Rued Langgaard: Rose Garden Songs

Phil Muse, Sequenza 21
Mandag, 3. maj

Rued Langgaard (1893-1952) was a man clearly out of step with his time. Reportedly, audiences shunned him in his native Denmark, where he had to promote the premieres of most of his 16 symphonies himself for lack of interest. The trouble was in his sometimes-hysterical arch romanticism that flowed against the stream of the progressive trend in 20th century Danish music represented by Carl Neilsen, with whom he had actually studied counterpoint for about a month. He later had a falling out with Neilsen, whom he came to regard as the epitome of all that was wrong in modern music, and he was quite outspoken on the matter. A contemporary wag described Langgaard as “the white duckling who grew up to be an ugly swan,” and the unfortunate label stuck.

Posterity has been kinder to Rued Langgaard, particularly since the recording explosion that was ushered in first by the stereo LP and then the compact disc. “Neglected” romantics became a passion in the industry, and Langgaard was the beneficiary. Also, his fellow countrymen, who often used to laugh at his premieres, have had a change of heart towards his music, and most of his 400+ works have subsequently been published and performed.
The current program of choral songs by Langgaard reveals the less eccentric, more purely lyrical side of this enigmatic figure. The texts are simple-hearted and straightforward in their emotion, particularly in the Psalm and hymn arrangements of contemporary Danish poets. Langgaard set these to music distinguished by harmonic warmth and gentle expressiveness that has been largely absent from a capella music since Brahms. The three choral songs with secular texts reflect a genuine, refreshing love of nature, as in the following: “A bird flew over the fir-clad moon; / it sings forgotten songs. / It enticed me away from the beaten track; / and onto shadowy paths. / I came to hidden springs and ponds / where the elk slakes its thirst; / but the birdsong sounded still far away / like a hum midst the sighs of the wind; / Tirilil Tove, Tirilil Tove, / far away in the forest!” (Alluring Sounds, J.S. Welhaven)
The 12-member Ars Nova Copenhagen under Tamás Vetö is a premiere vocal ensemble, distinguished for its perfect blend, flawless intonation and expressiveness. This recording was originally released by Marco Polo in 1997, when Dacapo’s catalog was still being issued on that label. Dacapo thought highly enough of this offering to reissue it in luminous hybrid SACD sonics, making it even more attractive. Listeners who treasure great a capella singing will find this offering irresistible.