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Rottiers, Jef

Mechelen, 27/08/1904 > Mechelen, 22/04/1985


Rottiers, Jef

by Els Stevens after Eddy Mariën

Jef Rottiers was born in Mechelen. During the First World War the family fled the force of arms, taking refuge in Ireland. His fluent English, with an Irish accent, his typical sense of humour and his attachment to the sea are most likely due to this Irish episode.

After his return to Belgium Jef Rottiers studied to become a schoolmaster at the Catholic Teachers' Training College of his native town, taking his degree in 1923. For three years meanwhile he attended art classes at the Mechelen Royal Academy of Fine Arts. That he obtained his certificate of guide to Mechelen in 1924 also gives evidence of his interest in art and history in general. In the Teachers' College the first seeds were sown of his devotion to music, but it was mainly owing to self-tuition that he succeeded in mastering music thoroughly, stimulated very much by his old friend Gaston Feremans. Jef Rottiers also joined the Mechelen mixed choir the 'Cijferisten' (Cipherists), where Alfons Verbist was the conductor. Here he got to know Robert Gooris, a brilliant tenor whom he accompanied at the piano in several concerts.

In 1929 Rottiers, encouraged by his neighbour-carilloneur Theo Adriaens, started his studies at the Mechelen Carillon School under the direction of Jef Denijn, his other teachers being Staf Nees, Jef Van Hoof and Victor Van Gyseghem. In 1933 Rottiers took his final degree there, being the only one cum laude. That same year he was granted 'The Cardinal Mercier Scholarship'. This was the beginning of a career as guest carilloneur in Belgium, the Netherlands, France and England, though at the same time he continued exercising his schoolmaster's office. In 1938 he won a composition prize of the Mechelen Carillon School with Prelude in F major.

Because during the Second World War Rottiers wrote radio plays for what was then the 'Nationaal Instituut voor de Radio-omroep' (N.I.R., National Radio Broadcasting Institute) he was sentenced after the liberation to 18 months of imprisonment in the former Dossin barracks in Mechelen. Even there he didn't abandon his music, as he was permitted to give lectures on classical composers to his fellow-inmates. Upon his release he had lost both his civil rights and his teaching job. To provide for his family he gave private piano lessons and did a lot of painting.

In 1951 the captain of industry Jan Van Gijsel donated a carillon to the churchwardens of the St Martin's parish in Meise. Staf Nees acted as carillon advisor. Early in 1952 Jef Rottiers was appointed as carilloneur of Meise, a task he performed until 1982. Most likely this meant an enormous incentive for him, as in 1951 three of his best works for carillon were published: Suite voor Beiaard (Suite for Carillon) after the poem Bell Moods by Kamiel Lefévere, Sprookje (Fairy Tale, awarded the Prize of the Mechelen Carillon School) and Ballade (Ballad). In 1952 at the insistence of Staf Nees he published Beiaarden in België (Carillons in Belgium). This historical work, which he illustrated himself with exquisite pen and ink drawings, presented for the first time a complete survey of all existing carillons in our country at the time. For this purpose he visited all carillons with a view to collecting the necessary data on the spot.

After a recital he had given in 1958 on the carillon of the Dutch pavilion at the Brussels World Fair, Rottiers was approached by the American industrialist Otto Kaap, who to his new place of residence "somewhere in America" had donated a church with tower and carillon and was now seeking a carilloneur. [Editorial note: the instrument in question is the Petit & Fritsen carillon of Green Bay, Wisconsin.] Though the offer was attractive, the ties with family and friends were apparently too strong and Rottiers declined the invitation. One year later, in 1959, he won the Improvisation Prize at the International Carillon Concourse in Hilversum and in that same year was appointed by Staf Nees as teacher at the Mechelen Carillon School, a position he held until 1974.

Rottiers had a captivating personality full of patience and perseverance, he was a man with a lot of interests who aimed at sincerity not only in his art, leaving behind an indelible memory to many friends and alumni.

© Studiecentrum voor Vlaamse Muziek vzw - Els Stevens after Eddy Mariën