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Durlet, Emmanuel

Antwerpen, 11/10/1893 > Antwerpen, 07/02/1977


Durlet, Emmanuel

by Jan Dewilde

Emmanuel Durlet studied at the Antwerp Royal Flemish Conservatory, viz. harmony with Edward Verheyden, composition with Lodewijk Mortelmans and piano with Frans Lenaerts. On the occasion of obtaining his piano degree with greatest distinction at the age of sixteen he played Grieg's Piano concerto at the prize-giving ceremony. In April 1912 he moved to Vienna in order to perfect himself with Leopold Godowsky at the "Meisterschule für Klavier".

The outbreak of war caused Durlet to return to Antwerp, and after another four years of intensive study he launched a career as a concert pianist. He distinguished himself with an integral performance of the 32 Beethoven piano sonatas spread over ten performances in two months' time. Music reviews nominated him as the "poëet van het klavier" (the poet of the keyboard). In 1920 he became a piano teacher at the Antwerp Royal Flemish Conservatory, where he trained several generations of pianists for nearly forty years.

Only in 1933, at age forty, did he compose his first opus number. As a composer he was naturally inclined towards the piano, writing about fifty piano works, in addition to some eighty pedagogical works for beginning pianists. Besides chamber music with considerable emphasis on the piano part, he also composed a number of songs, a violin concerto, and a piano concerto entitled Middeleeuwse Sproke (Medieval Tale). In the manner of Benoit it is a crossing between a symphonic poem and a concerto.

The bulk of Durlet's oeuvre has a programmatic tendency, which he further explained indeed with suggestive titles and extensive accompanying texts. His melodies are reminiscent of the Old Dutch song, whereas his harmony is characterised by mixing the "classical" tonalities with ancient modes and modal changes.

Durlet showed great interest in ancient Flemish keyboard music. This was a consequence of the training he had received according to Peter Benoit's general curriculum imposing the study of those composers. As such he made about three hundred transcriptions of keyboard works by Kennis, Fiocco, Van Malderen, Boutmy, Loeillet and others. In 1925 he built his own harpsichord.

Furthermore he published a number of pedagogical works: Pianostudie en -spel (Piano Study and Piano Playing, a complete four-step piano method), Methode voor beginnelingen (Beginner's Method) and Ik zal goed piano spelen (I Will Play the Piano Well). In the latter method he particularly focused on polyphonic playing, the independence of the hands and the use of folk songs and folk rhythms.

The Emmanuel Durlet Fund keeps the memory of the composer alive and aims at promoting his compositions. To this purpose the fund also organises an international piano competition.

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