Arthur De Meulemeester received his first music lessons from his father, a sexton-organist in Waarschoot. At the Conservatory in Ghent, where Arthur enrolled in 1889, Adolf D'Hulst and Jozef Tilborgs were his organ teachers, while concurrently he was taught by Frans Van Avermaete (piano), Paul Lebrun (harmony) and Adolf Samuel (counterpoint). At age sixteen he earned an "accessit" (distinction) for organ, but had to interrupt his studies because of serious health problems. Subsequently he enrolled at the Teacher Training College in Sint-Niklaas, where he was interim organist at the Church of our Lady. In 1894 he became a student at the Lemmens Institute in Mechelen, where he spent four formative years with Edgar Tinel and Oscar Depuydt. In 1898 he graduated with highest honours.
Immediately afterwards, in Ocober 1898, he was appointed as organist and choir conductor at Clonard Monastery of the Redemptorist Order in Belfast (Ireland). With the St George's Singing Choir, founded by him and earning fame under his artistic guidance, De Meulemeester regularly performed not only his own works, but also plainchant and compositions by old masters such as Palestrina. As early as 1905 he tried to convince the ecclesiastical authorities of Ireland to found an interdiocesan school for church music, modeled after the Lemmens Institute, but that plan did not materialize. In 1911 he edited the St Cecilia's Hymn Book, a compilation of two hundred sacred songs in English which was widely distributed. At his request a new organ was built for Clonard church in 1912 by Evans and Barr Ltd, organ builders in Belfast.
In 1936 his handbook for church music appeared: The Reform of Church Music, containing special pleading for a restoration of church music and plainchant in Ireland, based on the papal norms (among others the Motu Proprio from 1903). Because of his outstanding services Pope Pius X awarded him in 1912 the decoration 'Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice'. In 1924 he received the Belgian 'Companionship in the Order of the Crown' and in 1930 King Albert I dubbed him 'Knight in the Order of Leopold'.
Arthur De Meulemeester was a productive composer,with a predilection for sacred music. For choir he wrote four Masses and a great number of motets, for organ he wrote preludes, fugues, and several short pieces which were published in the collections of Alfons Moortgat and Abbé Joubert. Furthermore he composed profane songs on Dutch (among others De Swane / The Swan, by Albrecht Rodenbach), French and mainly English texts; the cantata Esther, on a text by Racine, and a Singspiel: De Heren van Waes (The Lords of Waas County). For piano he composed seven sonatas, variations on a Russian theme, a Suite en forme antique and five albums with piano pieces; there is also a string quartet and some pieces for violin. The Studentenliederboek (1899) by Karel Heyndrickx contains under the pseudonym Arthur Van Zulte about a dozen Flemish songs composed by De Meulemeester, with titles such as A, a, a, valete studia!, De Sperreboom (The Spruce Tree), Lof der edele musica/ (Ode to noble Music), and Minne, zang en wijn (Love, Song and Wine).
© Studiecentrum voor Vlaamse Muziek vzw - Annelies Focquaert (translation: Joris Duytschaever)