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Of all the EU Member States, Luxembourg is the least famous when it comes to the arts and culture. Yet the endeavour to promote culture is ongoing: prestigious concerts, renovated and brand new museums, big and small festivals from May to July, fairs, and exhibitions in numbers too great for one to be able to attend all. A small country with lots on offer for those who come without preconceived ideas.
The National Museum of History and Art (MNHA) can be defined as an encyclopaedic museum. Its archaeology display is spectacular. Modern and contemporary art are well represented, with impressive collections by local artists.
The permanent collection of the History Museum of the City of Luxembourg displays the 1000-year-old history of the capital of the Grand Duchy in an original, multimedia and interactive manner.
The Casino Luxembourg is a forum of contemporary art created in the wake of Luxembourg European City of Culture 1995. It presents current art in all its diversity and complexity and attempts to provide information and material for reflection necessary to understand it.
The Museum of Modern Art Grand-Duc Jean (MUDAM), designed by the famous architect Ieoh Ming Pei, will soon open its doors near the European district to display its collections of contemporary art.
In Luxembourg, painting and sculpture have been prolific since the beginning of the 20th century. The expressionist painter Joseph Kutter has made his mark on the collective memory with his landscapes and portraits. The MNHA exhibits his works as well as those of his contemporaries. Abstract art broke through after the Second World War with painters influenced by the Paris school. Other painters followed their own individual style, such as Emile Kirscht and Fony Thissen. The sculptures of Lucien Wercollier, whose art blossomed after 1945, can be seen in several public places.
Today, many Luxembourg and foreign artists live in Luxembourg, including painters Jean-Marie Biwer, Robert Brandy, Patricia Lippert, Gast Michels, Moritz Ney, Marc Reckinger, Doris Sander, and sculptors Jeannot Bewing, Marie-Josée Kerschen and Liliane Heidelberger, to name but a few. Their fame sometimes goes beyond all expectations. In June 2003 the Luxembourgish artist Su-Mei Tse won the Golden Lion, a prize awarded to the best national participant at the Venice International Exhibition of Contemporary Art.
There are only a few remaining public edifices dating from before the 17th century, apart from the Grand Duke’s palace, constructed to house the city’s governors, and the Denzelt in Echternach. The old fortress town of Luxembourg, inscribed on the Unesco World Heritage List, reveals a variety of styles of military architecture, dating from the Middle Ages to the first half of the 19th century: doors dating from the 12th and 13th centuries, outer walls from the time of John the Blind, Spanish towers, high walls by Vauban, Austrian forts and Prussian barracks.
Counter-reformation architecture is well illustrated by the ancient part of Luxembourg’s cathedral. In the 18th century, architectural influences from Austria, which vacillate between baroque, rococo and restrained classicism, made their mark on civilian and religious architecture throughout the country.
Under the reign of the kings of the Netherlands, during which the Luxembourg state emerged, town halls, schools and churches characterised by a refined classicism, sprang up in the urban areas.
The demolishing of the Luxembourg fortress forced the authorities to develop new districts in the capital with the help of modern town planners. The Plateau Bourbon was entirely built in an architectural style inspired in perfect unison with developments in Paris and Berlin around 1900. Everywhere, the old forts were embellished with parkland. Civilian buildings of a monumental nature appeared. Other districts were influenced by the ideas of the German town planner Stübben and included wide streets, the creation of public squares and green areas, and the development of gardens.
In the towns of the south of the country, where a leading-edge steel industry flourished at the beginning of the 19th century, commercial centres, industrialists’ residential areas and workers’ housing estates burgeoned, all characterized by a specific architectural conception: extravagant forms in the town centres where new styles abounded, subtle flamboyance in the wealthy districts and rigorous symmetry in the housing estates.
Toned-down Bauhaus and late historicism styles rubbed shoulders up until 1945. The 1950s, 1960s and 1970s saw the birth of new districts, blocks of flats and office buildings in the city centre. This evolution, however, did not have the approval of everybody.
At the beginning of the 1980s, discussions regarding the city led to a renewal of ideas and town planning practices. Rules were introduced which ensured that the history of the towns were taken into account, while at the same time allowing freedom of creativity.
In the wake of the post-1985 economic boom, big banks, administrative buildings and cultural infrastructures arose. During this phase of intense architectural creation, some projects were carried out by internationally acclaimed architects: the more recent include the MUDAM, designed by Ieoh Ming Pei, and the Philharmonie building by Christian de Portzamparc.
During this period, purely Luxembourg architecture also enjoyed a new lease of life with leading-edge contemporary architectural projects and creations.
The Solistes européens, with their more classical repertoire, brought together under the baton of Jack Martin Händler, form the other renowned symphony in the country.
The country has no shortage of international soloists: violinist Sandrine Cantoreggi, cellist Françoise Groben, pianists Francesco Schlimé and Jean Muller, and singer Mariette Kemmer, to name but a few. Among the contemporary composers, Camille Kerger, Claude Lenners, Alex Mullenbach and Marcel Wengler have proved consistent and captivating creators.
Opera has its enthusiasts throughout the country. The Esch-sur-Alzette and Luxembourg theatres, as well as the Centre des arts pluriels d’Ettelbruck and the open-air theatre of the Wiltz festival, all provide lyric representations for the inhabitants of the region.
Rock music is also well established in Luxembourg and lovers of rock ’n’ roll will soon have their own large, specialized concert hall in the south of the country.
The Echternach festival, the Printemps musical de Luxembourg, Jazz in the City, the musical part of the Wiltz festival, as well as a few well-conceived small festivals such as in Marnach, animate the music scene from May to September. The ambition of the new Philharmonie, which opens its doors in June 2005, is to develop music to new horizons.
Luxembourgers have a passion for the theatre, whether as spectators or as actors. The country has four public theatres in Luxembourg, Esch and Ettelbruck. The industrious amateur theatre has given rise to many international careers. For several years, attempts have been made to professionalize national theatre production and to enable highly gifted amateurs to cross the barrier. As a result, the quality of productions has improved enormously.
Many Luxembourg actors and producers have had to expatriate to be able to live from their work. Some actors, such as André Jung, Charles Muller, Thierry van Werveke and Myriam Muller, and producers such as Frank Hoffmann, have succeeded abroad while having maintained very close ties with Luxembourg.
Popular open-air theatre based on historical subjects has become very fashionable in recent years, especially in Kehlen and Bourscheid. Thousands of people attend these summer productions, performed almost exclusively by local amateurs.
A publication by the Luxembourg Government’s Information and Press Service outlined very pertinently: "In European literature, Luxembourg appears as a blank page, a vacuum which only a few rare initiated readers outside the Grand Duchy are capable of filling with names of authors and works." So how can we even speak of different Luxembourg literary genres?
That is because Luxembourg authors express themselves along the lines of their own affinities, their education, their subjects and the literary genres they choose in either Luxembourgish, French or German. There are even authors who opted for English.
Michel Lentz (1820-1893) composed patriotic songs, one of which became the national anthem.
Edmond de la Fontaine (1823-1891), also known as Dicks, wrote vaudevilles accompanied by melodies typical of his style, whose words, characters and tunes continue to form part of the collective memory.
Michel Rodange (1827-1876), whose different jobs led him to live all over the country, composed a fable modelled on the Roman du Renart, an epic tale which mirrored a country marked by political vote-catching and sanctimonious hypocrisy, and which readers took several decades to accept.
A second phase in the development of Luxembourg literature occurred between the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the First World War. German, the language of the main economic partner, was prevalent. Playwrights and novelists of the time, namely Nikolaus Welter (1871-1951) and Batty Weber (1860-1940) had works published by the big German publishing houses. They subscribed to pathetic realism which was very fashionable in Germany at that time.
The postwar period saw the emergence of Romanesque literature in French and the appearance of lyrical poetry in German.
Modern Luxembourg literature took shape timidly from the 1950s and 1960s, firstly in German and French through poetry and short texts. The major turning point came at the end of the 1970s and at the beginning of the 1980s when more substantial fictional writing was published, marking the outline for future novels. Soon novels appeared in a modern Luxembourg, freed of its rural and folkloristic ties.
Guy Rewenig (born in 1947) launched the movement with his Hannert dem Atlantik (1985). He was followed by Roger Manderscheid (born in 1933) whose novel Schacko Klak, which tells the family souvenirs of a young boy from the outskirts of the capital between 1939 et 1945, became a best-seller with the Luxembourg public. Since then, the Luxembourg novel has existed in all forms: autobiographical, experimental, dreamlike, thriller. Luxembourg, French and German literature followed suite.
Although prolific, Luxembourg literature remains unknown at European level. But for several decades it has had the merit of existing and developing. It is only a matter of time before it is discovered by other Europeans. To this effect, the National Centre of Literature has been working for a decade and publishing a series of critiques on the great works of Luxembourg literature.
Luxembourg has a number of archaeological sites dating from the Palaeolithic to Merovingian epochs. Some have been opened to visitors. The immense archaeological site (oppidum of the Treviri) on the Titelberg in the south of the country is accessible on foot. Reconstructed Roman funeral monuments are scattered throughout the east of the country. The great Roman villa in Echternach provides the setting for an information centre on life during the Gallo-Roman period. Some parts, including a theatre for 3,500 spectators of the Roman vicus Ricciacus, situated within the territory of the Dalheim town council, can be visited at certain times of the year. A copy of the Vichten mosaic dating from the 3rd century, which depicts over a surface of 60 m2 Homer surrounded by the nine muses, was installed in the reception area of the town hall.
Today the MNHA houses treasures such as the Hellange ceremonial helmet and the Vichten Gallo-Roman mosaic, which has become the main showpiece of the renovated museum, reopened in 2002.
The curators of the MNHA have made tremendous efforts to display the results of the excavations through reconstructions of habitations of the Neolithic and Bronze Age. The reconstitution of aristocratic Celtic funeral chambers of Iron Age, and the exhibition of the trevire nobility funeral furniture, dating from before and after the Roman conquest, are the highlights of the archaeological activity which forms part of the wider network of European research.
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