Candael, Karel

Antwerpen, 04/09/1883 > Rotterdam (NL), 27/03/1948


Candael, Karel

by Els Stevens after Jan Dewilde

As a boy Karel Candael already got in touch with "spelemannen" (street musicians) and amateur wind instrument players who met and made music in his father's inn. At an early age he himself also chose for the trumpet and he already played the second trumpet in several Antwerp orchestras while studying at the Royal Flemish Conservatory in Antwerp. Among his teachers there were prominent people like Jan Blockx, Emile Wambach (harmony), Jozef Tilborghs and Lodewijk Mortelmans (counterpoint and fugue). He also studied the piano and performed as an accompanist with Elsa Levering, Laurent Swolfs and Ernest Van Dijck.

After his studies Candael was very active in the choral and singing movement. In 1904 he founded the mixed choir 'De Zangkapel' (The Singing Band) and starting in 1905 he led the 'Liederavonden voor het Volk' (Popular Singing Evenings) in Antwerp. In those years he also manifested himself as a composer with the symphonic poem Levensdroom (Dream of Life, 1904) and the cantata Genoveva van Brabant, with which he obtained an honourable mention in the Prix de Rome in 1907.

But Candael also made a career as a conductor, in 1909 becoming second conductor of the Royal Flemish Opera and two years later getting his appointment as the conductor of the Antwerp Royal Dutch Theatre. In this function he composed stage music for several works by Shakespeare. As a conductor Candael was mostly noted for his performances of lyrical dramas and he was also an excellent choral conductor.

From 1922 to 1924 Candael again worked for the Royal Flemish Opera, this time as first conductor, and also in the first half of the thirties he was a frequent guest conductor there. Above all his performances of Boris Godunov were the talk of the town then. Starting in 1930 until the outbreak of the Second World War he was also conductor of the Casino concerts in Knokke, where he presented quite a number of contemporary works by both national and international composers.

As a pedagogue Candael was attached to the Royal Flemish Conservatory for several years. In 1919 he became teacher of solfège. In 1933 he was standing for the succession of Lodewijk Mortelmans as the director, but he lost out to Flor Alpaerts. A year later, however, he did get a promotion to teacher of counterpoint and fugue.

In addition to conducting and teaching Candael also found time to compose. His best-known works include the ballets De zeven hoofdzonden (The Seven Cardinal Sins, 1927), Het Hooglied (The Song of Songs, 1936) and the oratorio Het Marialeven (The Life of Mary, 1941-1943) on a text by his friend Maurice Gilliams. The latter is indeed a unique work in Flemish musical literature, in the nineties even turned into a film by the BRT television. Candael's songs and chamber music have erroneously been overshadowed by those major works. Remarkable also are the lyrical recitation pieces and the many male-voice choruses, in which meantime nobody seems to be interested any more.

Candael's oeuvre can mainly be divided into three periods. Until 1920 he is influenced by Richard Wagner and continues in the "popular" direction of Benoit. Between the two World Wars he is, like so many, charmed by Russian music, writing dynamic, richly orchestrated works. After this sumptuous style he develops towards a more restrained and intimistic expressivity.

After the war Candael was accused of collaboration: he allegedly permitted his daughter to perform for the 'Deutsches Theater' in Lille (France). He was sentenced to one year's leave without salary. In 1951 he was officially rehabilitated, but he didn't live to see this. On 27 March 1948, during a piano rehearsal, he suddenly collapsed, struck down by a heart attack.

© Studiecentrum voor Vlaamse Muziek - Els Stevens after Jan Dewilde (translation: Jo Sneppe)