De Greef, Arthur

Leuven, 10/10/1862 > Brussel, 29/08/1940


De Greef, Arthur

by Jan Dewilde

The pianist-composer Arthur De Greef studied at the municipal music school of his native city with Emile Mathieu, who himself was a student of Auguste Dupont at the Brussels Conservatory. After obtaining a so-called 'first prize' in Louvain at the age of eleven, De Greef went to the Brussels Conservatory in 1873, where he was a student of Louis Brassin (piano), Joseph Dupont (harmony), Hubert-Ferdinand Kufferath (counterpoint) and of the director François-Auguste Gevaert (composition). In 1879 he obtained a first prize for piano - together with Isaac Albeniz! - and two years later he took the diplôme de capacité with distinction. Immediately following he was appointed in Brussels as a "moniteur de piano et d'harmonie". Around this time he also went to Liszt in Weimar in order to refine his piano playing. While developing his career as a concert pianist, he applied himself to composing as well. Among his earliest works figure the lyrical drama De Marketentster (The Camp Follower, 1878) and Quatre pièces caractéristiques pour violon et piano (ca. 1883).

In his concerts he regularly played work by Edvard Grieg, who became a close friend of his. In 1888 he travelled to Norway to play Grieg's piano concerto for him in his summerhouse in Troldhaugen. From then on De Greef revealed himself as the foremost advocate of Grieg's work (piano compositions as well as chamber music and concertos). A year later he headed for Norway again to perform work of Grieg, with great success to boot. That same year he interpreted Grieg's piano concerto at the Brussels Concerts Populaires with the composer conducting. In 1898 Grieg dedicated to him his Symphonische Tänze über Norwegische Motive für Orchester.

Apart from the music of Grieg, and indeed also of Liszt, De Greef was greatly interested in ancient music. On the harpsichord he frequently played works of Bach, Rameau and Frescobaldi. As such in late 1891, early 1892 he performed a concert series at the Salle Pleyel in Paris offering a historic survey of keyboard music.

De Greef was a pianist of international renown, but he was also a distinguished composer. On 10 December 1893 he created his Fantaisie sur de vieilles chansons flamandes pour piano et orchestre en sol, in 1896 he wrote his first violin sonata and on 22 November of that year his Suite d'orchestre en sol was created in Brussels. Besides piano, chamber and orchestral music De Greef also composed dozens of songs.

In addition to his activities as a virtuoso and a composer De Greef also found time to teach. At the Brussels Conservatory he trained quite a lot of pianists, among them André Devaere, the promising Courtrai pianist who came to an untimely end. De Greef was offered a chair by various prestigious foreign conservatories, yet on 31 August 1921 he was appointed "professeur du cours de perfectionnement pour le piano" in Brussels.

In the second half of the 1930s De Greef's health deteriorated and this evidently affected his concert activities. The right side of his body became partially paralysed and on 29 August 1940 he passed away.

Arthur De Greef was one of the most important pianists of his generation, of great European stature.

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