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Jongen: Preludes For Piano

Jongen: Preludes For Piano

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Born in Liège, Belgium, in 1873, Joseph Jongen showed an outstanding precocity for music from a very early age, and was admitted to the Liège Conservatoire at the extraordinarily young age of seven. He won a First Prize for fugue in 1895 and honors diplomas in piano and organ the next year. In 1897, he won the Belgian Prix de Rome, which allowed him to travel to Italy, Germany, and France, where he experienced the music of Brahms and Richard Strauss, Fauré, Debussy, and Ravel, all of which would exert an influence on the young composer. Although he composed in numerous genres, including the symphony and concerto, as well as chamber music, instrumental pieces, and choral works, it is his output for the organ for which he is now best known.

The Serbian-American pianist Ivan Ilić helps to redress the balance with this new recording of two of Jongen’s substantial sets of Préludes for piano. The 13 Préludes, Op. 69 are expansive in nature and extremely poetic – each bears an evocative title. They are dedicated to Émile Bosquet who gave their première, in 1923. The 24 Petits Préludes dans tous les tons were begun in 1940 and (like Bach’s preludes and fugues) circle through each and every key, major and minor. Arranged in twelve pairs, the minor key following the major on the same tonic note, these works reflect Jongen’s affinity for (and mastery of) their free form, as well as demonstrating his mature compositional style.


The reputation of Belgian composer, organist, and educator Joseph Jongen (1873-1953) basically rests upon one work, his Symphonie concertante for organ and orchestra. However, he composed prolifically in many genres. His solo piano works fall between Franck’s burnished chromaticism and young Scriabin’s sensuous textures while flirting with Debussy and Ravel. Such a style works best when served up in small doses, such as in the Preludes Op. 69.

Jongen may not be a memorable tunesmith, and his phraseology tends to be square, but his exquisite harmonic sense and idiomatic, well-crafted handling of the keyboard more than compensates. In the Op. 60 group, you have, on one hand, Eau tranquille’s gently persistent double notes that contrast to Appassionato’s hammered-out chords that step right out of the finale of Scriabin’s Third sonata.

The 24 Petits Preludes in all of the major and minor keys are less ambitious technically and more conservative, even academic in style. The purity of the contrapuntal writing in slower pieces like Preludes Nos. 10 and 20 smacks of organ technique, while No. 22’s imitative writing suggests a Passepied from a Bach suite in slightly updated modern dress. The pieces fuse charm and seriousness in equal portions, and say what they need to say without overstaying their welcome.

The music’s workmanship mirrors Ivan Ilić’s caringly detailed interpretations. For example, he shapes No. 18’s cascading patterns into cogent melodic arcs, while imparting subtle shadings of timbre to No. 11’s unassumingly beautiful chords. He scales Op. 69 No. 13’s dynamics with care, ensuring that the motoric build-ups do not get too loud too soon, and thereby generating steady momentum. Tempo choices similarly appear to be judicious.

While one might prefer Diane Andersen’s gaunter and more scintillating reading of Papillons noirs (Op. 69 No. 11) in her complete Jongen piano music cycle for the Pavane label, Ilić’s deliberation better allows you to absorb the harmonic motion, together with extra breathing room for the dancing right-hand triplets. In short, Ilić’s mindful virtuosity serves the music first and foremost throughout this highly recommendable and well-engineered release.


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Product Description:

  • Release Date: January 06, 2023

  • UPC: 095115226421

  • Catalog Number: CHAN 20264

  • Label: Chandos

  • Number of Discs: 1

  • Period: 20th Century

  • Composer: Joseph Jongen

  • Performer: Ivan Ilić


  1. Préludes (13) pour piano, Op. 69

    Composer: Joseph Jongen

    Performer: Ivan Ilić (Piano)

  2. Petits Préludes (24) dans tous les tons, Op. 116

    Composer: Joseph Jongen

    Performer: Ivan Ilić (Piano)