By Néstor CASTIGLIONE
Barely in his early 20s, Franco-Belgian composer Guillaume Lekeu seemed to have it all: the respect of César Franck, acceptance as an artistic peer by the literary luminaries of late 19th century France such as Stéphane Mallarmé, and mastery of a highly original idiom that augured a career of remarkable promise. Perhaps even a trailblazing one like that of Beethoven, one of the composers Lekeu held most dear.
But scarcely a day after his 24th birthday, on Jan. 21, 1894, the young composer lay dead in his parents’ home from the typhoid fever that had haunted his final months. With him died not only hopes for greater achievements, but the renown his name had once commanded in Central European musical circles.
A century later, a new generation of musicians eager to play scores outside of the repertoire staples are rediscovering the intensely expressive and unique sound world of Lekeu. Now music lovers in Glendale will soon have a chance to hear for themselves one of the major works by this fascinating composer.
Violinist Jacqueline Suzuki and pianist Charles Fierro will perform Lekeu’s “Violin Sonata,” one of the composer’s key works, on Wednesday, Oct. 4 as part of the Glendale Noon Concerts series.
Fierro, a regular guest at the series, discovered Lekeu’s music four years ago through a friend. His reaction to this music was immediate.
“The music is out of this world,” he said. “It’s extraordinary. He was a very independent personality and mostly self-taught as a composer. But [Lekeu’s music] is not so well known out here in California. It seemed very worth bringing it out to the public and I believe it should make quite an impression.”
Like his patron and friend Franck, Lekeu was a Belgian whose art straddled the musical worlds of the country’s mighty neighbors, Germany and France. Aside from Beethoven, the composer singled out Bach and Wagner as his most crucial influences. But he lived in Paris from the age of 9 and considered himself a French musician.
“He visited Belgium because of relatives,” Fierro said. “But he really lived only in France. When people asked him if he was part of the Belgian school of composition, he would reply ‘No, I’m French.’ But his music isn’t Impressionist like later music by Debussy. Lekeu is very different.”
Perhaps it was Lekeu’s blend of Gallic and Austro-German influences (much like the work of another later once-acclaimed and now oft-neglected composer, the Swiss Arthur Honegger), along with his early death and the subsequent rise of the Impressionists and Modernists,that have caused the Belgian’s music to remain on the sidelines of musical history.
“There are very few works of his to build a lasting reputation. Impressionism, as the next musical school that came along, sort of took over. It’s common for one generation to dismiss the work of a previous one, so that may be another reason for his neglect. But in the beginning of the 21st century we’re finding ourselves in a Romantic revival and we’re rediscovering works previously overlooked. So it’s all the more reason to share Lekeu with listeners now.”
The performance of Lekeu’s “Violin Sonata in G” will take place next week at the Glendale City Church (610 E. California St., corner with Isabel Street) on Wednesday, Oct. 4 at 12:10 p.m. The program will include an arrangement of Debussy’s chanson “Beau soir.” As with all Glendale Noon Concerts admission is free. To obtain more information, please go online to www.glendalenoonconcerts.blogspot.com or call Victoria Lucero at (818) 244-7241.