Uyttenhove, Franz

Gent, 07/09/1874 > Gent, 22/12/1923


Uyttenhove, Franz

by Jan Dewilde

As a child Franz Uyttenhove sang solo at St Bavo’s Cathedral in Ghent and at an early age he already wrote down his first compositions. At the Conservatory of his native town he studied the violin with Gustave Beyer, harmony with the composer Leo Moeremans, counterpoint with the brilliant contrapuntist Adolf D’Hulst and composition and orchestration with the director Adolphe Samuel.

In the meantime he composed sacred music, including a Mass for two voices which he had already started at the age of fifteen, and an Ave Maris Stella for male-voice choir a capella. In 1896 he wrote Het lyden van Kristus (The Passion of Christ) and a five-part Kyrie. Both scores have gone missing. In fact Uyttenhove was rather careless with his manuscripts. Still before the turn of the century he finished Kerstnacht (Christmas Night, on a text by Julien Cardon), a work intended for the Ghent choral society 'Liederkrans'. It is an eight-part, almost symphonically conceived choral work with a high level of difficulty. Equally demanding is his Stabat Mater, composed in 1908 for a choral competition organised by the 'Melomanen'. This Stabat Mater, on a Dutch rhymed version of the traditional Latin verses, meets the requirements of an imposed work: freely struck up discords, difficult intonations, bold modulations, a steadily tremulant tonality and big dynamic contrasts. Moreover, with great skill the composer succeeded in applying these musical means for the purpose of the text. Vic Nees commented on this very expressive composition: "He doesn’t seem to be unfamiliar with the Germanic chromaticism, yet it produces a lyrical rather than a dramatic effect. It is softened by a Latin melodiousness. In our regions I don’t know of any similar choral composition in that period. It neither belongs to the atmosphere of Benoit nor of Tinel. That’s why I call Uyttenhove a typical Ghent composer."

Uyttenhove’s interest in sacred music also resulted from his functions as an organist. Although he was trained as a violinist, he had been organist of St James’ Church since he was twenty; at the Jesuits’ church, where Oscar Roels was the conductor, he played the Cavaillé-Coll organ (that was later moved to Heverlee) and he was also "organist of the town hall". He was mostly appreciated as an improviser. Emiel Hullebroeck: "As an improviser Frans was unequalled. He created as it were a flow of divine music resounding through the vaults of the small church. In those hours I have particularly admired dear Frans, seated in front of the organ, allowed to give full rein to his boundless and ever more delicate inspiration."

Next to sacred music he also composed some orchestral works, such as Contemplation (violin and orchestra); Aan de Leie (To the River Leie, violin and orchestra), dedicated to the violin virtuoso César Thompson; Marche triomphale, written for the 75th anniversary of Belgium; and the overture L’Enéide. This programme overture written in a late-Romantic idiom was performed in 1903 and 1909 with Léon Rinskopf as the conductor, and in 1915 and 1920 with Uyttenhove himself conducting, respectively at the Winter Concerts and during the Flower Show. The radio orchestra recorded the work in 1969 under the baton of Daniël Sternefeld and in 1991 for a television broadcast conducted by Fernand Terby.

Uyttenhove is also the author of some piano works, such as Diamond-foxtrot, written in the ragtime tradition of Scott Joplin, and a missing Trio in c.

However, he mainly considered himself to be an opera composer. On librettos of Johan Lefèvre he composed the one-acter Gerda, and Walda, an unfinished lyrical drama in three acts. Gerda was rewarded by a government commission under the chairmanship of François Auguste Gevaert with a subsidy of 1500 francs, a sum only granted if the opera also gets a performance, which wasn’t the case.

For his third opera, Marieke van Nymegen, Uyttenhove made an appeal to the most successful Flemish librettist of that time, viz. Rafaël Verhulst. The latter’s other librettos include Quinten Matsijs (Emile Wambach), Heibieke (Little Heather Bee, Edward Verheyden), Reinaert de Vos (August De Boeck) and De kinderen der zee (The Children of the Sea, Lodewijk Mortelmans). After seven years of compositional labour Uyttenhove completed his opera in 1914. The war foiled the planned creation during the 1914-1915 season and attempts in 1920-1921 were likewise defeated. After the composer’s death a committee was founded under the chairmanship of the Ghent Conservatory director Martin Lunssens. Thanks to a subsidy of 3000 francs the work could finally have its premiere in the Antwerp Royal Flemish Opera in October 1925. Paul Gilson, who particularly appreciated the opera, completed some unfinished orchestrations. According to the critic Paul Tinel the work had "A theatrical value of the first order; the action doesn’t languish in the least, it has a continuity that catches on incessantly".

Also Uyttenhove’s melodies, placed in the French tradition of Gounod and Massenet, were praised. Upon the Antwerp premiere the opera was performed in Ghent within the year during the 'Vlaamsch Wetenschappelijk Kongres' (Flemish Scientific Congress). In 1941 it was followed by a Ghent production of its own with reprisals in 1949, 1964 and 1976. Between times Walter Crabeels conducted the opera once again in Antwerp.

As a father of eleven children Uyttenhove was forced throughout his career to constantly accept a succession of occasional assignments. Thus he gave music lessons in a school of the Brothers of Love; was repetiteur in the opera; often played as an esteemed piano accompanist and also accompanied silent movies in cinema Majestic. He also conducted the choir of the Chamber of Rhetoric 'Marien-Theeren', with whom he even performed operas of Méhul and Rossini, and was a conductor at the Winter Concerts as well as the concerts of the Van Houtte circle. Composing he did during the night.

One of his last compositions is the cantata Het Vlaamsche Lourdes (text of Leonce Reypens), again a work that is to be considered missing.

Franz Uyttenhove died at the age of 49 from a heart disease. He was buried on the honoured court of the Santo Campo (near Ghent). Paul Bergmans then wrote about the all too modest composer: "If he had wanted, Franz Uyttenhove would have occupied a prominent place in the Belgian musical world. Yet his good and simple heart loathed all blatancy, and he lived his dream at his home which he cherished above all."

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