Adrien-François Servais, born in Halle (Greater Brussels Area) was already interested in music at an early age. After classes of clarinet and violin he switched to violoncello. From 1827 to 1829 he was taught cello by Nicolas-Joseph Platel and composition by Charles Hanssens Jr at the Conservatory in Brussels. At his first public concert, in Brussels in 1830, he played a concerto of his own, immediately acclaimed by very laudatory press reviews. After earning his First Prize he remained some more years at the Conservatory, serving as an assistant to Platel. From 1829 to 1833 he conducted the brass band of Halle, while concurrently playing in the orchestra of the Royal Monnaie Opera in Brussels. In 1835 the king appointed him as first cellist of his private ensemble.
After several performances in Belgium, playing most prominently work of his own, he performed for the first time in Paris at the end of 1833, afterwards in London (1835). From then on success went faster and faster, with concert tours bringing him to France, the Netherlands, Germany, Austria, Poland, Russia and the Ukraine; concerts in England, Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Romania, Turkey, Hungary, Czechia, Slovakia, Estland, Letland, Lithuania and White Russia. He is said to have played more than 10,000 concerts, a figure that looks plausible.
When Servais played in Paris again in february 1843, La France Musicale did not mince its praise: "Under his bow the violoncello gains a noble character, grandiose, passionate, brilliant, melodious, such as no other celloplayer has understood yet." Berlioz, too, was full of praise after a concert in 1847: "The second concert has revealed a first-class talent, a match for Paganini, someone who amazes, who makes you melt and who carries you away by his boldness, his surges of feeling and his impetuous pace: I want to talk about the great cellist Servais." In 1848 Servais was appointed as cello teacher at the Brussels Conservatory, where until his death in 1866 he tutored more than 30 cellists (among them his son Joseph, who became cello teacher at the same institution in 1872).
Servais is considered as one of the greatest cellists of his days. As a virtuoso he contributed considerably to the development of cello technique: he always played with a spike (or end-pin), an invention that was widely adopted. His many performances contributed to the breakthrough of the cello as a solo instrument, putting the Belgian cello school on the map of Europe. Also as a composer he proved his mettle: he composed more than a hundred works. The best known are Souvenir de Spa and Six Caprices.
Servais earned many distinctions, awarded by king Leopold I of the Belgians, the kings Willem II and III of the Netherlands, the king of Denmark, the emperor of Austria, and others. Servais was also an honorary member of several musical societies.
Servais was commemorated with a bust at the Royal Conservatory in Brussels and a statue in Halle (1871), with the following inscription: "Unique in his art, he has exuded the aura of a master. He was loved by all and was truly deserving of this."
© Studiecentrum voor Vlaamse Muziek vzw - Annelies Focquaert (translation: Joris Duytschaever)