Joseph Jongen


Rediscovery of a Belgian Jewel


Joseph Jongen (1873-1953) – a pianist, organist, conductor, teacher, but above all else, a composer – is one of the most inspiring and mysterious individuals in the Belgian musical scene at the turn of the nineteenth and twentieth century. While perusing musicological sources, however, one may get the impression that Jongen takes a peripheral position in the history of classical music and seems to have undeservedly fallen into oblivion, notwithstanding his rich output which covers nearly all the classical music genres. The character of his music is not homogenous. Some of his compositions could be classified as post-romantic: however some of his other pieces display vivid traces of Impressionism or even Modernism. Being a stylistic hybrid, Jongen appears to be a really prolific and versatile composer whose artistic output includes such genres as miniatures, songs, symphonies and operas. Jongen’s life coincided with dynamic and turbulent times, full of social, cultural, and economic changes. At first perceived as a great talent, or even a genius, Jongen gradually fell into obscurity and is now regarded as a minor figure, known only to a few aficionados and experts.

Why Jongen?

There is no one answer to the question as to what caused the output of this Belgian composer, except for a few organ works, to fall into oblivion so soon. It seems that he could be criticized for his inefficient avant-garde progressiveness and commitment to continuing the trends of the past epoch, but never for passively replicating his great predecessors. His stylistic eclecticism surely does not suggest epigonism, yet it does evidence his continual search for an individual musical language and an attempt to find his own place as an artist. It is also difficult to classify Jongen’s compositions as belonging to a specific current, whether neoromantic, neoclassical, or impressionistic. Yet this seems to be of minor importance. The very value of Jongen’s artistic activity is, after all, defined not so much by the innovativeness of his music as by the originality of his musical language, his excellent composing technique, and nearly inexhaustible artistic creativity.

The project structure

This project was intended to familiarize the audience with Joseph Jongen as a composer, mainly through a description of his three representative works: Trio for violin, cello and piano op. 10  dated 1897, Sonata for violin and piano op. 34 dated 1909 and Deux pièces en trio for piano, violin and cello op. 95 dated 1931, as well as to find an answer to the question as to why Joseph Jongen belongs to the group of so-called forgotten composers: Do his artistic personality and creative potential make him a prominent artist or just an outstanding  craftsman? What influences does his music show and what was his artistic route? Was he an impressionistic composer or, as some claim, still a romantic one?

The selection of the works is not accidental. They represent different periods in Jongen’s artistic activity and constitute a peculiar handbook of his development as a composer. 

The project was implemented in three stages: through a CD, a monographic volume, and a series of concerts and Jongenian sessions. It depicts Jongen’s artistic road as well as his creative progress. It also indicates that, notwithstanding the apparent stylistic differences between individual compositions, one common coefficient which they all share can be noted, thanks to which the composer’s style can be regarded as recognizable. This intrinsic element of Jongenian output materializes in an omnipresent and widely exposed lyricism.


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