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 Jean ROGISTER (Liège 1879 - Liège 1964)

JEAN ROGISTERJean Rogister, born in Liege on 25 october 1879, is one of the outstanding Belgian virtuosos and composers of the first half of the twentieth century. His musical gifts made themselves apparent  in early childhood, and he progressed through the Liège Conservatoire with remarkable speed, graduating with flying colours. Taught by Désiré Heynberg and Oscar Englebert, Rogister emerged as an exceptional virtuoso on the viola and he was appointed at the Liège Conservatoire to teach the instrument at the age of twenty-one.

Rogister viewed this appointment less as an achievement than as the starting-point for a rich and varied carrer. Like his predecessors and contemporaries, he studied compositional techniques : his teacher was Jean-Théodore Radoux, a fervent follower of Franck, and it was natural that Rogister should share his enthousiasm. The young composer made an early attempt to combine his practical activities as a viola player, especially in quartets, with his urge to compose, and in 1902 he produced a string quartet, the first in a genre to which he was to remain attached throughout his life. Its gestation coincided with his early experiences with the Charlier Quartet : this dual activity appealed to Rogister as another starting-point. For some years he did not compose anything but quietly continued to study composition while concentrating his energies on playing chamber music, becoming a leading light with the Cercle Ad Artem, the Chaumont Quartet, and a piano and string group called « Piano et Archets », before founding his own quartet, the « Quatuor de Liege » , in 1925.

1925 was a crucial year. Between 1910 and 1925 Rogister underwent some formative experience and unique encounters, but it was in 1925 that he turned to composition again after consulting Vincent d'Indy. Then, as a fully-fledged viola virtuoso, he left Liege for the United States where he spent ten months as leader of the viola section in the Philadelphia Symphony Orchestra under Leopold Stokowsky. He began to compose, not only for viola and string quartet but also for piano, orchestra, violin, cello and trombone. By the age of fifty Rogister had gradually built up a massive fund of expertise which he devoted himself to deepening and widening during his remaining thirty-five years.

His status as a great chamber music player was confirmed by his work with the quatuor de Liège (with Henri Koch, Joseph Beck and Lydie Schor), which toured with great success in Europe and the United States. To this he added an immense output of compositions. He was indefatigably energetic, and endlessly curious, a characteristic reflected in his œuvre. Although the Franck tradition of compositional structure fascinated him, he felt more drawn to explorind timbres and sonorities in depth - an orientation best exemplified by his passion for ancient music. Between 1933 and 1940, as a member of the « Association pour l'Etude de la Musique de Chambre », he set about unearthing ancient manuscript scores and applying his mind to their interpretation and the unravelling their secrets.

The Second World War and certain family misfortunes halted his boundless enthusiasm and tireless activity for a while, and for three years he composed nothing. Then in 1943 he wrote an extraordinary piece, a Symphony for solo string quartet and full orchestra which displayed a remarkable command of compositional techniques and also shows how deeply he had absorbed the influences of the older music on which he had worked so thoroughly. He had now turned to a more monumental style of composition which continued to occupy him to the end of his life and is most strikingly seen in the Requiem (1944) and Jeux Symphoniques (1952). His best solo composition is the wonderful Violin Concerto, composed in 1945.

Jean Rogister died on 2 March 1964. His long career had been studded with success, but the key word to described it would be consistency. Although a viola virtuoso, he remained loyal to his teaching commitments, to the delight of generations of pupils. As a composer he never sought new departures but was concerned to go ever deeper into an artistic undertaking whose parameters he had established very early. His compositions testify to the multiple interests of a musician who was always in quest of perfection and discovery.

Philippe Vendrix
Lecturer in the University of Liège
Translated by Celia Skrine





  

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