Music of the Spheres

Music of the Spheres
Rued Langgaard
Music of the Spheres

"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, Sfærernes Musik (Music of the Spheres) — one of the few works published in his lifetime. Music of the Spheres was premiered in Germany in 1921 and performed again in 1922, but was then entirely forgotten (or possibly ignored).

On 1 June, Music of the Spheres receives its US premiere at Avery Fisher Hall in New York City by the American Symphony Orchestra, Leon Botstein conducting.

Langgaard, a prodigious composer of over 400 compositions (he was 11 years old when his first work was premiered), was extremely critical of the Danish musical vanguard, led at that time by Carl Nielsen. This isolation drove his music to obscurity. A rediscovery of Langgaard came in 1968 when composer György Ligeti, who was adjudicating new scores by Scandinavian composers, began reading the score to Music of the Spheres, which had been secretly included by composer Per Nørgård. Ligeti was astonished that many of the techniques he had been employing in his own music had in fact been forshadowed by Langgaard a half century earlier.

Listening to the work today, one notices a surprising likeness to post-modern music: repetition, timbral gestures, spatial effects, subtle tonal surfaces, and static rhythms. 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.”

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