JULIUS RONTGEN (1855 - 1932)
Julius Röntgen was born on 9 May 1855 in Leipzig and grew up in a musical household. His mother Pauline (1831–1888), a gifted pianist, was a descendant of the famous Klengel musical dynasty in Leipzig, while his father, the violinist Engelbert Röntgen (1829–1897) who was born in the Dutch city of Deventer, was leader of the Gewandhaus Orchestra. Julius, who never went to school, received a thorough education from private tutors and began to learn the piano at the age of four. Following musical tuition from his mother and his grandfather Moritz Klengel, Julius had violin lessons from his father and Ferdinand David (1810–1873). Among his theory and composition teachers were Moritz Hauptmann, cantor of the Thomanerchor in Leipzig, Carl Reinecke and later Franz Lachner in Munich. Julius wrote his first composition, a violin duo, in 1864 at the age of eight. A meeting with Brahms in the spring of 1874 had a decisive influence on his compositional style, but Röntgen’s admiration for Brahms later brought with it accusations of second-rate imitation of the older composer’s music, a stigma which stayed with him for a long time. In 1877 Julius Röntgen decided to take up the post of a piano teacher in Amsterdam. He remained in that city until his death and became one of the most important personalities in Dutch musical life, not only as a teacher, pianist and conductor, but as a co-founder of the Amsterdam Conservatory, whose director he was from 1913 to 1924, as the promoter of concert series and as a driving force behind the design and construction of the Concertgebouw building. After the early death of his first wife Amanda Maier (1854–1894), a Swedish violinist and composer, in 1897 Röntgen married his piano pupil Abrahamine van der Hoeven (1870–1940). Five of his sons became successful musicians with whom he made countless concert appearances. His fifth son, Frants, was to become an architect. Among Röntgen’s friends were the composers Edvard Grieg, (after whose death he was not only the executor of Grieg’s musical estate but the author of a biography of the composer), Johannes Brahms (who used the main theme of the first movement of Röntgen’s Wind Serenade, Op. 14, in his Symphony No. 2), Carl Nielsen and Percy Grainger. Julius Röntgen was also a soloist and an in-demand piano accompanist of Carl Flesch, Bronisław Hubermann, Joseph Joachim and Pablo Casals. A few months before the composer’s death, on 13 September 1932, Casals paid his longtime friend a final visit and Röntgen dedicated one of his last works to him.
Julius Röntgen’s musical output comprises around 650 works, written in almost every genre. At first his music was deeply rooted in the romanticism of the nineteenth century but in later years Röntgen developed his own individual style. Latterly he experimented with bitonality, was influenced by elements of Afro-American music and wrote incidental music for several folkloristic films by the Dutch director Dirk Jan van der Veen. It was not until a few years before his death that Julius Röntgen received the public recognition that was earlier denied him. The University of Edinburgh conferred an honorary doctorate on him in 1930 and shortly afterwards his native city of Amsterdam honoured him with a ceremonial gala concert in the Concertgebouw in which Röntgen was the soloist in performances of his last two piano concertos.