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Simonis de Berlaere, Maria

Gent, 17/04/1860 > Oudenaarde, 20/06/1903


Simonis De Berlaere, Maria

by Jan Dewilde

At the age of ten Maria Simonis started her musical studies at the Ghent Conservatory, where one of her teachers was the composer Leo Van Gheluwe. When in October 1871 Van Gheluwe was appointed as the director of the municipal music school in Bruges, she followed on his heels. Accompanied by her father (a major with the Military Engineers), twice a week she travelled from Ghent to Bruges. There she obtained a prize of excellence for piano (1874) after which she continued as a composition student with Van Gheluwe. Already at the age of thirteen she wrote (unpublished) piano pieces. And on 10April 1876, prize day of the Bruges music school, her Fantasy for Piano and Small Orchestra was performed with the director Van Gheluwe as the conductor and a K. Danneels as the soloist. 

One year later Schott published Simonis' first piano compositions. Opus 1 is a very classical Sonatine with a presto launched in a round, a short adagio and a merry allegro. Opus 2 is a Sonatine as well, opus 3 a Fantaisie dedicated to Van Gheluwe. The Dutch composer W. F. G. Nicolai called attention to these works in the music journal Caecilia (1877), taking the opportunity to express his appreciation for the composer Simonis: "It cannot be denied that the works of this young lady do possess independent ingenuity and compositional strength (...). Each of the opuses at hand shows that she is gifted with great musical talent, which warrants our faith that she will produce ever more mature fruits in the future. (...) Miss Simonis might well be one of the few lady composers who belie the claims of Moritz Hauptmann: "that women are not capable of acting as good composers". As to me, I cherish the highest expectations for her future development and in this respect I would like to encourage her to persevere in pursuing the course she set out for herself." 

Nicolai stimulated her indeed. As a member of the song commission of the Willemsfonds he selected her song Treurig zingen (Sad Singing, on a text by Gentil Antheunis) together with Peter Benoit, Richard Hol en Van Gheluwe for publication in the Willemsfonds sixth series Nederlandsche zangstukken (Dutch singing pieces). That Van Gheluwe, too, had high hopes concerning her compositional qualities is also obvious from the fact that in 1876 - she was sixteen - he asked her to assist him at composing his lyrical drama Philipinna van Vlaanderen. She actually composed some entractes, a part of the apotheosis, and helped with the orchestration.

Van Gheluwe's trust in her in fact did not only confine itself to her talents as a composer, for on 3 April 1878 he married her. 

Maria Simonis de Berlaere's uncle was the sculptor Louis Eugène Simonis, whose best-known works are the equestrian statue of Godefroy de Bouillon and the high reliefs sculpted on the Congress Column in Brussels, and the statue of Simon Stevin in Bruges.

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