Music

Antichrist

Rued Langgaard (1893-1952)

By Finn Gravesen, writer and editor, 2006

Scenes from doomsday 

The work that Langgaard has written here is not exactly a comedy. Over six scenes the composer unveils to us the times he lived in. Initially there is a general picture entitled The Light of Pathlessness (Vildsomhedens lys), set in the twilight in a mood marked by world weariness and irresoluteness, then comes Haughtiness (Hoffærdigheden) or boastfulness in which we hear the chant “The Mouth that Speaks Big Words” (“Munden der taler store ord”) which echoes the empty catchwords of a godless society, with its superficial faith in progress and development. The third picture dubbed Despair (Håbløsheden) is dominated by a feeling of dejection and pessimism, after which follows Lust (Begærligheden), in which “the great whore” shows us mankind’s lechery and egoism. In the very next scene, The Struggle of All Against All (Alles strid med alle), we meet “The Lie” and “The Hate” accompanied by a choir of “demons”. As the world is in the process of going under, the whore is engaged in a major row with The Lie as to what is actually going on. The last picture features Perdition (Fortabelsen), in which God annihilates all these godless manifestations of the Antichrist. Modern civilisation is heading for a fall. Faith is the only salvation. 

Decline and salvation 

In his depiction of the horrific trends of his time Langgaard uses the vast forces of the romantic symphony orchestra - at full blast. There is a twin effect in function here in that this highly expressive and powerful music has great beauty, while at the same time ushering in decline and disintegration. That is why it is so fitted to describe the period of the early 20th century with its juxtaposed mixture of truth and falseness, beauty and decadence. 

“The Music Society for Boring People” (“De Kedeliges Musikforening”) 

Langgaard saw decline and dissolution everywhere - not least in music and dance. In the local B.T. tabloid newspaper in 1927, he made the proposal that a “Music Society for Boring People” be formed “to oppose jazz and the Charleston and all that dance nonsense and dance fever, which is threatening to stifle the spirit of people here at home ... when I contemplate the state of our times and of the art of music, it strikes me that the whole thing is Antichrist - yes, everything.” (B.T. 1927). 
And Langgaard’s era did not want to know him either. Antichrist was not given its première in Denmark until 2002 - when it was belatedly a great success. 

DR Radio Symphony Orchestra and The Royal Opera's performance of the Antichrist in 2002 in the Ride House at Christiansborg. Camilla Nyland in the role of the great harlot. Photo: Martin Mydtskov Rønne.
Hellfried Lauckner's sketch for the Tiroler Landestheater's setup of the Antichrist in 1999.
Score Music

Did you know?

Source: Langgaard.dk.

Rued Langgaard's Antikrist theme is not coincidental: he was a religious man, but even though he sought organist positions throughout his life, he first got one in 1940 in Ribe. Of course, because his music was too difficult for the slightly narrow-minded folk church; for this reason he at least even suggests in an interview with B.T. from 1936.

The committee's justification

By the Committee for Music, 2006

Rued Langgaard’s masterpiece was initially rejected when he sent it to the Royal Danish Theatre. He only ever heard two of his pieces in a radio production sometime in the 1940s. The work was performed for the first time in a concert hall version in 1980. The first Danish stage production was performed in 2002 at Ridehuset in Christianborg. It was a major Copenhagen occasion with an interest that was more reminiscent of what within the world of rock music would be termed a ‘cult event.’ It must have been the title of the work and its associations that stood in its way in Denmark. However, Antikrist is not church music and hardly ‘religious’ music at all.

We can see this today, now that this work’s time has come. Both in the way that we can hear the meticulously written score on the boundary between late romantic and modernism, and in particular in the way in which the symbol of the Antichrist can be understood as an expression of human attitudes. In Rued Langgaard’s work, the view of human nature that plans out existence and where the individual becomes more and more isolated is shaped in a music that forms huge, unpredictable formations of tones. In its detail, the music can remind a listener of the work being done abroad at the time; however, in its form, energy and sense of time, the work has no parallel. This is due to the formula for Langgaard’s music, though it’s one that he never set down himself: What was once form in music, shall now be images.

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