomes a main motif in the sonata. With an aggressive outburst in the piano and a short, declamatory violin figure a musical-psychological drama is set in motion. The violin figure contains an upward-leaping three-note figure (E-G-D), which is a second main motif in the work, and which is presented in 9-10 different transpositions. The innocent folksong melody develops for a while and is met by lush bell-like sounds in the piano, that also supplies ‘comments’ of a dramatic, gesticulating nature. The composition concludes with a ‘finale’ that has the strange heading Feminile e virile e con lustro (‘female and virile and lustrous’). It starts with an ingenious ‘baroque’ variation by the violin on the shadow version of the folksong melody, which is then mechanically imitated by the piano with a consistent use of dissonant tritones. With a final, strong repetition of the ‘baroque’ element in the violin, the destructive element is eradicated, and the sonata can end with the folksong melody in a brilliant D major – triumphale, maestoso .
In 1948, Langgaard noted down an alternate ending, which according to the composer corresponds to the ending he had originally planned in 1920 but not used. This conclusion contains a scherzo-like section based on an upward-leaping motif which has the headingLively elegant Catholic! and the musical marking Vittorioso! (victorious) in the violin part. The conclusion continues as a repetition of the published version. On the CD, one can move directly forward to the alternate ending, track 7, recorded for the first time here.
Night Watchman’s Song
One of Rued Langgaard’s earliest songs is Night Watchman’s Song, composed in 1906 for a deep voice, violin or cello and piano. The composition was published by Edition Wilhelm Hansen in 1906 and dedicated to a friend of the family, the engineer and titular Counsellor of State William Fridericia (1842-1907). The lyrics comprise two traditional Danish night watchman’s verses (those for 10 pm and 11 pm), the actual formulation of which is ascribed to hymn writer Thomas Kingo (1634-1703). Normally, traditional melodies are used, but Langgaard chose to write his own.
Violin Sonata No. 3
The work belongs to Langgaard’s most retrospective compositions and seems to have been written mainly for use in his private duo collaboration with the violinist Haakon Raskmark in Ribe. It is a kind of ‘accumulative work’, which during four years, grew from one to five movements. It started in 1945 with the first movement (but without the violin cadenza middle section), which was followed in 1946 by the present 5th movement, after which came the scherzo (the present 3rd movement) in 1948. Later in 1948, the 1st movement was enlarged by a violin cadenza as an introduction and a repetition of this as a middle section in the movement. Finally, in 1948, the present 4th movement was composed, and in 1949, the 1st movement was divided, so that the violin introduction was excised and enlarged into an independent concluding section, giving rise to the present 2nd movement. So, the result is five movements.
Despite the well-known Romantic idiom, the form of the sonata is not conventional, rather what one could call ‘intuitive’. There is no thematic work or any ‘development’ in any of the movements, except for modulations. There is neither a main theme nor a secondary one in the first movement, as is familiar from any traditional classical sonata. The movement has a ternary form (A‑B‑A), where the A section consists of a drawn-out theme which initially is heard no less than six times (the third and sixth times in truncated form). The contrasting B section is made up of a real violin cadenza. The second movement begins most unusually with a repetition of the cadenza from the first movement. After this, there is a concluding section of a strange, complex nature and without any logical connection with the first section of the movement.
In Violin Sonata No. 3, Langgaard’s intention would seem to be a one-sided focusing on the ‘charisma’ of the music, its overt, insistent optimism. All movements are in the major key, and the outermost are in F major, as is the case with practically all of Langgaard’s unproblematic-idyllic music. The sonata is one of the few instrumental works in Langgaard’s production without any special title. A couple of suggestions have however been to the fore, including Vesper light, i.e. evening light or sunset light, and also the French word cessé (terminated), a kind of ironic comment on the style of the work, which is extremely outmoded, passé.