Spring is in the air. I can see it. I can hear it. I can smell it. I can feel it. Every day. Licht – German for “light”. Leichtigkeit – German for “lightness”. Julius Röntgen knew about Licht and Leichtigkeit. The composer, born in 1855 in Germany, spent most of his life in the Netherlands. He was a prolific composer of symphonies, piano and cello concertos, pieces for winds, songs and most of them are known only to a small circle of Röntgen enthusiast. As I had announced earlier, this year I will put this composer a little into the limelight. He has composed so much wonderful music and today’s post will be about his Piano Concerto No. 2 in D major, Op. 18.
Cheerful colours, nature’s vitality
He wrote it in 1879; it was the only one of Röntgen’s piano concertos to be published during the composer’s lifetime. Unfortunately, I did not find any echos of Röntgen’s contemporaries. It exudes spring all along the three movements: the mildness of the morning air, the tenderness and the cheerful colours of trees blossoming, the vitality of nature gaining strength with every sunny day, the joy of children playing outside and the simplicity of rural life.
By 1879, Röntgen had left Leipzig, his hometown, but this piece has all the hallmarks of Leipzig’s Romantic school. It is very lyrical – Felix Mendelssohn and Robert Schumann come to my mind. Johannes Brahms was a close friend of Röntgen, but curiously Röntgen did not appreciate much of Brahms music. The German pianist Matthias Kirschnereit shows a remarkable sensitivity while rendering Röntgen’s colourful melodies on a recording with the NDR Radiophilharmonie, a recording I have grown very fond of.
Untroubled peace, innocent pleasures
The first movement sets the stage for a spring scene: a limpid river, a mild breeze, the first sunbeams illuminating a rural landscape, a peaceful silence, untroubled, unspoilt – with every bar I dive a little deeper into that dream. Three minutes into the movement, piano and orchestra gear up, melodies become more forceful without losing their gentle baseline. The second movement starts with a gently rolling theme for the orchestra anticipating the development of the piano theme – a pastoral scene comes to mind, a touch of melancholy, remembering an idealized past. A joyful waltz marks the last movement, a peasant’s celebration, full of innocent pleasure.
So here we are with a cheerful piece to delight you and to give you a luminous day. When I started this blog so many posts ago (250+), one of the ideas was to present pieces that would let readers evade reality for a moment, escape into the realm of musical bliss and forget the everyday routine. This piece just makes me feel good, and I hope you will share this experience.
© Charles Thibo