– the chronically ill man behind some of Denmark’s most frequently heard melodies 

He created the fantastic melody of the bells of the Copenhagen Town Hall clock with just four notes, and some of the finest songs in Danish music.

P.E. Lange-Müller suffered from poor health all his life. Migraines, in particular, incapacitated him for long periods of time. The doctors regarded an eye disease as the cause of the pain – and they even tried a treatment as ancient as trepanning on him to relieve it! He initially applied to study political science, and then for an apprenticeship as a gardener, with a dream of a peaceful life.

Nonetheless, the Academy received an application from him in 1871 – the intense interest in music of everyone in his childhood home had finally won out!


Lange-Müller’s debut three years later, with songs based on Sulamith and Salomon by B.S. Ingemann was truly an “opus 1” to be reckoned with.

Lange-Müller’s early style remains a ‘mild’ Romanticism. All of his melodies have clear lines and tastefully rounded phrases. Subsequently, however, he began to move more in the direction of avant-garde trends: His songs became either airier, with a wave to Impressionism, or alternatively, spicier. The development culminated in the opera And the burgeoning music to the 1887 fairy tale play Der var engang (‘Once Upon a Time’) by the poet and Skagen painter Holger Drachmann brought him his popular breakthrough. The piece is particularly strong in the Serenade with its moods of French classicism, and in the final chorus Midsommervise (‘Midsummer Song’) – which all Danes now attempt to sing on Midsummer’s Eve each year. Vikingeblod (‘Viking Blood’) from 1900 with its echoes of Richard Wagner’s musical dramas. 

His late style was perceived by his contemporaries as ‘old-fashioned’, and was given an increasingly indulgent reception by the opinion-makers of the day. In the next generation, a colleague like Rued Langgaard (1893-1952) would compose with something of the same pathos, and would hear the same kind of criticism.

The increasingly apathetic P.E. Lange-Müller ended up beloved by the people and forgotten by the cultural elite. The so-called ‘watchman song’ of the Copenhagen town hall clock from 1905, which chimes at noon, 6:00 pm and midnight, became his swan song. He spent his final years without artistic activity at the country house of Sophienberg, near Rungsted – an heirloom from his parents-in-law. 

Søren Schauser

Sulamith og Salomon11Sulamiths Sang i VinhavenBernhard S. Ingemann
Tre Digte42AakandeVilhelm Bergsøe
I Mester Sebalds have131Gjenboens første ViseSophus Bauditz
Skumring203En Rand af diset HedeThor Lange
Der var engang263SerenadeHolger Drachmann
Vandringsmandens sange771Jeg vandrer ad den VejCarl Bahnson