Here is the truth: I can’t remember how I came across this guy. Röntgen. Conrad Röntgen? The guy who discovered the X rays? What has he got to do with music? Nothing. I mean Julius Röntgen. The composer. Oh.
Röntgen was a Dutch-German composer (1855-1932) and wrote some 600 works that are mostly forgotten. What better reason could I have to present him here? He was born in Leipzig and soon proved to very gifted. He began to compose when he was still a young boy. His mother was a good pianist, his father led the orchestra of the Leipzig concert hall, the Gewandhaus, and both had taught him before he started the real thing: studying music in Leipzig and Munich. He became a music teacher and professional pianist when he moved to Amsterdam at 22. He taught there until 1925, when he turned 70, and he was heavily involved in convincing the Dutch to build a new concert hall in Amsterdam, the actual Concertgebouw. So far for his biography.
Meeting Brahms and Grieg
Röntgen counted the composers Johannes Brahms and Edvard Grieg among his personal friends, and Brahms had a strong influence on him. According to the sources that I have access to, his 21 post-romantic symphonies betray Brahms influence, while his earlier, romantic works show the influence of Schumann. He met Franz Liszt and studied with Franz Paul Lachner, a friend of Franz Schubert. Apart from the symphonies, he mainly composed chamber music and was much inspired by motives from Goethe’s “Faust” – four works derive from that subject.
Here is the little gem: a violin concerto in A minor. Very gentle melodies, very pleasant to the ear, slightly melancholic… parts of it would have made an excellent soundtrack for a movie. What strikes me with this concerto is Röntgen’s ability to switch tempi – allegro, lento, allegro non troppo – and style across the three movements without compromising the integrity of the piece as a whole. The Germans would say: “Eine runde Sache!”
I have an excellent recording featuring the German violinist Ragin Wenk-Wolf and the Dvorak Symphony Orchestra, which I like a lot. The violin concerto ranks among my top 10 when I look for something “light & lovely” after a busy day at the office. I just lean back and drift away…
© Charles Thibo