Vivace e giocoso – vivid and joyful like a spring is the first movement of Julius Röntgen’s String Trio in D Major, op. 76. Bubbling happily away, a hint of melancholia, but mostly this lovely piece of chamber music exudes an air of innocence and jauntiness. One of the hallmarks of this work and other early works of the German-Dutch composer are its references to traditional Dutch tunes and dances. Although Röntgen spent part of his childhood in Leipzig, he settled down in the Netherlands at the age of 22, in the late 1870s.
The trio in D major has been recorded by the Lendvai Trio, and this is a good occasion to say a few things about it. In 2007 they embarked on a series of recordings of Röntgen’s the complete string trios. The trio’s journey began when they stumbled across Röntgen’s first string trio (the only one published to date), and soon after discovered that there are fifteen more, carefully stored in handwritten manuscript form in the Netherlands Music Institute in the Hague. A major award ‐ The Kersjes Prize ‐ and support from Champs Hill Records made the recording possible. What was a wonderful and thrilling discovery for the musicians became a wonderful and thrilling discovery for the audience.
Röntgen wrote this trio in 1915; by then he was 60 years old. “He had been an inveterate chamber player and he formed a (professional) piano trio with his sons in 1912”, write the members of the Lendvai Trio. “The spur for [this trio] was his ‘protest against my 60 years’ as he wrote in a letter to his old colleague, the violinist and teacher Carl Flesch.” The trio was published in 1924 in Germany, but by then Europe looked in very different directions when it came to classical music. Debussy and Ravel explored new ways in France as Schönberg did in Vienna. Prokofiev and Stravinsky were scandalizing the audience in Paris, Shostakovich was putting his mark on Soviet music and Strauss imposed himself in Germany. Röntgen was bound to be forgotten.
However, if Röntgen remained true to his late Romantic style, this does not mean he did not follow what others composers did. What I did not know until I researched some background material for this post, was that he actually experimented himself with atonality and studied the works of Hindemith, Stravinsky and Schönberg among others. And if you listen closely to the trio, you will realize that some modernism found its way even into this rather traditional piece of music.
© Charles Thibo