De Mol, Willem

Brussel, 01/03/1846 > Marseille (FR), 07/09/1874


De Mol, Willem

by Annelies Focquaert

Willem De Mol, brother of François-Marie, was the best-known member of the De Mol family. His father Jean-Remi, a professional musician, gave him his first music lessons. Owing to his talents noted at a very early age and his beautiful alto voice he was soon active as a choirboy in several Brussels churches. At the Brussels Conservatory he obtained consecutively a second prize lecture musicale in 1858 (at the age of twelve) and the first prize in 1859, then the first prize for harmony with Bosselet (1863), followed by an accessit (1863), the second prize for piano with Dupont (1866) and finally the second prize for composition with Fétis (1867). Concurrently he also took organ lessons (most probably with Lemmens) as well as cello lessons with Servais.

Already from age 17 he was organist at St Rochus's church in Laken and at St Catherine's church in Brussels. Because of his father's illness and the death of the latter's second wife, Willem to a great extent bore the responsibility for the large family. In 1869 he was accepted for the Prix de Rome competition, where he set to music Faust' laatste nacht but ended up with only a mention. This was partly his own fault since he had volunteered to help the candidate tipped to win, Jean Van den Eeden, who inadvertently lacked both singers and a pianist for the performance of his cantata: De Mol gathered the singers from his own choir and gave such a marvellous sight-reading at the piano that Van den Eeden went off with the first prize.

In 1870 De Mol was appointed as conductor of the choral society 'Les Artisans réunis'. With his cantata Columbus' droom he obtained the Prix de Rome in 1871 at the age of 25 and went on a study trip to Germany, where he stayed in Hannover, Berlin, Dresden, Weimar, Kassel, meeting celebrities like Liszt, Joachim and von Bülow. In 1873 he married, the couple now continuing their study trip together to Austria and Hungary. After a short return to Belgium the journey went on to France and Italy, but the birth of their daughter interfered with their mobility; De Mol left to France on his own. In Paris he met Ambroise Thomas and Félicien David, and then travelled on to Marseille, where he visited his brother François. During this stay he got struck by meningitis, which within three days ended in fatal disaster: he was barely 28 when he died.

With his music he followed the Flemish movement of Peter Benoit and was considered as one of the most promising Flemish composers. Though he died far too young he left behind a high-quality and voluminous oeuvre. His greatest success was the song Ik ken een lied (I know a song), which in 1921 had its 33rd impression and was incorporated in virtually all existing song collections of the time.

© Studiecentrum voor Vlaamse Muziek - Annelies Focquaert (translation: Jo Sneppe)