The gap that still at the beginning of the twentieth century separated Belgian music from that of other European countries, has been significantly reduced in recent decades. It thus happened that some of the greatest Belgian composers were able to play an effective innovative role even outside their country.
The environment of Brussels was decisive in the evolution of the musical life of the country, proposing itself since the 1930s as the center of intense concert activity: in 1927 the Société Philarmonique de Bruxelles was founded, which in 1930 joined the Concerts Populaires of the city, while in 1936 the Orchester symphonique de Bruxelles (established in ’21) was reorganized into the Orchester Nationale de Belgique / Nationaal Orkest van België. The Théâtre de la Monnaie (Koninkijke Muntschouwburg), rebuilt after a fire in the middle of the last century, then established itself as the most prestigious institution in the capital and in the country for musical theater (but a no less important role was played by similar institutions, such as the Koninklijke Veaamse Opera in Antwerp, and other theaters in Liège, Ghent and Verviers). In 1948 the Concerts of the South were established in Brussels, which soon became part of the city’s musical tradition. In recent years an increasing importance has been assumed by the Festival of Flanders,
The Institut National Belge de Radiodiffusion / Belgisch National Instituut voor Radio-Omroep (INR / NIR), created in 1930, manages two prestigious symphony orchestras and oversees the organization of musical seasons in the main cities of the country. The Belgian Center for Musical Documentation (CeBeDeM) also plays a significant role, founded in 1951 on a private initiative and subsidized since 1953 by the French and Dutch ministries for culture; it aims to support and encourage the activity of contemporary composers, as well as to take care of the edition of their works.
Music teaching is practiced at a professional level at the Conservatories (Royal Conservatory of Liège, directed by H. Pousseur; of Brussels, first directed by C. Schmitt and then by E. Feldbusch for the French-speaking section, and by K. d’Hoogue for the Dutch-speaking section; Ghent, Antwerp and Mons) and the State Academies; other state schools, on the other hand, provide amateur-type training. Musical sections were established in the classical-artistic high schools of the country, from 1968 in Wallonia, and later in Flanders, according to a different organization in the two parts of the country. Finally, a non-secondary activity is carried out by the institutes of sacred music, such as the Lemmens Institute (1878, Mechelen, then Louvain), the Institute of sacred music of Namur, and also the Royal School of Cariglione and the Regina Elisabetta Music Chapel (1939). The most important music libraries are located in Brussels, Antwerp and Liège. For Belgium 2002, please check commit4fitness.com.
In 1946 the Société Belge de Musicologie / Belgische Vereniging voor Muziekwetenschap was founded, which was responsible for the publication of the Revue Belge de Musicologie / Belgisch Tijdschrift voor Muzie Kwetenschap. In the field of musicology, the activity of scholars such as R. Wangermée, S. Clerckx-Lejeune, J. Quitin, J. Robijns has now become relevant.
An important laboratory of electronic music and acoustic research (APELAC) was born in Brussels in 1958 on the initiative of Pousseur, while a similar institute was founded in Ghent on the initiative of L. de Meester in 1962 (Institute of Psycho-acoustics and Electronic Music, IPEM). Regarding ethnomusicological research, which is currently in a phase of growth, the activity of P. Collaer and some of his collaborators, such as H. Daems, should be remembered.
Among the most significant composers who were active in the mid-1940s should be mentioned K. Goeyvaerts (b.Anversa 1923), a pupil in Paris of D. Milhaud and O. Messiaen, by whom he remained considerably influenced (e.g. in the Sonata for two pianos, 1951). Goeyvaerts collaborated between 1970 and 1974 at IPEM together with L. Goethals (b. 1931) and with him he experimented with the compositional use of electronic means. In this same period some older composers were establishing themselves, such as P. Froidebise (Ohey, Namur, 1914 – Liège 1962), M. Quinet (Binche, Hainaut, 1915 – Brussels 1986), V. Legley (b.Hazebrouk 1915) and J. Louël (b. Ostend 1914).
Froidebise, who in 1949 founded the Variation group, aimed at emerging composers and performers, had a significant influence on other younger authors and was always attentive to the results of serialism and later of random procedures. Quinet and Legley were pupils of J. Absil (1893-1974): particularly the latter remained extraneous to the use of today’s compositional techniques, favoring in his work the popular aspect of the musical message (thus the famous violin concertoParadise Regained, op. 70, 1967). Louël followed a similar direction, however, proposing himself to lead a good number of young composers.
Pousseur (b. Malmédy, Liège, 1929) soon established himself as one of the most representative figures of Belgian music, acquiring international fame. In addition to the collaborations at the IPEM in Ghent and the APELAC in Brussels, it is worth mentioning his activity in other European countries (he worked in Cologne, Milan, Darmstadt and Basel) and in the United States (Buffalo). After a first phase of extreme serialism (Quintette à la memoire d’Anton Webern, 1955), he opened up to experimentation with new compositional forms with a particular attention to electronic music.
Active in Wallonia and close to Pousseur are Ph. Boesmans (b. 1936), P. Bartholomée (b. 1937), founder and director of the Musiques Nouvelles group in Brussels and always particularly active in the experimental field as a composer.
Among the younger authors should be remembered R. D’Haene (b.1943), W. Westerlinck (b.1945), who takes up several of the current compositional techniques, and F. Gyselinck (b. 1950), who like the first follows a more traditional address.