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Brengier, Ernest

Sint-Eloois Vijve, 01/03/1873 > Gent, 25/07/1940


Brengier, Ernest

by Jan Dewilde

After the piano initiation he got from his sister, Brengier at the age of fifteen became a pupil of Leo Moeremans in Waregem. He continued his musical studies at the Ghent Royal Conservatory as a student of Paul Lebrun and Adolphe Samuel. He was an excellent contrapuntist, applying himself very intensely to the study of Bach.

In 1896 he made the acquaintance of Peter Benoit, who became his private teacher. Being from the same area, Benoit had a particularly stimulating effect on him. Following his example, he composed lyrical dramas such as Agnes Bernauer and De liefdezucht (Love's Craving), both remaining unperformed. His opera De twee koningskinderen (The Two Royal Children) did get a performance in Antwerp, al be it in bad circumstances.

Brengier developed into a full-blooded Wagnerian, as is evident in songs such as Mijn Siegfried (My Siegfried), but above all in his opera Gudrun (a libretto based on Albrecht Rodenbach). Benoit's death in 1901 left him without the promised appointment as a teacher at the Antwerp Conservatory, and so he returned to his native village cut off from musical career prospects. He organised his days in St.-Eloois composing in the morning and making a living in the afternoon as a carpet manufacturer.

Starting 1904 he was engaged for two full years in the composition of Gudrun, followed by another two years of orchestrating. When the work was finished in 1909, the year in which a statue was erected for Rodenbach in Roeselare, Cyriel Verschaeve wrote an enthusiastic article on Brengier's work, which against the liking of the composer caused it to get monopolised by the Flemish Movement. In consequence of all this, Brengier got a severe nervous breakdown, considerably delaying the piano reduction of Gudrun. Only 20 years after its completion did the initial notes of the opera resound, when in Antwerp on 28 April 1929 Lodewijk Ontrop conducted the last two acts in concertante form. It was Paul Gilson who wrote the words full of praise: "This is the most beautiful and the most powerful in the field of lyrical music ever generated in our country over 20 years' time." On 27 and 29 April and 1, 3 and 6 May 1934 Gudrun was finally given a scenic performance in the Ghent Royal Theatre. A year later the Antwerp Royal Flemish Opera produced it in its turn.

Brengier also composed various songs and choruses based amongst others on texts of Guido Gezelle and Mark Tralbaut.

© Studiecentrum voor Vlaamse Muziek vzw - Jan Dewilde (translation: Jo Sneppe)