Emile von Brucken-Fock
Emile von Brucken-Fock is remembered as the composer of the earliest completely preserved Wagnerian epos in Dutch opera, Seleneia. Even within the Wagnerian context, Seleneia is a work of great emotional and musical expression. We shall therefore include samples of it during our first 401DutchOperas live concert in Hoog-Keppel, on April 26, 2015 with tenor Denzil Delaere as Heros, and Pieter Dhoore at the piano. Kees Hilhorst shall play the violin solos in the 'Moonlight music' and Hero's 'Moon aria'. At a later date we will also perform ‘Elaines Tod,’from the torso of Von Brucken Fock’s Elaine und Lancelot.
Text: René Seghers
Sources: Emile von Brucken-Fock: Seleneia (1894, partituur, piano uitreksel, documentatie); Recensie Seleneia in ‘Die Musik’ (1904/1905); Onze Musici (1898 Nijgh & Van Ditmar’s, Rotterdam); Keller en Kruseman: Geïllustreerde Muzieklexicon (1932/1949); Algemene Muziek Encyclopedie (1957/1980, Unieboek, Bussum); Eduard Reeser: Een Eeuw Nederlandse muziek 1815-1915 (1986, Querido, Amsterdam); Jeroen van Gessel: Het Honderd componistenboek (1997 Gottmer, Haarlem); Archieven Nederlands Muziek Instituut, Muziekcentrum van de Omroepen, Theater Instituut, 401DutchOperas / 401DutchDivas.
The Zeeland born Lieutenant-Colonel composer Abraham Emilius ‘Emile’ von Brucken-Fock (Koudekerke, 19 October 1857 – Aerdenhout, 3 January 1944) was the third son of Henri Dignus von Brucken-Fock (1817-1874) and Johanna Caland (1819-1891). Although his father was a clerk at the municipality of Middelburg, the couple brought forth no less than two respected composers, since Emile had to compete with his elder brother Gerard von Brucken-Fock as to who was the most famous of the two Von Brucken Fock composers.
Emile studied piano with Simon Verwijs in Middelburg, the organ player of the Nieuwe Kerk and concertmaster of the orchestra Uit Kunstliefde. Soon, Von Brucken-Fock was allowed into the orchestra, which enhanced his knowledge of chamber and orchestra music. According to history, Von Brucken-Fock never visited a conservatory, and his further training as an autodidact was made up of reading Ernst Friedrich Richter’s Lehre der Harmonie and Henri Viotta’s Lexicon der Toonkunst. This is less surprising than one might think at first glance, since Von Brucken-Fock never thought of music as a serious career option. Instead, he preferred a career in the military. By 1875, he enrolled in the Royal Military Academy Breda, where he was appointed conductor of the cadet’s ensemble Sempre Crescendo. His actual career as a composer started with the compositions and arrangements that he provided for this ensemble. Twee Festive Cantatas first drew attention two him in this period, in Breda. By1877 he completed his military studies and graduated Lieutenant-Engineer. Following his graduation, he married in 1878 with Samuela Adriana Cornelia Pické, with whom he had two sons.
As the military life requires, he would live wherever duty called. His first post was in Amsterdam, and then, from 1881 to 1884, he served as First Lieutenant in Utrecht, where he also provided the Musical Chronicle for the local newspaper. From 1884 to 1886 he was stationed in Den Helder, where he composed his ‘Nachtlied’ for string orchestra, and his ‘Concertwals’ for orchestra. From 1886 to 1891 he was again stationed in Breda, where he was promoted to the rank of Captain. During this period he composed several songs that were published in Germany.
His most renowned composition materialized during his second period in Utrecht, which lasted from 1891 to 1896. Apart from the symphonic poem ‘Koninginne-Marsch’ after Holda (pseudonym for Adriana Jacoba Francisca Piepers) it was here that he composed his 1894 opera in one act, Seleneia. The libretto was provided by one of Holda’s daughters, Marie Constance Antoinette Snijders van Wissekerke-Clant van der Mijll, better known under her own pseudonym, M. Constant. De scenic world premiere took place on March 5, 1895, in the Stadsschouwburg Amsterdam, under the baton of the composer. The Wagnerian work made a big impression with its profoundness, the Tristanesque atmosphere and the ingenious way in which the Leitmotivs were wrought. According to Hugo Nolthenius this was the first Dutch Musikdrama that was wholly composed after Wagner’s philosophy, except perhaps Henri Viotta’s De zeven raven (The seven ravens). The latter opera had however never reached the stage, due to the bankruptcy of the publisher in the wake of the premiere. Perhaps the most striking thing in Seleneia’s Wagnerian context is the fact that the libretto is dispersed with bloodthirsty feeling of vengeance, which, along with the concept and the mere fact that it is a one-act opera, clearly betrays the influence of Cavalleria rusticana and the world of verismo. In a certain way, it could be argued that Von Brucken-Fock thus freed verismo from its gutteral context, by embedding its most appealing elments in a mythical Wagnerian context, which was further enhanced by employing the sort of chromatic music that defined Tristan und Isolde.
At the time, the result proved a revelation within the world of Dutch opera and to date Von Brucken-Fock’s reputation rests on the legend of his only opera, Seleneia. Strikingly, even though many of his manuscripts have been lost, the plenitude of publications on Seleneia leaves us with more information on Von Brucken-Fock than we have on most Dutch composers before and after him. Fortunately, score and piano reduction of Seleneia have been preserved. In 1983, Seleneia’s solo at the finale of the duet between her and Heros, ‘O Moira,’ was been recorded privately, in the context of an exhibition. During our first 401DutchOperas live concert on April 26, 2015 in Hoog-Keppel, we shall perform some excerpts from this legendary work, with tenor Denzil Delaere as Heros, acompanied from the piano by Pieter Dhoore. Kees Hilhorst shall play the violin solos in the 'Moonlight music' and Hero's 'Moon aria'.
Elaine und Lancelot
on Brucken-Fock’s next opera project was another Musikdrama after Wagner, Elaine und Lancelot, of which he would only ever complete the conclusion, ‘Elaines Tod’.
In 1896 Von Brucken-Fock was stationed in Arnhem, where he again combined his military work with a career as a critic for the Arnhems Dagblad. From 1900 onwards he was stationed in Middelburg, Bergen op Zoom, Den Haag and De Bilt. In this period, his military duties fully occupied him and he gave up composing, although his works continued to be performed from time to time. In 1902 his ‘Koninginne-marsch’ was performed in Het Concertgebouw under Willem Mengelberg. In 1904 a musical gathering of the Utrecht department of Toonkunst gave the world premiere of ‘Elaine’s Tod.
Second creative period
In 1910 Von Brucken-Fock was promoted to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel. In 1917 he retired to Aerdenhout, where he picked up his composing career. Later authors who published on Von Brucken-Fock, most notably Jeroen van Gessel (1997 Emile von Brucken Fock en zijn muziekdrama Seleneia) and Simon van Milligen, were not blind to the Wagnerian overtones, and readily acknowledged that Von Brucken-Fock never really developed a personal style. Even his publisher Abraham Antony Noske was aware of this, and still considered Von Brucken-Fock to be the most imprtant Dutch song composer of his day. Marie Berdenis van Berlekom admires the expressive level of ‘Rückblick’ and ‘Langst verwelkte Blumen’. She judged ‘Das Alte Haus’ a masterpiece. His time and his own father valued Emile higher than his composing brother Gerard von Brucken-Fock, although the Algemene Muziek Encyclopedie gives Gerard a complete column, against a mere three lines devoted to Emile.
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Emile von Brucken Fock: Opera’s
• 1894 Seleneia, muziekdrama in een akte
• 1895-99 Elaine und Lancelot (onvoltood, fragmenten, daaronder ‘Elaine’s Tod’)
Emile von Brucken Fock: overige composities
• Nachtlied voor strijkorkest.
• Concertwals voor orkest.
• Drei Lieder en Vier Lieder. D.F. Kahnt Nachfolger, Leipzig tussen 1877-1890.
• Koninginne-Marsch, Phantasie voor orkest naar een gedicht van Holda. J.A.H. Wagenaar/Deierkauf, Utrecht 1891.
• Zwei Lieder für ein mittlere Singstimme
• Längst verwelkte Blumen blicken, lied voor altstem.
• 8 Gesänge mit Klavierbegleitung
4. Letzte Bitte
6. Die Tropfen
7. Das Alte Haus
• Seleneia, muziekdrama in één bedrijf op tekst van M. Constant.
• Frühling, lied voor solostem en orkestbegeleiding. 1922.
• Sérénade Fantastique . 1924.
• Erinnerung, Fantasie für Violine mit Orchester. 1924.
• Elaines Tod, fragment uit wat Elaine und Lancelot had moeten worden.
• Elainens Todeslager Trauerzug und Leichenfahrt, für Orchester.
• Preghiera per Orchestra ed Organo. 1925.
• Wilhelmus-Feestmarsch voor Orkest.
• Das alte Haus, Gedicht von Richard Zoozmann, für eine mittlere Singstimme mit Klavierbegleitung.
• Die Tropfen, Gedicht von John Henry Mackay, für eine Altstimme met Klavierbegleitung.
• Op. 15 Scène de Carnaval.
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