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Obscure Music Monday: Langgaard's Sphinx

Rued Langgaard (July 28, 1893 - July 10, 1952) was a Danish composer and organist, born to musical parents. He began piano lessons at five years old, with his parents as his first teachers, and was playing Chopin Mazurkas at age seven. He started composing not long after for the piano, and began taking organ and violin lessons.Langgaard started studying music theory when he was twelve years old, and a year later, he was learning counterpoint from Carl Nielsen. His debut as a composer came a month later and he continued composing in his teen years. In addition to composing, he played organ in a few towns.

As a composer, Langgaard was influenced by Richard Strauss and Richard Wagner, and was highly skilled in counterpoint. His music is often dramatic and mercurial, and he frequently wrote for large orchestras.

Sphinx is a tone poem for a large orchestra composed around 1910-1913. Starting off calmly and quietly, drama begins to creep in around a minute in to the work. Some tremolos in the strings create an eerie atmosphere, while the violas and then violins play their searching line that grows and builds in intensity, with the brass and timpani piling on. The large brass section has its fanfare for awhile, and as it calms down, descending chromatic tremolo lines in the strings only add to the already dramatic work. Langgaard's writing is prone to mood swings; as quickly as intensity enters the work, things are back to being calm and tranquil, with lines that sound a bit uneasy, as if they are on the watch for drama to enter in again at any second. Langgaard's works are an adventure to listen to; his orchestration is rich and full, and his musical moods change in a way that keeps the listener engaged.

Here's a recording of this wonderful work for you to enjoy!

Danish National Symphony Orchestra

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