Evening Serenity with Langgaard’s String Quartet

Nightfall. © Charles Thibo

All is well. I had a busy day, but my work was interesting and most of what I wanted to get done actually got done. And now… and now I enjoy doing nothing. Doing nothing without the hint of a bad conscience – that’s luxury. I sit in front of the house, the sun has set and I am waiting for the first stars to show up. The wind has died down and peace has descended upon the vineyards. The workers have left, the road is empty and it is quiet except for the birds. All is well.

Rued Langgaard has composed in 1918 a String Quartet in A-flat Major (BVN 155) that could well illustrate my state of mind. 1918 – the year World War I ended. How lucky I am to live in a country that hasn’t seen war for more than 50 years. That thought of mine has flickered up over the past months more than once. Do I sense a future, invisible threat? Possibly. Peace does not come for free, and I am not sure there are many volunteers to work for it. Confrontation, aggressive behaviour, nationalism seem to be the quick fix for many in Europe and overseas.

The quartet in A major was not performed in Langgaard’s lifetime and was not included in the numbered series of quartets, just like the quartet “Rosengaardsspil” that I have presented in an earlier post. It has been recorded by the Danish Nightingale Quartet in cooperation with the label Dacapo and in the liner it says Langgaard’s A-flat major quartet is to be seen “as a parallel to Prokofiev’s Sinfonie classique, given its first performance just a few months before Langgaard wrote his work. Langgaard kept rigorously to the Vienna Classical idiom with reminiscences of Beethoven in the first two movements.”

Beethoven would not have been my first guess, I had rather thought of Joseph Haydn, Beethoven’s teacher. And yes, the quartet had a modern ring, the second movement has a taste of the early 20th century despites Langgaard’s resolve to honour the Vienna tradition. Anyway, whatever may have influenced the composer, he developed a musical language of his own which is the highest praise I can give to a composer.

I would like to highlight the warmth and the intimacy of the first movement, the forcefulness of the second movement, the delicate pizzicato* parts of the third movement. Moments of delight, of merriment, moments of serenity and comfort – what more can you expect from a piece of music?

© Charles Thibo

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de Chareli

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