ClassicsOnline Home » JONGEN: Flute Sonata / Flute Trio / Danse lente / Elegie
By Robert R. Reilly
"The performers seem to breathe this music rather than play it. This CD has been one of the most delightful surprises of my fall listening season."
Joseph Jongen (1873 -1953)
Music for Flute
Neglected for some decades as a late romantic, the
compositions of Joseph Jongen are now finding favour once again. In earlier
years his work was heard in Anglo-Saxon countries and particularly in the
United States, with particular attention to his organ music and his famous Symphonie
concertante, seldom heard elsewhere. His many works are now winning back
audiences in the concert hall and can be heard in recordings.
Born three years alter Lekeu, Jongen had his musical
training not in Paris but at the Liege Conservatoire, where he studied under
well known teachers such as Sylvain Dupuis and Theodore Radoux. The former,
with an international reputation and a future conductor at the Theatre Royal de
la Monnaie in Brussels, introduced him to modern music, Wagner, the school of
Cesar Franck, the young German composers, and Jongen's progress was rapid as a
pianist, organist and composer. In 1897 he won the Grand Prix de Rome and
travelled, according to the regulations of the prize, to Germany, Italy and
France. Drawn to the Schola Cantorum, he was influenced by Vincent d'lndy, while
still retaining his admiration for Richard Strauss and for Faure, Debussy and
Jongen taught at the Liege Conservatoire, and from 1920
at the Brussels Conservatoire, of which he became Director in 1923 until his
retirement in 1939. His work is deeply rooted in his own country, disciplined
in structure and showing a certain freshness and clear spontaneity, with a
command of melody, harmony and polyphony, and a keen sense for the blending of sounds,
apparent in the many original combinations of instruments in his chamber music.
The short Danse lente, Op.56bis, for flute and
harp, written at the end of the Great War, during which Jongen was in exile in
London, having joined forces with Defauw, Tertis and Doehaerd as a very active
piano quartet, is of noble character, deeply felt and melancholic, reflecting
the grief of exile, in spite of the welcome offered by England, an element
evident in other short works of this period.
Different in mood and conception are the Deux Pieces en
trio, Op.80, for flute, cello and harp, written in September 1925. These two
pieces are typical of Jongen's finest creative period, a style of writing
constantly challenged by the evolution of a more contemporary language, notably
in France. His friendship with the flautist, Rene Le Roy, and the harpist,
Marcel Grandjany, founders of the Quintette Instrumental de Paris and players
of the highest order in musical life between the two world wars, led him to
dedicate one of his masterworks to them, the Concert a cinq, Op. 71
(1923) The Deux Pieces en trio, first performed in Paris by Le Roy,
Roger Boume and Pierre Jamet in June 1926, is a further result of this
association. The first piece, melancholy in mood, suggests the influence of
Debussy, but from these shapeless arabesques there emerges an overtly personal
harmonic style with its varied modulations.
The second piece is a sort of scherzo, a favourite form
of Jongen, in which the tonal uncertainty (the main key of C major is barely
stated in the first part, but is more evident in the third) is lessened by
rhythmic vitality. With exceptional demands for technical brilliance, the outer
sections frame the equivalent of a trio in E flat major, where the cello takes
up lyrical thematic intensity, leaving to the flute a more decorative role.
Conventional, however brilliant, the final stretto on the dominant should
have guaranteed these concert pieces a future as pieces de concert.
The Sonata for flute and piano, Op.77, was
composed at the end of the summer of 1924 for Rene Le Roy. At the time of its
per1ormance by Louis Fleury, a leading pupil of Taffanel, for the societe
Musicale Independante, on 16th February, 1925, the work was part of a programme
that included recent works by Migot, Delage and Koechlin, and it was no longer
able to conceal its formal classicism, but the quality of the writing, the
harmonic richness and the particularly successful final Gigue was highly
appreciated. The sonata offers the novelty of rapid shifts between D major and
D minor. The work opens with a bi-thematic Prelude, in which, with an accompaniment
of Faure-like arpeggios, the first theme unfolds, not without suggesting the
main motif of Ravel's future Piano Concerto for the left hand. Jongen
avoids banality by his uses of harmony. The second movement, untitled like the
third, foreshadows and equals in charm the Divertimento of the organ Symphonie
concertante. This is a vigorous and breathless moto perpetuo, in a
clearly stated G minor. With an abrupt change of key, the third movement is in
F sharp minor, with the influence of Debussy and Ravel not completely absent.
The Gigue in D minor, an extended and whimsical rondo, adds the
finishing touch and justifies unequivocally the existence of this sonata, with
its brilliant introduction, the variety of its interlacing harmonies, the
intelligence of the piano writing (once again traces of Faure), its lively
spirit, so often lacking in many gigues or other neo-classical finales.
Deeply melancholy, the Elegie, Op. 114, No.3, for
flute quartet is dated in the first three days of 1941. A painful New Year for
a man nearly in his seventies, living through the Second World War, this short
work is, unusually from this master of counterpoint, homophonous in texture. By
way of contrast, a few days earlier Jongen had contrarily wanted the same group
of musicians to sing the joys of Christmas. Two popular songs in Walloon
dialect, more than forty years after his popular orchestral Fantaisie, Op.24,
for orchestra, bring the Deux paraphrases sur des Noels wallons, Op. 114,
Nos.1 and 2, for three flutes and an alto flute, a pleasing addition to
repertoire, establishing Jongen as a worthy heir to one of his great
predecessors at the Brussels Conservatoire, Gevaert.
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JONGEN: Flute Sonata / Flute Trio / Danse lente / ...