Back to Concert Info
Printer Friendly Version
Rud Immanuel Langgaard: Sphinx
Rued Langgaard was born in Copenhagen, Denmark, on July 28, 1893, and died in Ribe, Denmark, on July 10, 1952. He composed Sphinx from 1909–1910. He revised it for the first performance, which was given by the Berlin Philharmonic, Max Fiedler conducting, on April 10, 1913. It runs approximately 7 minutes in performance and is scored for 3 flutes, 2 oboes, English horn, 2 clarinets, bass clarinet, 3 bassoons, 4 horns, 3 trumpets, 4 trombones, tuba, timpani, and orchestral strings.
Langgaard was a classic case of the musical “outsider,” an idealistic, eccentric, late-Romantic artist out of step with his time and little appreciated during it. Among Danish composers of the day, the more down-to-earth Carl Nielsen received the lion’s share of attention, and the visionary, ecstatic Langgaard hardly any.
The majority of his 400-plus compositions, which range from organ solos to full-scale oratorios, were inspired by his belief in the spiritual power of music, and its importance for mankind. They only began to be performed and recorded regularly in the late 1960s. Today, more than 100 of them can be heard on CD, and they are being revealed as the often fascinating works that they are. Thomas Dausgaard has recorded the 16 symphonies and other works for the Dacapo label.
Sphinx is Langgaard’s most frequently performed orchestral work. During his lifetime, it was performed in Stockholm, Gothenburg, and Karlsruhe, as well as several times on Danish radio. The Berlin concert where it was premièred also included the first performance of Symphony No. 1. Before it was published, Langgaard added the following motto by Swedish poet, Victor Rydberg (1828-1895). It revealed that the sphinx in question is music, and it fully represented the composer’s view of the subject.
It soars aloft o’er eternity’s billowing sands,
a mystical Tower, ethereal, crystal-clear, it stands.
It stretches its roots sheer fathoms deep,
no dream, mortal eye thither can sweep.
It raises its walls to heaven’s starry spheres,
and beyond, far beyond where no star appears.
Its dome rears aloft o’er immortal space
where thought does but swoon while following its trace.
The music begins quietly in the depths of the orchestra. On waves of increasing volume, it rises to a majestic climax before subsiding into a soft, thoughtful conclusion.
Programme Note by Don Anderson
© Copyright 2013 Toronto Symphony Orchestra