Desmet, Aloys

Ooigem, 12/06/1867 > Mechelen, 04/07/1917


Desmet, Aloys

by Annelies Focquaert

Just like his brother Alfons did before in 1879, Aloys (Aloïs) Desmet followed suit in 1885 starting his musical studies at the Lemmens Institute in Mechelen, which was led at that time by Edgar Tinel. In 1888 he obtained the first degree organ diploma (later called the Lemmens-Tinel Prize), upon which Tinel engaged him as organ teacher. When Edgar Tinel in 1909 became director of the Conservatoire in Brussels, Desmet succeeded him not only as director of the Lemmens Institute but also as Kapellmeister of St Rombout's Cathedral. Under his management the school expanded considerably, doubling its student population. Also outside the school walls he devoted himself to the improvement of church music, founding a branch of the Gregorius Society in Mechelen, setting up several sexton associations, giving lectures on music history and liturgical music, and teaching music in convents. In Mechelen he also founded a choir, which was called Cijferistengild (Ciphering Guild), later Mechelsch Gemengd Koor (Mechelen's Mixed Choir). Via numerical notation the singers learned 'a hundred and more kilos of Flemish music' transcribed for them by Desmet. Under his leadership they sang for ten years at a variety of concerts and popular Singing Evenings, often in collaboration with August De Boeck and Herman Baccaert, the latter Desmet's brother-in-law. In 1910 Desmet handed on the torch to the Mechelen organist Durieux.

Desmet composed several Masses and motets for choir and organ, amongst them Missa in hon. Sti Liberti, Missa in hon. Sti Martini, Missa in hon. Sti Joannis Berchmans and Missa O Amator Castitatis. He consciously set himself the limiting task of composing these works in an accessible style, not too difficult and yet always dignified, so that they kept within the bounds of performance feasibility for organists and choirs in the countryside and also stayed on the repertoire for a long time. The ‘Caecilien-Verein’ put his works in its catalogue, thus making his name also known in Germany. Together with his brother Alfons and his friend and colleague Oscar Depuydt, Desmet accomplished a standard work of organ accompaniments in nine volumes, the Organum Comitans: orgelbegeleidingen van het Graduale Vaticanum, which still proves its worth today. At the beginning of the Second World War his complete stock of scores went up in flames, even the printing plates were lost.

His profane compositions are restricted to some songs in the romantic fashion, characterized by a subtle, original accompaniment, the best-known in the series being his Wiegelied (Lullaby, 1906) on the text of R. J. Jordens.

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