Pure pleasure flows through my veins when I listen to the opening bars of Julius Röntgen’s Piano Concerto No. 4 in F major. An energetic introduction sets the mood for the first movement: optimistic, decisive, rousing, alternatively gentle, elegant, reflected – the Allegro carries me away each time I listen to it. A midsummer night’s dream! Röntgen wrote this piano concerto in 1906, it was his last. By then he was an established figure of the Dutch music scene and a well known composer in Europe. He had supported the foundation of the Amsterdam Conservatory and the Concertgebouw. He had written hundreds of sonatas for piano and cello, concertos, symphonies, songs, solo piano pieces and compositions for chamber music. He was 51 years old and still eager to take up a challenge.
Infinite sadness. Fear. Pending violence. I see a man. The man is alone and he walks through the desert. Glaring heat. Sharp rocks hurt is feet. Behind him – nothing. Ahead of him – the unknown. The man kneels down and prays silently. He rises up, stretches his arms towards the sky in a silent cry of pain.
February 1948. The Central Committee of the Soviet Communist Party lashes out against a number of composers and condemns them as “formalistic” and “alien to Soviet art” after Andrey Zhdanov, a close collaborator of Stalin, had stated that Soviet music was in a deep crisis since “…under the banner of illusory innovation, [the incriminated type of music] conveys a rejection of the classical heritage, of national character in music, and of service to people in order to cater to purely individualistic experiences of a small clique of aesthetes.”
A hint of drama, a longing for tenderness, a calm discussion about him and her, repressed fear to displease, not to be up to the challenge, a touch of don’t-question-my-authority arrogance… is that what inspired Robert Schumann when he wrote the String Trio No. 1 in A minor, Op. 41? The music triggered those ideas in my mind and perhaps they reflected more my own feelings than Schumann’s. Who knows? Man is a curious beast. Super intelligent, super difficult to live with.
Je suis seul dans la prairie
Assis au bord du ruisseau ;
Déjà la feuille flétrie,
Qu’un flot paresseux charrie,
Jaunit l’écume de l’eau.