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Van Maldeghem, Robert-Julien

Dentergem, 08/10/1806 > Elsene, 13/11/1893

Biografie

Van Maldeghem, Robert-Julien

by Annelies Focquaert

In 1835 Robert Julien Van Maldeghem enrolled as a student in the Brussels Conservatory, where he took classes with the director Fétis and obtained a first prize for composition in 1838. That same year Van Maldeghem was appointed as organist in the church of St James on Coudenberg (Brussels), succeeding the deceased organist Michel. Meanwhile he continued his studies in Paris and in Germany. Starting in 1842 he published a series of Flemish choral songs for four voices under the title of Rhyn- en Scheldegalmen (Sounds of the Rivers Rhine and Scheldt), partly with compositions of his own. Together with his brothers Evarist and Jean-Baptiste he founded the ‘Gomberts Zanggenootschap’ on 27 November 1839, being one of the first Flemish singing societies in Brussels. Proceeding from this society, in 1846 with his brother Evarist and with Prudens Van Duyse he founded the internationally oriented ‘Vlaemsch-Duitsch Zangverbond’ (Flemish-German Singing Association).

On 14 and 15 June 1846 in Cologne the first great singing event (‘Erstes grosses Sangfest’) of this association took place: one of the conductors at this celebration was Felix Mendelssohn, who on the occasion had composed the cantata An die Künstler. The sheer choral and orchestral strength was evidence of the scope of this enterprise: a choir of 2300 singers (400 of them Belgians) and a 100-strong orchestra. Robert Julien conducted the Belgian choirs in Juich, Rhyn! (Rejoice, Rhine!) by Mengal and in his own O Rhijn, ge brengt de Schelde blij (O Rhine, you make the Scheldt happy).

Starting in 1847 till 1864 Robert Julien and his brother published in Brussels the religious music periodical Cecilia, but his name remains most strongly associated with his series of music editions Trésor Musical, collection authentique de musique sacrée et profane des anciens maîtres belges: a giant compilation (58 volumes!) of polyphonic music of Flemish and Walloon composers from the 15th and 16th century. Between 1865 and 1893 two volumes appeared each year, one with sacred and one with profane choral works. Though from a musicological viewpoint Van Maldeghem occasionally lacked some accuracy, it can still rightfully claim to be one of the most admired 19th-century editions of 'early music'.

He was a member of numerous literary societies and belonged to the galaxy of the papal Santa Cecilia Academy in Rome. In 1872 the Dutch Association for the History of Music awarded him a golden medal for his reproduction of sacred works by Sweelinck. In 1884 he received a memorial cross for his voluntary performance during the Belgian Revolution in September 1830.

© Studiecentrum voor Vlaamse Muziek vzw - Annelies Focquaert (translation Jo Sneppe)