Edmond van der Straeten was a jurist and a musicologist. He studied law at the University of Ghent, while concurrently cultivating his interest in music, archaeology and history. In his native town Oudenaarde he engaged in research in music archives, resulting in publications such as Les carillons d’Oudenarde (1855) and Recherches sur la musique avant le XIXe siècle (1856). He studied harmony with Bosselet and counterpoint and music paleography with Fétis, whose secretary he became. In that capacity he also served for a while as secretary of the exam juries of the Brussels Conservatory. Together with Fétis he made an inventory of the important collections of the Royal Library and in the Conservatory library, and studied them to boot.
He also wrote many articles for Fétis’ Biographie universelle. Probably from the end of 1859 Van der Straeten worked as a catalographer at the Royal Library. Subsequently he started working at the Public Record Office. Meanwhile he published authoritative, well-informed music reviews in Brussels periodicals such as Le Nord, L’étoile belge, and L’écho du parlement. In 1867 the first instalment appeared of his first important publication La musique aux Pays-Bas, the eighth and final instalment of which was to be published in 1888. This great work was followed by the two-volume Le théâtre villageois en Flandre (1874 and 1881), Les musiciens néerlandais en Italie (1882), Les musiciens néerlandais en Espagne (1885). Commissioned by the Belgian government, Van der Straeten undertook several study tours through Germany, Spain, Italy and France. In 1870 he also visited Weimar.
Van der Straeten was an early Wagnerian. After Wagner’s concerts in Brussels in March 1860 he recognized the latter’s qualities in his review in Le Nord of 4 April 1860, also pointing out the national character of Wagner’s art. He was personally in touch with Wagner and his entourage, too, and in 1879 he published in Paris Lohengrin. Instrumentation et philosophie, dedicated to Cosima Wagner. Karel Wauters (Wagner in Vlaanderen, p.121) dubbed Van der Straeten "the best Wagner specialist (…) Flanders has known."
Van der Straeten was on very friendly terms with Benoit. In his music reviews he closely followed the evolution of his friend enthusiastically and sometimes also critically. In the second edition of his Biographie universelle Fétis adopts a rather peevish attitude in his entry on Van der Straeten. Thus he mentions a number of musicological mistakes made by Van der Straeten before he had spent formative years with Fétis, while also chiding him for having been too fussy about his "petites découvertes relatives à la musique". Ironically enough, according to Fétis Van der Straeten had studied at the Jesuit secondary school of his native town. Allegedly he even went for the priesthood, but was dismissed. However, Oudenaarde did not boast a Jesuit school anymore at that moment, nor does Van der Straeten figure on the list of novices.
Some compositions by Van der Straeten have been preserved, among them a Te Deum for soloists, choir and orchestra from 1856.
© Studiecentrum voor Vlaamse Muziek vzw - Jan Dewilde (translation: Joris Duytschaever)