About this Recording
8.557111 - JONGEN: Flute Sonata / Flute Trio / Danse lente / Elegie

Joseph Jongen (1873 -1953)

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 later, Ravel.


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.


Michel Stockhem


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