The art of performing the music of Henrik Rung (1807-1871)
Jens Bang-Rasmussen

A few years ago I edited the complete works of the Scandinavian composer Henrik Rung. I found that the element of Scandinavian tradition in Rung's music is so strong that it will be necessary to explain what Scandinavian tradition is. Otherwise I am afraid the very wonderful music by Henrik Rung will be disregarded because the the element of Scandinavian tradition. This gives Rung's music a certain heaviness that is unfamiliar for most guitarplayers. I will not explain a different way of phasing or another way of harmonizing the music. The difference between Scandinavian tradition and the rest of Europe is insignificant to a traditional musical analysis. I will try to explain in a more intuitive way the feeling and the nature of the Nordic music. Henrik Rung strong influence on the creation of a Nordic/Danish sound. Henrik rung represents a new era in Danish music history. Most pre-nineteenth century music and musicians in Scandinavia was imported from Germany or Holland. Henrik Rung was born a raised in Danish family with a common social background.

Necessary knowledge in order to perform the music of Henrik Rung.

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Element of time

The complete works of Rung and it's
Sense of style Link to Sor place in the guitar world
Background of his chamber music Important Rung Links Download free scores of Henrik Rung
His artistic personality My approach to Rung's music Hear music by Henrik Rung

Performing Rung the music of Henrik Rung meets few very specific challenges.
The qualities of his music might be experienced different from the rest of the great early romantic composers. Mainly because he is working in the Nordic tradition. It appears to be very simple, well crafted and with a convincing melodic material (Like Scandinavian design). On a purely musical and artistic level his music possesses very deep and very substantial musical qualities. My personal experience with his music is very appealing and successful with the audience. The quality of Rung's music has taken me by surprise since I began to approach his music. Pieces I found insignificant by looking at the score appeared to be very well sounding and delicate music when I started to perform these pieces. My explanation is that we as guitarists in general has no performance experience of nineteenth century Nordic tradition. Some of the reason Scandinavian tradition appears to be different is based on the fact that Scandinavia was never occupied by the Roman Empire. When Roman law formed the rest of Europe's culture Scandinavian culture developed without the Roman law and it's way of thinking.


What is essential to understand in order to perform Rung's music

  1. The sense of Nordic style is essential to a successful performance of Rung's music. A stylistic sense of music by composers like Grieg, Gade, Sibelius etc. It is very difficult to explain, and it is a cultural heritage that only can be fully achieved from someone who is fairly familiar with this particular style. The Nordic music posses a much deeper introspective passion. It is heavier and the music is not focused on demonstrating the instruments virtuosic abilities. Opposite to the many guitarist in the south the Nordic nineteenth century guitarist search for deeper into the instruments means of expression. Rung could allowed himself to be true to this tradition all of his life. He never depended on pleasing an audience for his living. He held a safe position at the Royal Theater in Copenhagen, and his life was never affected by the decline of the classical guitar in the last half on the nineteenth century. His music has also deep, very joyful and jovial aspects. Very close to the artistic line of the Danish ballet master A. Bournonville. Parts of Rung's guitar music seems amateurish and to heavy for the guitar. I believe it is an element of Danish folklore. Like the obvious element of folklore in the music of Villa-Lobos.
  2. Rung's chamber music is mainly written for his children's musical training. Rung's complete works is the only chamber music school from the nineteenth century. The duration off the pieces are not very long, His form might be inspired by John Dowland's lute music. (Henrik Rung was a pioneer in the art of performing renaissance music) For a concert I would put together 4-10 pieces and consider them different character pieces. A children's suite.
  3. Rung was a very modest person. He was highly decorated by the Vatican in Rome and the Swedish Academy in Stockholm for his work as an artist. Nobody knew until his family found out after his death in 1871. This modest character must have had an influence on his work. It is difficult for me to tell if he had a jovial character. Most Danes do.
  4. It takes a while to fully achieve Rung's music and to understand the deeper aspects of his music. Please allow your self the time. It is absolutely worth it.
  5. I started to perform Henrik Rung's music because I had to represent Danish Culture different places in world. I did not rate his music so high, but Rung's music was always successful at a performance. I began to do research on the life and works of Henrik Rung . There is almost no research on Henrik Rung, so I was pretty much on my own in the field. The results was a central figure in the Danish Golden age, a founder of Nordic tradition, a very productive composer, a pioneer in the art of performing renaissance music, and a guitar composer that certainly composed a little different compared to the mainstream. I collected all the guitar music of Rung from his own collection at the royal Library in Copenhagen. There were a lot of pieces most them with the tempo marking andante and they were all very alike.
    Rung must have tried to create a musical expression within very narrow frames. After I realized this, a world of nuance and very deep music expression started to unfold for me. I believe he must have tried to express the jovial and melancholy nature of Scandinavians. This was my key to his music
  6. . Henrik Rung's work might reappear in today's classical guitar world for two reasons.

    It is the only chamber music school from the nineteenth century

    It is the only major collection written in the nineteenth century Nordic guitar tradition.

Rung was very inspired by the compositions of Fernando Sor (read my article). My personal experience is a slight change in the way I perform the works of Sor after I have studied and performed the music of Rung. Rung is a link that tie us back in music history.

Please enjoy the music of another nineteenth century guitar composer almost unknown the guitar world until today. Rung's music might open new aspects of the nineteenth century repertoire and how we perform this music.

Jens Bang-Rasmussen
Copenhagen 2003

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August Bournonville founded the Danish Ballet school. The tradition of turned Danish Ballet into one of the world's leading ballet companies. The school stresses the musical element to an extreme degree. The element of a deep and inner joy is essential to this tradition. He did work together with Henrik Rung at the Royal Theater in Copenhagen.