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ClassicsOnline Home » Romantic Orchestral Music by Flemish Composers, Vol. 2
Peter Benoit, born in 1834, was a product of the Royal Conservatoire in Brussels, and though he was awarded the Prix de Rome for composition, it appeared his career would be in conducting. From 1860-63 he was a theatre conductor in Paris, and when he returned to Antwerp it was to be in the field of education. However the success of an oratorio, Lucifer, made him a famous national figure, and provided him with the musical stature to create a Flemish school of composition. As it was based on folk-song, his next few years were devoted to instrumental and vocal scores. In fact he was a reluctant orchestral composer, his most significant music in that genre coming in the form of oratorios and cantatas. He left a modest catalogue of works, his most significant contribution being in the elevation of the Antwerp Music School to the Royal Flemish Conservatory, of which he was director. There he was able to complete his creation of the Flemish school of writing.
Lodewijk Mortelmans, born in Antwerp in 1868, was a composition pupil and disciple of the 'father' of Flemish school of composition, Peter Benoit. Through the organisation Nieuwe Concerten (New Concerts), which he co-founded and conducted, he was able to bring Flemish composers to the public attention. He was, however, also to fall under the influence of Wagner, much of his middle period of writing carrying the Wagnerian sound. He was to be a major source of inspiration to young musicians in his role as director of the Royal Flemish Conservatoire.
Among his pupils was Jef Van Hoof. He in turn was to continue the tradition as composition teacher at the Royal Flemish Conservatoire from 1936, becoming the Director between 1942 and 1944. His own music did undergo a period when Germanic influences can be found, particularly the music of Richard Strauss. He was to become a quite prolific composer, with a catalogue that contains a substantial quantity of symphonic music, including six symphonies. He was, however, better known for his songs and choral works. In the field of administration he was instrumental in organising many festivals related to Flemish arts.
Divorced from this line of Flemish influence, Arthur Meulemans studied at the Lemmens Institute with the redoubtable Paul Gilson as one of his mentors. For many years he shunned a move to the central artistic points of Belgium, preferring to enhance the musical activities of the province of Limburg. His early influences certainly came from the Impressionist movement active in France, and from Ravel and Debussy in particular. He was to play a very significant role in Belgian music when, in 1929, he was appointed conductor of the Belgium Radio Orchestra, a post that he held until 1942. Though he stated his admiration for Benoit and his colleagues, he did not subscribe to the Flemish composers 'club', preferring his own view of that part of the world in his pictorial symphonic music. He was a prolific composer with fifteen symphonies, and many other orchestral scores.
Much was expected from Van Hoof's Second Symphony, which dates from 1941, the hostile reception, in some quarters, to the First Symphony of 1939, bringing him to public attention. It was to be a war symphony, but one more of reveries for the end of the world. The exception is the second movement scherzo, full of aggression and anger. It moves to a slow movement with a strong underlying sense of anger, and only in the finale is there any sense of hope for the future.
There was a period in Mortelman's life where he saw his future in the field of opera, and became heavily influenced by Wagner. It was not entirely a matter of musical style, but rather in the direction the German composer was taking music. This resulted in the ultra-romantic outpouring in Mythe der Lente of 1895, with the character of the earth-goddess, we find in Wagner's The Ring, as its subject.
Peter Benoit is represented by an early and very short work, In de Velden (In the Fields) for oboe and string orchestra. It is a simple and very attractive 'song' of a pastoral nature.
The sixth, seventh and eighth symphonies of Meulemans were in the form of a nature triptych, their titles: Zeesymfonie, Zwaneven, and Herffstsymfonie (Sea Symphony, Swan Fen and Autumn Symphony), leading to a highly descriptive scenario. The fact that Swan Fen dates from 1940, when the war was enveloping his country, is not reflected in the music. On the contrary, it is a very pleasant score, owing much to Debussy. It retains the composer's faith in melodic invention, though the internal structure of the four movements is far from academic rectitude. The result being a relaxed, free-flowing score of immediate attraction.
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