Peeters, Flor

Tielen, 04/07/1903 > Antwerpen, 04/07/1986


Peeters, Flor

by Annelies Focquaert

Flor Peeters was born in 1903 in Tielen (Kempen region) as the youngest in a family of eleven. His father, who was postmaster while concurrently serving as verger-organist, died when Flor was only seven. His brothers imparted the basics of music to him, enabling him to accompany his first mass on the organ of his parish at age eight. His first compositions date back to his secondary school days, when he also studied violin and organ. In 1919, at age sixteen, he started studying at the Lemmens Institute, where he was taught by Oscar Depuydt (organ), Jules Van Nuffel (Gregorian chant and analysis), and Lodewijk Mortelmans (counterpoint and fugue). He speeded up his graduation from the usual eight years to a mere four, a record-breaker.

In 1923 he was appointed organist at St Rombout's Cathedral in Mechelen, where he was to serve till the end of his life. He took advantage of his tenure to found, with Jules Van Nuffel, the famous St Rombout's choir. He was also appointed organ teacher at the Lemmens Institute upon the death of Oscar Depuydt, ironically enough at the age of 22 being the junior of most pupils. He was in touch with Widor and Dupré and also corresponded with Charles Tournemire. From the early Thirties the lineaments of an international career appeared: he made concert trips to Denmark, Holland, and Germany.

In 1931 he was appointed organ teacher at the Conservatory of Ghent, even though director Martin Lunssens would have preferred his alumnus Charles Hens, a scheme thwarted by the intervention of Queen Elisabeth in favour of Peeters. In 1939 he was also appointed organ teacher in Tilburg. The Second World War interfered with Peeters's teaching and concert activities, but was not counterproductive for his creative output: immediately after the liberation both his Concerto voor orgel en orkest (Concerto for Organ and Orchestra) and his Te Deum were premiered.

In 1946 he undertook a concert tour to the US and Canada, the first of a long series of tours all over the world that earned him a big name and reputation that have not yet faded. Two years later he said farewell to Ghent to become organ teacher at the Antwerp Conservatory, where he took over as director in 1952. The organ class grew exponentially under his aegis and gained considerable international recognition; as director he managed to house the Conservatory in a new building. The same year 1952 saw the publication of his influential book Ars Organi, an organ method that represents the neo-baroque insights very well.

Between 1952 and 1960 Peeters's time-consuming concert tours were combined with his duties at St Rombout's and the directorship of the Antwerp Conservatory. In 1968 he retired at age 65. However, the Belgian government (particularly Minister van Elslande) felt that it would be a shame to discontinue Peeters's activities and suggested to organize an annual International Organ Master Class in Mechelen, supervised by him. Peeters gracefully obliged and taught many young talents from abroad at those yearly master classes. In 1971 he received an honorary doctorate of the Catholic University of Leuven, while concurrently being dubbed 'baron Flor Peeters', elevating him to the status of nobility. Because he suffered from a bad back he had to stop playing the organ in 1978. He died on his birthday, 4 July, in 1986.

His vast body of work counts 140 opus numbers, with pride of place for organ works (Sinfonia per organo, Vlaamse Rapsodie/Flemish Rhapsody, Modale Suite/Modal Suite, Lied-Symphonie/Lied Symphony, Concerto voor orgel en orkest/Concerto forOrgan and Orchestra), but also works for piano, carillon, chamber music, vocal music (10 masses, songs, Te Deum), a concerto for organ and piano, and several pedagogical works (Ars Organi). He also edited several anthologies of organ music (Anthologia per Organo, Old Netherlands Masters for the Organ).

Flor Peeters's oeuvre for organ grew out of two opposed traditions. On the one hand there is the symphonic tradition of Tournemire, Dupré and Franck, which was mainly important for his early works such as the Symphonische fantasie (Symphonic Fantasy) opus 13 and the Vlaamse Rapsodie (Flemish Rhapsody) opus 37. On the other hand there is the polyphonic tradition of Renaissance and Baroque, from which he took his cue for later works such as his Hymn Preludes for the Church Year (in 24 volumes). Furthermore, he shows a conspicuous preference for the Gregorian style, for modality and for early Flemish masters, while concurrently taking advantage of more contemporary idioms such as polyrhythm and polytonality. His organ works were very popular in the US and continue to be widely played there.

© Studiecentrum voor Vlaamse Muziek vzw - Annelies Focquaert (translation: Joris Duytschaever)