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Depuydt, Oscar

Brugge, 20/10/1858 > Mechelen, 27/03/1925

Biografie

Depuydt, Oscar

by Annelies Focquaert

At a very young age already Oscar Depuydt had been a choirboy at St Saviour's Cathedral in his native town Bruges. In 1870 he relocated to Mechelen, because having become an orphan he was placed under guardianship. It remains unclear how his musical grounding progressed (most sources just mention "a few preparatory lessons"), but anyhow in 1877 he was accepted as an organ student of Tilborghs at the Ghent Conservatory, where he also took classes of harmony, counterpoint and fugue with Miry and Samuel. He obtained degrees of harmony (1880), organ and counterpoint (1881) and fugue (1882). Already at the end of 1880 he was appointed as organist of the Mechelen Church Our Lady of Hanswijck. On 1 October 1881 he became tenured organist of St Rombout's Cathedral while in that same period he also got an appointment as piano teacher at St Rombout's Grammar School. For the rest of his life - 45 years long - he remained organist of the cathedral, in this position commanding great respect as a church musician.

When Edgar Tinel in 1896 was appointed as teacher of counterpoint and fugue at the Brussels Conservatory, he had to assign to a worthy successor the proficiency course of piano and organ at the Lemmens Institute, where he was director. Strikingly enough Tinel opted for a person who wasn't an alumnus of his own school, and the choice for Depuydt happened to be the right one. Depuydt took over the basic course of accompaniment and counterpoint from Tinel, too, concurrently starting organ and harmony classes at the Major Seminary. Together with Aloys Desmet he was among the co-founders in 1904 of the Mechelen chapter of the Belgian St Gregory Society. Throughout the rest of his life Depuydt stayed affiliated with the Lemmens Institute.

When in July 1917 director Aloys Desmet passed away, in full wartime, this could have been the death warrant for the school, in the editorial wording of Musica Sacra in 1927, "if it hadn't been for this other tough fellow fighter, the unforgettable Depuydt, who remained at his post, strengthened by an optimistically unswerving confidence in a better future. Combined with his manifold pursuits as organist of the Metropolitan church and teacher of organ and harmony at the Major Seminary, he managed for months on end and all on his own to keep occupied and to help along the students of the institute."

Early in 1920 Depuydt gave organ lessons amongst others to the young Flor Peeters, who was left with an appreciation for his teacher that was of lasting value. After Depuydt's death in 1925, Flor Peeters became his successor not only as organ teacher at the Lemmens Institute, but also as organist of St Rombout's. Other pupils of Depuydt were Jules Van Nuffel, Jules Vyverman, Staf Nees and Arthur Meulemans.

Depuydt was primarily known as a church musician in heart and soul, with a great talent for liturgical organ improvisations. On the occasion of the homage in 1906 in Mechelen celebrating his 25 years of organ playing in the Cathedral he spoke the following words of thanks referring to church music: "Being a poor orphan, it seemed like the regular course of things would predestine me to silently muddle on through the world. The Almighty took me under his fatherly protection, sowed into my soul the seed of the fine art of music, let it germinate, granted me the talents and gave me the good health to be instrumental in adding lustre to the divine services at St Rombaut's [sic] magnificent temple unremittingly for 25 years on end . […] Thanks to Christian art I climbed up from my humble position to the honourable offices I am presently invested with. This art was the just cause, myself being the instrument."

As a composer Depuydt mainly wrote organ music, among them the anthology of organ pieces Verzameling van Orgelstukken belonging for a long time to the set repertoire on many a rood loft. Also motets and some songs of his were published, in addition to books of accompaniment for Gregorian plainsong such as Manuale Organistae (1896) or the actually still often used Organum Comitans, which he published together with Alfons and Aloys Desmet in 1906-1907 and which ran into several editions.

In 1921 Depuydt celebrated the silver jubilee of his 25th anniversary as organ teacher at the Lemmens Institute, an occasion dubbing him Knight in the Order of Leopold.

Upon his death Muziek-Warande praised "the unpretentious and really deserving artist"; "He lived in our midst as a contemporary of artists of yore, calm and serene, with an amiable smile on his face, with the full richness of his traditional musical knowledge, incredulously wondering at the fads and fancies of the newest music, at the same time also favourably disposed towards anything that seemed serious, and with a sound judgement deciding on what was good and pure, even though it might at times appear ever so new."

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