Julius Röntgen: De lachende cavalier (1919)

  • RontgenSL1
  • RontgenLAchCavLibrettist
  • RontgenSLLachCav1
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  • RontgenLachendeCavalierPaint
  • Julius Röntgen
  • J.C.D. van Dokkum, librettist of Röntgen's 'De lachende cavalier'
  • Front page of Röntgen's manuscript score of 'De lachende cavalier'
  • Libretto of Röntgen's "De lachende cavalier'
  • Frans Hals's painting 'The Laughing Cavalier' that inspired the original story by baroness Orczy

I completed a new opera that I really like: De Lachende Kavalier (The laughing cavalier), of a Frans-Hals-nature; it plays in that time. That opera and my 'water-beggars' song cycle are the dearest to me.’ (Marie van Itallie-van Embden, ‘Sprekende Portretten. Julius Röntgen’, De Haagsche Post,25 april 1925)

Libretto: J. D. C. Van Dokkum
Wereldpremière: 19 oktober 1928

29 mei 2016 401Concerts 3, Kröller-Müller Museum, Otterlo
Slotscène De lachende cavalier
Jolien De Gendt (Hilda), Denzil Delaere (Diogenes), Pieter Dhoore (piano)
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Tekst: René Seghers
Nederlands Muziek Instituut, Kröller-Müller Museum

Haarlem 1623, in front of the St.–Bavo. Old years eve. Stoutenburg, already banned, plots once more against prince Maurits, hoping that a successful coupe will land Hilda van Beresteyn into his arms. Not unlike the famous ‘Three Musketeers’ the friends Elbert van Unia, nicknamed Diogenes and his companions Kier Kiers (nicknamed Socrates) and Wilco Kemp (nicknamed Pythagoras) are on the side of the Prince, although their actions are initially rather ambiguous. Hilda is much taken by Diogenes when he comes to the rescue of Gina, a poor girl who asks (for) help for her old sick father, but Hilda doesn’t understand Diogenes intentions onwards, since he abducts her and delivers her in the hands of…. Stoutenburg! He only laughs at her mockery and disappears. When Stoutenburg tries to rape her, she threatens to jump from the window, where Diogenes open his arms, saying that she is welcome to jump but that it might be wiser to go back inside. There he enters and suddenly challenges Stoutenburg, disarming him while courting Hilda in the process. He asks for a kiss as his reward and then escapes into the night, jumping from the window himself. 

In the third act we are in (at) an inn in Rijswijk. A joyous farmer’s wedding is in full process (progress) and when it ends Hilda and her maid Gina enter, followed by a wounded Diogenes. Stoutenburg has him tied to the wings of the mill and when he discovers that Diogenes is his rival, he wounds him mortally. In a grand finale Hilda then declares her love to the dying Diogenes, who sings a joyous and prolonged toast to death, ‘Breng wijn!’ Breng purp’ren wijn!’ (Bring wine, bring purple wine!) since his life is complete now that Hilda loves him..


After Agnete Röntgen contemplated writing an opera in Norwegian dialect, Måltekst, but Nina Grieg made him realize that this was impossible for a non-Norwegian. Thus Röntgen, apparently affected with the opera virus that affected many composers then (at that time), eventually turned to De lachende Cavalier. Röntgen’s original ambition to become Holland’s national composer did not survive very long within his artistic soul. In the end he wasn’t the most suited person fort he (for the) task and during his life he also saw the arrival of some composer(s) who were more naturally suited to pursue that specific ambition. Among them was Johan Wagenaar, with whom he became friends and whom he would later include in his lectures on great Dutch composers. In Wagenaar he praised the humourist (humorist) of the ‘parodist operas’ and the composer of the glamourous (glamorous) orchestrations. In July 1912 Röntgen praised Wagenaar extensively for his opera De Doge van Venetië and it (is) not very difficult to see similarities between that opera, essentially the first modern and true ‘Dutch’ opera, and Röntgen’s De lachende cavalier after baroness Emmuska Orczy’s novel The Laughing Cavalier from 1914. Orczy’s work was dreamed up wholly from Frans Hals’s painting by the same title, which had fascinated the British (Brits) since it came to England. Röntgen’s song and folk music adaptions aside it is probably in De Lachende Cavalier that his focus on Dutch music best comes tot he (to the) fore (punt) J.D.C. van Dokkum produced the libretto in 1916. Röntgen completed the opera in 1918 and then discovered like many composers before and after him that composing an opera was a challenge of sorts. In a 1925 interview, with his opera still shelved, Röntgen labelled it his best work. It wasn’t until 1928 though that it was finally heard, albeit not on the stage but… in a radio broadcast world première (perhaps a first in the Netherlands)! The radio premiere came just 10 years too early (to have it preserved in a recording).for it to have been preserved in a recording. Neither did it boost a staged performance of the work, although the overture became a frequently performed concert piece that Wagenaar himself greatly enjoyed, following a letter to Röntgen from October 9 1931: ‘The compact piece with joyous motives in a short time span, so strong and determined in sound, made me remember how healthy our generation was compared to the ones that came after us.’

Remarkably was a reprise of the opera with Frans Vroons as Elbert and Corrie Bijster as Hilda during the Second Dutch radio music Celebration in 1942, sanctioned by the occupying Nazis. The critic of Het Volk was foremost surprised to see that Röntgen could also employ the Dutch folkloristic elements on larger structures and noted a certain likeness in spirit with Johan Wagenaar’s operas. Of course the 10th anniversary of Röntgen’s passing came very conveniently for this radio celebration (komma) but the composer was long dead and could of course not change the turn of history. The recording made by 401NederlandseOperas of the absurdist and grandiose final scene ‘Breng wijn, breng purp’ren wijn!’ is the only existing recording of any fragment of  (from) De lachende cavalier. The 401DutchOpera recording was made live during 401Concerts 3 on May 29 2016 in the Kröller-Müller Museum, Otterlo. Diogenes was sung there by Denzil DelaereJolien De Gendt sang Hilda, Pieter Dhoore accompanied them on the piano. The recording is downloadable through 401Concerts 3 download programme.

Download 401Concerts 3 met Agnete en De Lachende Cavalier

401COnc3Logo150The recording of our third 401DutchOperas concert in the Kröller-Müller Museum is downloadable via 401Concerts 3. Apart from highlights of Julius Röntgen's De lachende Cavalier it also includes highlights from Röntgen's Agnete, Cornelis Dopper's De blinde van Casteel Cuillé, Willem Landré's De roos van Dekama, Daniël de Lange's Lioba, Gerard von Brucken Fock's JozalJan van Gilse's Helga von Stavern, Jan Brandts Buys’ De kleermakers van Marken (Die Schneider von Schönau) and Richard Hageman's Caponsacchi.