The German-Dutch composer, Julius Röntgen, was the son of the Dutch violinist Engelbert Röntgen - the leader of the Gewandhausorchester Leipzig - and the German pianist Pauline Klengel. He was taught the piano by Louis Plaidy and Carl Reinecke, the conductor of the Gewandhausconcerte in Leipzig. Röntgen started composing at a very young age and his first compositions were published in 1871. Considered a child prodigy, he performed his own compositions, for example in Düsseldorf, Hamburg and Leipzig. Around the same time, he studied harmony and counterpoint with Moritz Hauptmann in Leipzig, and composition with Franz Lachner in Munich. At the age of 14, he was introduced to Franz Liszt, for whom he played one of his compositions.
In 1877, Julius Röntgen moved to Holland. He accepted a position as a piano teacher in Amsterdam, and became the conductor of the zangvereniging Excelsior (Excelsior Choral Society), of the Amsterdam branch of the Maatschappij tot Bevordering der Toonkunst (Association for the Enhancement of Music) and of the Felix Meritis concerts. He broke fresh ground in various ways, for example by conducting the first Dutch performance of Bach's Mass in B minor (BWV 232). In 1884, he co-founded the Amsterdam Conservatory, together with Frans Coenen and Daniël de Lange. He also performed as a solo pianist and accompanied other performers at the piano on musical evenings.
Julius Röntgen was close friends with Johannes Brahms, and it was thanks to Röntgen's initiative that several concerts introducing J. Brahms' works in Holland took place between 1878 and 1885. In 1884, Röntgen was the soloist in J. Brahms' Second Piano Concerto, which was conducted by the composer himself. Röntgen was renowned as a pianist, and above all as an accompanist to various famous soloists in those days, such as Joseph Joachim, Johannes Messchaert, Carl Flesch, and Pablo Casals. He was also very close friends with Edvard Grieg. Their correspondence consists of a large number of unique documents, in which both composers candidly criticise each other's work as well as that of others, and give a vivid account of their experiences in music, society and politics.
Julius Röntgen was a prolific composer. His vast body of work (around 650 compositions) encompasses symphonies, concertos, chamber music, songs, choruses and operas. A number of these compositions is available on CD. Although he kept close track of the developments in the international music scene, Julius Röntgen stuck to his own style of composing, which was firmly rooted in that of the Leipzig school. His music shows very strong affinity with J. Brahms', but Röntgen's admiration for Max Reger can also be heard in it. His research in and expression of Dutch folk music has been of great value. Röntgen was also inspired by folk music from other countries, which shows in the compositions that incorporate folk themes and airs from the Scandinavian countries. His tremendous productivity as a composer is even more remarkable given the fact that he was also a soloist, a performer of chamber music, an organiser of musical events and a piano teacher.
In the summer of 1930, Julius Röntgen wrote a book on Edvard Grieg, for which he drew on his personal experiences and on Grieg's letters. During this period, he also became a film composer: he accompanied the folkloristic films of D.J. van der Ven with his own compositions and improvisations, based on a collection of folk songs compiled by ethnomusicologist Jaap Kunst. On his 75th birthday, in 1930, Röntgen received an honorary doctorate from the University of Edinburgh. Röntgen spent the last years of his life in the villa Gaudeamus in Bilthoven, which his son Frants had designed for him. Here, he was able to dedicate himself even more to composing: he created more than a hundred works between 1925 and 1932. During those years he continued to play an active role in the Dutch music scene and Gaudeamus became a meeting place: he invited his guests there, performed for them and gave courses in music analysis. Acitivities that were continued by the Gaudeamus Foundation after his death.
Julius Röntgen passed away on September 13, 1932 in Utrecht. His friend Donald Tovey wrote the following obituary in The Times: "Röntgen's compositions, published and unpublished, cover the whole range of music in every art form; they all show consummate mastery in every aspect of technique. Even in the most facile there is beauty and wit. Each series of works culminates in something that has the uniqueness of a living masterpiece".