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Van Gheluwe, Leo

° Wannegem-Lede, 15/09/1837 — † Gent, 20/07/1914

Jan Dewilde (translation: Joris Duytschaever)

Van Gheluwe got his earliest music training as a chorister and a deputy sexton. In this function he composed his first religious works. At the advice of F.A. Gevaert, his nephew and a fellow countryman to boot, he applied at age 19 to the Royal Conservatory in Ghent, where he studied with Andries, Miry and Gevaert. During these formative years he also worked as a repetiteur for solfège and piano as well as tuning pianos for the Gevaert piano shop.

In 1863 his cantata Paul et Virginie was awarded a special distinction (accessit) by the Prix de Rome. When two years later candidates were allowed to choose a Dutch text for their compositions (De wind (The Wind) by Emmanuel Hiel) Van Gheluwe had to drop out because of typhus fever. However, afterwards he completed the score.

Adolphe Samuel, a jury member of the Prix de Rome, wrote to Van Gheluwe in French: "I am delighted to convey to you all the joy that I experienced while reading your score of the cantata De Wind. I would love to have you around now, close to me, I would like to shake hands with you and to thank you for all the sweet and profound emotions that your work has made me go through. Actually you are a poet as well as a musician, Mr Van Gheluwe, you have both feeling and the spirit of invention. I have no doubt at all that one day you will be a great composer. As for critical observations, don’t expect them from me today; I am still too moved for the time being to muster up courage to criticize."

Two years later Van Geluwe was in a position to compete for the last time in the Prix de Rome. With the cantata Het woud (The Forest) he earned a second prize. During the deliberation he received three votes for the first prize, but eventually that went to Hendrik Waelput. Van Gheluwe earned the second prize (that session was called le Sadowa des flamands by the Francophones, referring to the decisive battle of 1866 in which the Kingdom of Prussia defeated the Austrian Empire).

According to the periodical De Vlaamse school (1867, p.131) Fétis is supposed to have said: "Technically and from the vantage points of taste and artistic expression, the cantata by Mr Waelput surpasses everything that has been presented so far since the beginning of this competition; it is a powerful and well-crafted work of art. However, if you want to experience deep feeling and pure poetry, if you want to taste harmony between the situations represented by the composer, if you want to find Flemish joviality, coupled with gentle seriousness, if you want to be moved to the bottom of your soul, if your heart aches to be touched in a noble way, then you have to listen to Van Gheluwe’s cantata. Its final chorus ‘the forest is the symbol of human fate’ is one of the most beautiful hymns ever written in Belgium."

Fortunately Van Gheluwe was enabled to study in Germany and Italy anyway due to the support of Adolf van Soust de Borckenfeldt, inspector of the Fine Arts. He visited Germany partly in the company of Gustave Huberti. In Munich he met Hans von Bülow, who introduced him to Richard Wagner during the rehearsals of Die Meistersinger. From Italy he sent remarkable reports on music education in Italy. While travelling he composed six songs on texts by Julius Vuylsteke, and more.

On his return Van Gheluwe was appointed by the government to review the music schools of the whole country while concurrently becoming a teacher of solfège at the Conservatory of Ghent. In this period he also came to know Peter Benoit.

On 26 October 1871 the Bruges city council appointed Van Gheluwe in succession to Hendrik Waelput as director of the Municipal Conservatory of Bruges; his tenure was to last for 29 years, enabling him to develop a consistent endeavour to improve the standards of music in Bruges. Initially he was allowed to keep his function as inspector, but this decision was reversed by minister Rollin-Jacquemeyns. At Van Gheluwe’s request the Bruges Music School was raised to the status of Conservatory in 1874. Under his direction several new teachers were appointed, among them the first organ teacher Louis Maes (a pupil of Mailly’s) who later became organist of the ‘Industriepaleis’ in Amsterdam.

In 1875 Van Gheluwe managed to compose within the short time span of three weeks the music for a lyrical drama on a text by Delcroix: Philippina Van Vlaanderen (Philippina of Flanders). He could rely on the assistance of his pupil Maria Simonis-de Berlaere, hardly 16 years of age, who was to become his spouse later on.

His Prix de Rome cantata De wind was one of the pieces performed during the music festival that Van Gheluwe organised in Bruges on 19 and 20 August 1878. Composers such as Hendrik Waelput (with his Symphony Nr.3) and Peter Benoit (Lucifer) went out of their way to conduct their works themselves. Despite the difficulties involved in organizing the festival it was nonetheless lucrative, due to the commitment of Van Gheluwe. He promptly invested the money in a study organ for the Bruges Conservatory.

In 1895 he founded in Bruges the ‘Vereniging der Koncerten van het Muziekkonservatorium’ (Association for the Concerts of the Music Conservatory), frequently programming works of Belgian composers. Two years later his jubilee as director of the Conservatory in Bruges was celebrated, and he was offered a marble bust by Pickery.

He wrote cantatas, songs and overtures as well as a handbook based on songs entitled Lieder-solfège. Furthermore he reviewed music for the paper De Halletoren.

Zondagsblad: letterkundig bijblad van Vooruit", reeks "Verdwenen toondichters", 9 juli 1916


Anderen over deze componist

  • Bergmans, C.: Gheluwe, Léon Van, in: Le Conservatoire royal de Musique de Gand, Gent, 1901, p. 262-268.
  • Gregoir, E.: Van Gheluwe (Leon), in: Documents Historiques relatifs à l’art et aux artistes-musiciens, dl. 4 - Recherches sur les Artistes-Musiciens et les Facteurs d’Instruments, Brussel, 1876, p. 59-60.
  • Gregoir, E.: Van Gheluwe (Léon), in: Les artistes-musiciens belges au XVIIIme et au XIXme siècle, Brussel, 1885, p. 437-438.
  • Huys, B.: De 'gedenkschriften' van Leo Van Gheluwe (1837-1914): beschouwingen en realia, in: 150 Jaar conservatorium Brugge. 1847-1997. Historische aspecten, s.l., s.a., p. 20-26.
  • Huys, B.: Genealogie van de Oost-Vlaamse familie Van Gheluwe, in: 150 Jaar conservatorium Brugge. 1847-1997. Historische aspecten, s.l., s.a., p. 27-38.
  • Huys, B.: Gheluwe, Leo van, in: Nationaal Biografisch Woordenboek, dl.15, Brussel, 1996, p. 283-289.
  • Lambrechts, L.: Leo Van Gheluwe, in: Muziek-Warande, jrg. 6, nr. 3, 1 maart 1927, p. 49-54.
  • "O.": Philippina van Vlaanderen, in: La Belgique musicale, jrg. 22, nr. 15, 13 april 1876, p. [3].
  • Pougin, A.: Van Gheluwe (Léon), in: Biographie universelle des musiciens et bibliographie générale de la musique par F.-J. Fétis, Supplément et Complément, publiés sous la direction de Arthur Pougin, dl. 2, Parijs, 1880, p. 605.
  • Sabbe, J.: Leo Van Gheluwe. Zijn jubileum als bestuurder der Brugsche muziekschool, Maldegem, 1897.
  • Van Gheluwe, L.: Mémoires (handschrift).

Historische teksten

Een vroege biografie van Leo (Louis) Van Gheluwe

Eduard Gregoir

Né à Wanneghem-Lede, les-Audenarde, le 15 septembre 1837, élève de MM. Gevaert et Miry. Il a remporté au Conservatoire de Gand les premiers prix de contrepoint et de basse chiffrée. Il a publié: des messes sous le pseudonyme de Zenner, et deux préludes pour orgue, qui ont paru à Gand.

Philippina Van Vlaanderen


On parle beaucoup dans nos journaux flamands, et en connaissance de cause, de Charlotte Corday. On s’occupe moins de Philippina. C’est à tort. Outre sa valeur intrinsèque, ce drame lyrique a encore un autre mérite. Quoique les deux œuvres aient paru le même jour aux feux de la rampe, marquant ainsi un double pas de l’art néerlandais dans une nouvelle voie, on doit cependant reconnaître que l’initiative appartient à Philippina et à ses auteurs, au point de vue littéraire et musical. Depuis longtemps, M. Delcroix caressait le rêve de voir monter sa pièce comme essai de mélodrame.

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