Keurvels, Edward

Antwerpen, 08/03/1853 > Hoogboom, 29/01/1916


Keurvels, Edward

by Jan Dewilde

Edward Keurvels started his musical education as a choirboy in the Antwerp Saint-George's church. At the Antwerp Flemish Music School he studied violin, piano and organ, and concurrently harmony, counterpoint, orchestration and composition with Peter Benoit. For some time he was active as a composer and conductor for the theatrical society "De Ware Sinjoren" and subsequently, in 1881, he became orchestra leader at the Royal Dutch Theatre. He obtained the permission together with municipal subsidies to perform lyrical dramas there as well and on 18 Sep. 1890 he opened with Peter Benoit's Charlotte Corday. In 1893 he became secretary and conductor along with Henry Fontaine of the "Nederlandsch Lyrisch Tooneel" (Dutch Lyrical Theatre). In spite of his firm belief in lyrical drama the genre appeared to have no future and in 1899 he resigned after assorted conflicts and difficulties.

Keurvels took a large part of the opera orchestra with him to the Zoological Gardens Concerts, which he had already been leading for three years as a conductor at that time. In a programming mode that still predominantly consisted of dance music and fantasies on operatic themes he increasingly introduced music of the national schools and encouraged the use of the Dutch language. From 1902 to 1908 he again became the conductor of the Antwerp opera, yet again he resigned for a second time as he deemed the institute's national character to have been lost.

Keurvels was the confidant/agent and private secretary of Peter Benoit and as such he was closely involved in the preparation, foundation and internal organisation of the Royal Flemish Music Conservatory. In 1900 actually he was appointed secretary.

After Benoit's death in 1901 he was standing up for Benoit's succession as the Conservatory director, but he had to step aside for Jan Blockx. He became one of the main agitators in the campaigns against Blockx and the latter's co-operation with the French publisher Heugel. In 1902 he was a co-founder of the Peter Benoit fund, which he was to lead as musical director. With the fund's Propaganda Female Choir he spread Benoit's oeuvre throughout Flanders and the Netherlands. He conducted several of Benoit's large compositions, for which he also called on the mixed choir Arti Vocali. In 1912 he was a candidate to succeed Blockx as Conservatory director. A Keurvels Committee was even found to support his renewed candidacy, but after an acidulous competition he missed out again and it was finally Emile Wambach who was appointed.

Besides many songs and choruses Keurvels' compositions include the Wagner-inspired lyrical drama Parisina (text by Frans Gittens after Byron) and the cantata De Dietsche tale (The Middle Dutch Language). Under the pseudonym E. Duward he translated librettos of German operas, among which several of Wagner. His omnipresence on the Antwerp music scene, his appearance and his energetic way of conducting gave him the nickname of "het duveltje" (the little devil).

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