Blogging and Unearthing (Almost) Forgotten Works

Rise and shine with the sun. © Charles Thibo

This is why I love to blog about music! This is how I like this blog to work. On Monday I started into the week with Julius Röntgen’s wonderful Violin Concerto in A Minor and mentioned it in tweets and Facebook post. Seconds later a follower from Japan, the pianist Maya Asano, shared her enthusiasm for Röntgen, a not-so-well-known composer of the late 19th century. Here is what she wrote: “Nowadays it seems nobody knows him or his compositions eventhough his music has rich harmony and expressive description. I’m happy to see his name again in your blog. Thank you so much!”

A cello concerto for Röntgen’s son

That feedback made my day, really. We decided to check together for recordings of other works from Röntgen. We didn’t have to look far, there are plenty. After all, at least some musicians seem to have rediscovered this composer. In 1928, towards the end of his career and four years before his death, Röntgen wrote a Cello Concerto No. 3 in F-sharp Minor. He dedicated it to his son Frans Edvard. Though Röntgen had been born and raised in Leipzig, he moved in the 1870s to the Netherlands where he established himself as a conductor, composer, teacher and pianist.

Mike D. Brownell of the All Music Guide notes that “like Brahms, Röntgen was a conservative composer and though his output was vast, he never truly succeeded in creating his own unique, identifiable musical sound. […] His compositions – and in particular his three cello concertos – are replete with the best and most enjoyable qualities of German Romanticism.” This is true indeed, but there is nothing wrong with walking in the footsteps of past masters. Good music will always be good music, and creativity or innovation alone is certainly not the guaranteed path to glory as many contemporary composers have found out.

Sweet as a celesta

The cello concerto is written in three movements, and the first starts on a tragic note, full of apprehension. The cello seems to ask questions that have no true answers, the orchestra is very brief in its reply, and gradually the cello begins to despair, and again the orchestra does not seem to care much, all it has to offer is a little sweet pill – note the celesta! The second movement is very short and starts slowly and plangent, the winds add an optimistic but also questioning theme. The third movement carries the listener away with a grandiose opening of the orchestra à la Brahms, whom Röntgen counted among his personal friends, but this is just the prelude for a triumphant cello part – allegro con spirito! Yes! Brilliant. More!

There will be more. Symphonies, string trios, piano works – I could populate this blog just with Röntgen’s music. But I have discovered a few other interesting and less known composers in the past weeks. They merit some space here too. And then I have booked a couple of tickets for concerts in Luxembourg: Alban Berg, Anton Bruckner, Bela Bartok with Hélène Grimaud at the piano – doesn’t that sound promising? It does.

Röntgen’s Cello Concerto No. 3 has been recorded by the Netherlands Symphony Orchestra and Gregor Horsch (cello). On the same album, you will find his other two cello concertos. Enough to pass a lovely weekend. Enjoy it!

© Charles Thibo

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de Chareli

Writer, photographer, piano student, music enthusiast. And a lot more. You are welcome to follow my blog.