Anthoni, Frans Theofiel

Heist-op-den-Berg, 05/02/1850 > Heist-op-den-Berg, 16/03/1907


Anthoni, Frans Theofiel

by Annelies Focquaert

His father Jan Baptist, then artistic director of the St Cecilia brassband in Heist-op-den-Berg, gave Theofiel Anthoni (Antony) his first music lessons. Already at a tender age he played in the brass band, and he was only twelve (1862) when he was taught flute-playing by Jan Nicolaus Odufré at the Antwerp Music School. In 1864 he moved on to the Royal Conservatory in Brussels, where he was taught by Jan Dumon, earning First Prize for flute at age sixteen (1866). Shortly after his graduation Anthoni left Belgium to join the orchestra of the French theatre in Cairo (Egypt). Subsequently he undertook a musical tour in France and Germany, where he visited amongst others the old instrument builder Theobald Boehm in Munich around 1880.

In 1885 Anthoni was appointed as flute teacher at the Music School in Antwerp, and in November 1889 to flute teacher at the Conservatory in Brussels, as successor of Jan Dumon; Auguste Strauwen and Jos de Klerk belonged to his pupils, among others. In this period he also accepted the position of solo flute in the orchestra of the Monnaie opera in Brussels. He held these positions till the end of his life.

Peter Benoit's Symphonic Poem for Flute and Orchestra (1864) was dedicated by the composer on the occasion of its publication (around 1890) "with profound gratitude to my friends, the famous flutists Jan Dumon (...) and Théophile Anthoni, flute teachers at the Royal Conservatory and at the Flemish Music School in Antwerp, respectively"; but possibly Anthoni performed this concerto already at a very early age abroad (among others in Dresden and Leipzig). Probably his intimate friendship with Peter Benoit dates back to his student years; several sources also mention that as a youngster Anthoni took composition classes with Benoit.

As recently as 1950 his family at Heist-op-den-Berg still kept some photographs and visiting cards testifying to Anthoni's impressive network of acquaintances and friends: Jan Blockx, Edgar Tinel, Nikolay Rimsky-Korsakov, Nellie Melba, Léo Delibes, Henry Litolff, Edouard Lalo and Siegfried Wagner contributed to his memorabilia. Thus it transpires from the dedication "à Monsieur Théophile Anthony - Flûte solo, Capriccio Espagnol", signed by Rimsky-Korsakov on 13 April 1890, that Anthony had been the soloist in Brussels in this relatively new work for flute and orchestra, conducted by the composer himself.

In 1898 Anthoni was dubbed a Knight in the Order of Leopold; in 1904 his former pupils presented him with a bronze bust of Peter Benoit, sculpted by Arsène Matton, with a view to celebrating the fifteenth anniversary of his tenure at the Conservatory of Brussels (its library holds this bust since 2005). From the beginning of 1900 on a heart condition made it increasingly difficult for him to continue playing and teaching. On 16 March 1907 he died at the age of fifty-seven.

Early in his career Anthoni composed several oratorios and cantatas on texts by Emmanuel Hiel; some of them were performed by the 'Société de Musique' of Antwerp under the baton of Peter Benoit. Parts of them were also performed at Heist-op-den-Berg, as were a couple of duets for flute, when his brother Joseph earned First Prize for flute at the Brussels Conservatory as well. Not much of his oeuvre has been preserved: only a manuscript of a Openingsstuk voor groot orkest (Overture for grand orchestra) is available in the library of the Royal Conservatory of Antwerp. According to notes by René Lambrechts he destroyed quite a few scores after negative criticism. The song Heystes nachtegaal is dood (The nightingale of Heist is dead) by Jan Blockx, sung at a memorial ceremony at Athoni's grave on 29 May 1908, is preserved in the Antwerp Conservatory library.

© Studiecentrum voor Vlaamse Muziek vzw - Annelies Focquaert (translation: Joris Duytschaever)