2013-05-05 Notes from the Bench

“Chant de Mai” by Joseph Jongen
A commentary on this week’s music by Dr. James Gerber, Music Associate

The composer, organist, and pianist Joseph Jongen (1873-1953) composed a great deal of music including symphonies, concertos, chamber music, and songs, but his pieces for organ are the most frequently performed of his works. The inward and reflective qualities of Chant de Mai (Song of May), which suggest a flowery meadow, was likely inspired by the poem, Lied de Mai by Henri Blaze de Bury which was modeled after the poem by Goëthe, Mai Lied.

imageJongen was the son of Flemish immigrants  who settled in Liège, Belgium. At an early age, he demonstrated exceptional musical abilities and at the age of seven, was admitted to the Liège Conservatoire where he studied music; he began composing by the time he was thirteen years old. He was awarded prizes in fugue and honorary diplomas in piano and organ. In 1897, he was awarded the Prix de Rome which allowed him to travel through Italy, Germany and France. In 1902, he returned to Liège and taught harmony and counterpoint at the Liège Conservatoire. During World War I, Jongen moved his family to England and founded a piano quartet. When peace briefly returned to the mainland, Jongen returned to Belgium and was named professor of fugue at the Royal Academy of Belgium in Brussels, and served as the director of the institution from 1925 to 1929.

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