Amanda & Julius
Amanda MAIER (1853-1894)
Julius RÖNTGEN (1855-1932)
Neckens Polska (Variations) (1874)
Amanda & Julius RÖNTGEN
Traditional - Neckens Polska
Bengt Forsberg (piano, organ),
Hanna Aberg (voice),
Cecilia Zilliacus (violin)
rec. 2017 (?)
DB PRODUCTIONS DBCD185 [69:27]
Interest in the music of Amanda Maier and Julius Röntgen has enjoyed something of a resurgence recently, with a number of fine recordings of both composers’ music - in the case of Maier the ongoing dB Productions survey of the complete works - receiving favourable reviews. This recording presents a kind of musical love story, from the music before the couple met, until Maier met Julius during her violin studies in Leipzig with his father, Engelbert Röntgen, through to what the couple composed together after their marriage. For that reason, I have reviewed the pieces in chronological order rather than how they are presented on this disc.
In 1869, Amanda Maier became the first woman to study at Sweden’s Royal Academy of Music in Stockholm, and the ten Preludes here, composed when she was sixteen, seem to be student exercises from this period. She composed 25 in all, in each of the major and minor keys with an extra in F minor, each receiving favourable grades from her teacher. They are typical short student works, each composed in twelve bars - hardly ground breaking, but they do show an accomplished young composer who has a good grounding in traditional compositional practice, and is already experimenting with harmonies. They are interesting as they show Maier’s progression as a composer, but are not as memorable as her later compositions. The notes state that all 25 Preludes have been recorded; the other fifteen will eventually be available for digital streaming, but let us hope that they will also appear on volume three of the complete music.
Both were composers, but unlike Amanda Maier, who was foremost a violinist, Julius Röntgen was a pianist; this shows in his early piano works which are more competent and mature than Maier’s student compositions, demonstrating a greater understanding of piano technique. The first of these pieces is the Neckens Polska Variations, the longest on the disc and based on upon a Swedish folk-tale song, which is also included here and sung beautifully by Hanna Aberg. It tells of a handsome young man who sits naked on a rock in the middle of a stream playing the violin; when young women enchanted by him approach, he takes hold of them and drags them underwater. There are many songs based upon this story; Julius Röntgen chose to base his set of nine Variations one of the most prominent. This was the first piece he dedicated to Maier, giving it to her as a Christmas present in 1874. It is a very accomplished work, especially for a nineteen-year-old, offering the pianist some varied and technically challenging passages.
The following Christmas, Maier found another gift under the tree; this time it was the piano suite Julklapp!, a set of nine short pieces, which bears the subtitle Weihnachtsgabe or “Christmas Gift”. The set contains varied pieces and the Andante cantabile was composed in 1864, when he was only nine years old. The composer’s fondness for the folk idiom is represented in the Allegro energico and the Allegretto con Grazia, whilst the influence of Grieg - a friendship with the Norwegian composer would develop over time - can be seen it the final piece, the Fughetta alla Humoresca, Prestissimo. These are short, charming character pieces, deeply Romantic in style and nature. I like the seventh piece, Lento, which contains some unusual sustained bass note; Erik Nilsson, in his excellent booklet notes, suggests it could originally have been composed for the organ, an instrument Julius was at home with.
The following year Julius composed his Adagio for Amanda, a short piece for violin and organ, its Romantic theme coming to the fore and displaying his love for her. It received its premier on Palm Sunday in the local Church of St. Nicholas in Leipzig. In this wonderful performance, Cecilia Zilliacus is joined by Bengt Forsberg, who proves an equally gifted organist.
While Amanda lived with Julius’ parents in Leipzig, they helped each other with whatever they were working on at the time; it was only natural that this should continue after they married in 1880, and that they would compose together. Zwiegespräche or “Dialogues”, is a suite of ten pieces composed in 1883, two years after the arrival of the couple’s first child. They each composed five of the pieces, but, tantalisingly, the notes do not tell you who composed which; instead, dB Productions offers the listener the chance to win a disc by correctly identifying who composed which piece, which will be announced on the dB Productions website in June. It is noticeable that whichever of the pieces were composed by Maier, there was a marked development in her compositional style, so much so that apparently when they were first presented, Julius’ parents could not tell who composed which piece. Yes, the pair were known to have aided each other, but we are told that in this case they composed independently of each other. There is certainly a unity of style here, perhaps down to the influences of such as Mendelssohn and Spoh, that were then prominent in Leipzig, or perhaps it was just that they worked so much together that they grew to compose as a couple. There is some strong writing here that take these pieces beyond the realm of merely salon pieces and places them in the rich Romantic repertoire.
This is an important disc, in that it presents neglected music born of a significant relationship which deserves to be heard. The performance is excellent throughout, with Bengt Forsberg at his best, ably backed up by Hanna Aberg and Cecilia Zilliacus. The booklet notes, as already stated, are exemplary; Erik Nilsson sets the scene and discusses not only the growing relationship between Amanda and Julius, but also each work presented on this disc. The recorded sound is up to the usual excellent standard of dB Productions, making this a useful and intriguing addition to both their survey of the music of Amanda Maier, and the growing recorded catalogue of Julius Röntgen.
1 Prelude Nr. 15 C Major [0:31]
Zwiegespräche - Amanda & Julius RÖNTGEN
2 Allegretto con moto [2:06]
3 Moderato ed espressivo [1:37]
4 Allegro energico [2:32]
5 Allegretto con grazia [2:46]
6 Andante espressivo [1:50]
7 Allegro con spirit [1:54]
8 Andante comodo [3:00]
9 Prestissimo [1:46]
10 Moderato [2:58]
11 Allegro molto vivace [2:04]
12 Traditional - Neckens Polska [1:02]
13 Variations on the Neckens Polska [15:12]
14 Prelude Nr. 3 D Major [0:34]
Julklapp! - Julius RÖNTGEN
15 Allegretto con espressione [2:23]
16 Andante cantabile [2:07]
17 Presto giocoso [2:01]
18 Allegretto commodo [1:51]
19 Andante [1:38]
20 Allegro energico [2:50]
21 Lento [2:04]
22 Allegretto con grazia [1:29]
23 Fughetta alla Humoresca: Prestissimo [1:44]
24 Prelude Nr. 1 F Major [0:30]
25 Prelude Nr. 25 F minor [0:43]
26 Prelude Nr. 11 B Major [0:32]
27 Prelude Nr. 24 B minor [0:37]
28 Prelude Nr. 2 G minor [0:53]
29 Prelude Nr. 23 D flat Major [0:43]
30 Prelude Nr. 10 C sharp minor [0:43]
31 Prelude Nr. 21 E flat Major [0:42]
32 Adagio for Violin and Organ D Major [6:05]