Rued Langgaard Symphony No. 1 – Epic

When Danish composer Rued Langgaard shopped around his first symphony, he got no takers in Scandinavia. So Langgaard took it to the Berlin Philharmonic, which premiered the work in 1913. Not bad for a seventeen-year-old.

Of course, there’s more to the story than that. Langgaard was the son composer Siegfried Langgaard and pianist Emma Langgaard. He began concertizing as a pianist and organist at age eleven. He published his first works when he was thirteen. 

Langgaard had studied with Carl Nielsen. His first major composition premiered when he was fourteen. Langgaard toured Europe concertizing with his parents. He met and networked with important conductors and organizations. 

So the person who submitted his first symphony for performance was no typical teenager. Rather, Langgaard was an experienced performer and a published composer. And it was one of his connections, conductor Max Fiedler of the Berlin Philharmonic, who accepted the score. 

And what a score! The four-movement symphony takes about an hour to play. Its subtitle, “Cliffside Pastorals” hints at the scale. Langgaard was inspired by the towering mountains of Scandinavia. That bigness is conveyed in the music. Langgaard uses an extensive orchestral palette to create his sounds. 

The symphony roils like storm clouds descending the slopes. Langgaard’s expansive themes are memorable. Recognizing them as the work progresses gives the music coherence. 

This is also a remarkably original work. I don’t hear Langgaard trying to sound like Beethoven, Brahms, Bruckner, or Mahler.  No, this is his own grand vision, expressed in his own Post-Romantic style. 

The Berlin Philharmonic delivers an exceptional performance directed by Sakari Oramo. This is a live recording, which makes the playing even more remarkable. This a clean, tight performance, with an extremely well-behaved audience. The live aspect adds an extra level of energy to the symphony. 

An incredible work that deserves greater recognition. 

Rued Langgaard: Symphony No. 1, Cliffside Pastorals
Berlin Philharmonic; Sakari Oramo, conductor
Dacapo SACD6.220644

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