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Ignace Lilien
(1897-1964)

Ignace Lilien


On 29 November 2006 there was a concert in the Lviv School of Music given by two Dutch musicians. The programme included the Divertimento for Flute and Piano by Ignace Lilien. Most likely the piece had never before been heard in that town. Lviv is now in the Ukraine, but when Ignace Lilien was born there in 1897 the town was called Lemberg and it was in Austria. Prior to 1772 it had for centuries been part of Poland. Lemberg at the time of Ignace Lilien was known as Little Vienna and was an important seat of culture. The old city centre familiar to Lilien has scarcely changed over the years. Even the graffiti on the walls of the former Jewish ghetto may have been the same in his time: Juden raus, Jews must die.

Of the composers described here Lilien is undoubtedly the most cosmopolitan, as evidenced in the many ways of writing his name: Ignacy, Ignaz or Ignace and Lilien or Liliën. His life reads like a boys' adventure story, the highlight being a bicycle trip in 1914 round the art galleries of Europe, when the young adventurer had barely turned seventeen. The outbreak of the First World War brought his journey to a sudden stop in The Hague. Lilien entered Delft University and soon graduated in chemical engineering. He also studied piano and composition. Thereafter Lilien had two existences: he worked as an engineer and composed music and gave concerts. This led to frequent trips to other countries. His travels in South America added an exotic touch to his style. The last movement of his Modern Times Sonata for violin and piano, for example, contains elements of South American folk music; this movement was also published separately as "Rondo Bresilien" (Brazilian Rondo). The Modern Times Sonata dates from 1935, when he was living for a while in Reichenberg, Bohemia (now known as Liberec, in the Czech Republic). In 1939 Lilien returned to Holland. He spent the war years in Apeldoorn, where he wrote a great many songs on Dutch themes, including the Ballad of Westerbork (1943) - fortunately he himself was able to avoid deportation to this transit camp and he survived the War.

Lilien's music receives regular performances from distinguished players. His friend Stefan Askenase several times played the solo in the Three Nocturnes for piano and orchestra, conducted by Ernest Ansermet. For Lilien's successful opera Great Catherine the libretto was written by no less than George Bernhard Shaw. In the Netherlands the violinist Willem Noske took up the music of Lilien. In 1946 he performed the premiere in the The Hague Diligentia theatre of Lilien's Second Sonata for Violin and Piano. The review in the Nieuwe Haagsche Courant speaks of a " fantastically moving composition with interesting harmonies". It appears that Lilien more or less assaulted Noske earlier that year with his violin sonata: one Sunday morning he arrived unannounced at the violinist's home with his piece, determined to play it through with him. Noske was still in bed. "I give you twenty minutes to get dressed," the composer ordered him!

Lilien's hot-blooded nature, as illustrated in the above anecdote, is confirmed by a description in De Kroniek of the young composer: "He is so thunderingly un-Dutch, bouncing around everything like a puppy dog!" Lilien's warm-blooded personality is expressed also in the exuberant style of his entire oeuvre. The picture is completed by his extensive correspondence with publishers, theatres, concert halls and influential personalities in the international music world.
Symbolic of all this is an early work for piano that Lilien wrote when he was back living in Holland for a short time, Rêve fiévreux (Feverish dream). From the front cover an anxious face stares out, with crazy hair and hollow eyes. Perhaps that was how the composer, who travelled all over the place but was everywhere at home and so tirelessly wrote his music, perceived the whole of life: one long feverish dream that only came to an end with his death, in 1964, in his home in The Hague.

Marcel Worms

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The score for Ignace Lilien's Sonatine Apollinique for piano is in the music library of Muziekcentrum van de Omroep. You can read or download the score from www.muziekschatten.nl.

Selected works

Modern Times Sonate 1935 violin and piano
Divertimento 1950 flute and piano
Songs not dated voice and piano
Great Catherine 1932 opera

Find out more about Ignace Lilien, find sheet music and listen to sound samples on www.forbiddenmusicregained.org

The sixth CD in the series 'Dutch Cello Sonatas' will be released in November 2013. It includes the first cello sonata by Ignace Lilien, performed by Doris Hochscheid and Frans van Ruth (first recording). For more information please visit cellosonate.nl.

'A negro girl goes to school', written by Ignace Lilien in 1958 and performed by the school choir of the 'Christelijk Lyceum Buitenveldert' in 1962. The performance was broadcast on Dutch television twice.

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