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Peter Erasmus Lange-Müller

December 1, 1850 - February 26, 1926
born in Frederiksberg, Denmark, composed during the Modern period
Peter Erasmus Lange-Muller was a maverick and sometimes enigmatic figure among Danish composers of his day: he is generally thought to have had no peers in the realm of song in his homeland, but his larger instrumental works betrayed a somewhat naïve quality to the scoring, the result no doubt of his inadequate training and self-taught background. Still, his chamber music is highly regarded, especially the Op. 53 Piano Trio, as is some of his music for the stage, which includes several operas and many incidental scores. Lange-Muller also produced a sizable quantity of choral music, much of which is also worthwhile, most notably the Op. 65 Tre Madonnasange (3 Songs to the Madonna). His late-Romantic style was rather unique, mixing elements from Schumann, Hartmann, and Brahms into an often dark landscape, to produce an imaginative and quite original beauty of sound. Many believe he carried the seeds of Impressionism in certain of his 250 songs, and was thus an important influence on Debussy.

Peter Erasmus Lange-Muller was born on December 1, 1850, in Frederiksberg, Denmark. His family was both wealthy and talented, with many professionals and clergy among them. Lange-Muller studied piano from his early childhood. After initial studies in political science, he enrolled at the Copenhagen Conservatory of Music, where his chief piano instructor was Edmund Neupert. But, as would happen throughout much of his personal and professional life, Lange-Muller's health broke down and forced a change of plans; in this case, an abandoning of studies.

He was plagued by severe headaches throughout his life, and though this handicap sabotaged his education, it allowed him to develop his musical language away from current trends. His 1874 Op. 1 collection, Sulamite and Solomon Songs, already divulged his talent for song, and by the mid-1880s his reputation was well established.

By that time, too, he had withdrawn from musical performance altogether, having led the Koncertforening (a musical organization he co-founded) in regular concerts from 1879-1883. In 1887 he produced what would become one of his most popular large works, the incidental music for Der var engang (Once Upon a Time).

Lange-Muller married in 1892 and spent most of the remainder of his life at a country estate. Though his output in the 1890s remained high, he soon lost inspiration and after his 1911 Little Piano Pieces for Children, he ceased composition. Lange-Muller died in Copenhagen on February 26, 1926. ~ Robert Cummings, Rovi
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