Author Topic: Arthur Meulemans (1884-1966), a prolific Belgian impressionist  (Read 5396 times)

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kyjo

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I'd like to create more interest in this remarkable Belgian composer:


Bio taken from cebedem.be:

Having completed a full score of musical studies at the Lemmens Institute of Mechelen under the initiation of Edgard Tinel, Arthur Meulemans was appointed teacher of harmony in 1906.

 In 1914 he settled in Tongres as a secondary teacher of music. He founded and directed the Limburg school of organ and vocal music in Hasselt. In 1930 he left for Brussels to conduct and organize the radio orchestra. In 1942 he retired from his official function to devote himself exclusively to composition until his death.

 Arthur Meulemans has known a long and prolific career and, undoubtedly belongs to the group of important composers of his generation in Belgium. During his lifetime he received numerous distinctions. He was a member and later president of the Royal Flemish Academy of Science, Literature and Fine Arts of Belgium.

 As a composer, he brought Flanders the appropriate transition from the 19th to the 20th century. He was one of the first who fully appreciated Claude Debussy’s works. One could be tempted to qualify Meulemans’ work as being post-impressionistic. He was strongly attracted to purely symphonic works, although he did not neglect other forms.

 His style is marked by an outspoken melody and strongly structured harmony. His orchestrations give preference to the precise refinement of well chosen timbres. His last works tend toward a certain restraint in orchestral colour.


Meulemans was immensely prolific. He churned out no less than 15 symphonies, around 25 concertos, three operas, five string quartets, numerous cantatas and oratorios, and a host of other orchestral, band, vocal, chamber and instrumental works. It would be wrong to presume that quantity was more important than quality to Meulemans, because the few works that are available of his are very fine works indeed, displaying a creative imagination at work.

Meulemans' style, as mentioned in the article above, is post-impressionstic with added influences from late-romantic (in his early works) and neoclassical (in his later works) music. The majority of his works available on disc come from his early period.  His early period (as exemplified in Symphonies 2 and 3 and the orchestral pieces May Night and Pliny’s Fountain Suite) is characterized by a relatively straightforward but not unimaginative blend of late-romanticism and impressionism. Points of comparison could be Debussy, Respighi and Joseph Marx. His middle period exploits an advancement of the impressionist idiom used in the early works. Works such as Symphony no. 7 (the best I’ve heard yet from Meulemans) show an increasing chromaticism, with a fondness for dark, almost crepuscular orchestral colors, creating an almost expressionistic mood. Rob Barnett gives an excellent description of this remarkable and individualistic work in this MusicWeb review:

The Meulemans’ wartime Symphony is the most 'advanced' work on the disc. It seems to speak of the fenland suggested by the title: bleak and romantic, dank and haunting (first and third movements), spidery, impressionistic (Ravel is surely his maitre in the second movement), sometimes raucous and ‘mécanique’, à la Markevich, in the second and final movements. The upstart finale rattles cages with a danse des guerriers that is part Ravel, part Antheil.

I’d really like to hear more works from his middle period! His late period (as exemplified by his two Concertos for Orchestra) still retains some of the luminous impressionism of the earlier works, but with clearer-cut textures and a more streamlined, lucid sound, placing it in a similar category as, say, Martinu, Honegger, or Bloch’s neoclassical works.

I would dearly love to hear more of Meulemans’ music, but Belgium’s two main labels, Phaedra and Cypres (both very small, I might add), do not seem to have much interest in it. Perhaps CPO could take up his cause?

An extensive list of Meulmans’ compositions can be found here: http://www.cebedem.be/en/composers/m/104-meulemans-arthur

There’s also an excellent MusicWeb article on Meulemans: http://www.musicweb-international.com/classrev/2002/Oct02/Meulemans_Culot.htm

These are all the recordings available of Meulemans’ music, of which I particularly recommend the two Marco Polo ones:

                      

That may seem like a lot or recordings, but remember that most of those CDs devote only a fraction of their playing time to Meulemans' music!

Anyone else familiar with Meulemans' music? If so, I'd be pleased to hear your thoughts on it! :)
« Last Edit: August 12, 2013, 07:19:10 PM by kyjo »

Offline The new erato

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Re: Arthur Meulemans (1884-1966), a prolific Belgian impressionist
« Reply #1 on: August 12, 2013, 09:28:02 PM »
Unfortunately no, but that Flanders Field series har yielded gold on other occasions, so I might bookmark those two discs for future purchase!

kyjo

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Re: Arthur Meulemans (1884-1966), a prolific Belgian impressionist
« Reply #2 on: August 13, 2013, 05:56:50 AM »
Unfortunately no, but that Flanders Field series har yielded gold on other occasions, so I might bookmark those two discs for future purchase!

Make sure to check out the Marco Polo and Belgian Boutique (the one with the concertos for orchestra) discs as well! :)

Offline vandermolen

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Re: Arthur Meulemans (1884-1966), a prolific Belgian impressionist
« Reply #3 on: August 13, 2013, 11:17:37 AM »
I like the atmospheric 'Pliny's Fountain' and have the Marco Polo CD.
"Courage is going from failure to failure without losing enthusiasm" (Churchill).

'The test of a work of art is, in the end, our affection for it, not our ability to explain why it is good' (Stanley Kubrick).

kyjo

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Re: Arthur Meulemans (1884-1966), a prolific Belgian impressionist
« Reply #4 on: August 13, 2013, 11:20:50 AM »
I like the atmospheric 'Pliny's Fountain' and have the Marco Polo CD.

I agree; that's a luscious piece which brings to mind Respighi's piece on a similar subject. Are you familiar with his darkly atmospheric Symphony no. 7, available on the Marco Polo disc Romantic Orchestral Music by Flemish Composers, Vol. II?

pjme

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Re: Arthur Meulemans (1884-1966), a prolific Belgian impressionist
« Reply #5 on: August 14, 2013, 05:32:21 AM »
It is good to see that - out of the blue- Arthur Meulemans gets some attention.

Alas, his generation (think of Flemish composers like Flor Alpaerts, Robert Herberigs, August Baeyens...) has completely fallen out of favor and fashion. Belgian National Radio has many recordings from ca 1950 -1970 when radio orchestras were supposed to premiere and commision works by national musicians.

Phaedra is possibly the only small company that actually knows something about these composers and cares abouit them. However, as everywhere else , the financial crisis makes recordings of the more ambitious scores virtually impossible. Antwerp Philharmonic has created its own label and will -hopefully - release now and then the odd cd with Belgo-Flemish music. Last June they recorded joseph Jongen's Symphonie Concertante and a forgotten concerto by Joseph Callaerts ( see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joseph_Callaerts) at Antwerp cathedral.

The cd with both concertos for orchestra is a welcome addition. However, it is such a pity that the orchestra didn't manage to record the complete concerto by Rosseau. ( lack of time and money...I was told + difficult music!).

Anyway, Meulemans is an interesting figure - crushed between his own tonal (late -romantic/ impressionistic/mildly expressionistic) ambitions and the pressure of early avant garde. He witnessed the rise of Boulez, Stockhausen and co .... and never recovered from that shock.
He suffered from the fact that he kept working during WWII...in order to feed his family.

There is definitely good music in his huge output and to my taste his early and middle period are the best. In his late works he often holds back so forcibly that the music doesn t "bloom".
( the late concerto for two piano's ). Symphony nr 15 however is a powerfull statement and definitely should get a good recording.

His output is uneven and ranges from the simplest, folksy song to the grand symphonic statement ( symphony nr 10 "Psalmen symphony, symphony nr 6 The sea( with alto-solo, organ and vocalising chorus).
I have a soft spot for symphony nr 12 which has a wonderful scherzo ( it combines a march and a walz) with a little theme on the clarinet that gets stuck in the brain...

I'd love the hear his concerto for timpani and a new version of his trumpet concerto.

P.



« Last Edit: August 16, 2013, 12:31:55 AM by pjme »

kyjo

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Re: Arthur Meulemans (1884-1966), a prolific Belgian impressionist
« Reply #6 on: August 14, 2013, 09:11:31 AM »
Fascinating post, Pjme! :)

Offline J

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Re: Arthur Meulemans (1884-1966), a prolific Belgian impressionist
« Reply #7 on: August 14, 2013, 09:46:29 AM »
Meulemans's "Rembrandt Symphony" (No.13) was issued on LP.  I never could respond to it very favorably, - it just doesn't hang together IMO.  Not at all Impressionist either, as I recall, but rather much more "advanced".

kyjo

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Re: Arthur Meulemans (1884-1966), a prolific Belgian impressionist
« Reply #8 on: August 14, 2013, 10:17:56 AM »
Meulemans's "Rembrandt Symphony" (No.13) was issued on LP.  I never could respond to it very favorably, - it just doesn't hang together IMO.  Not at all Impressionist either, as I recall, but rather much more "advanced".

I've never heard his Symphony no. 13, so I can't comment on it. Perhaps it belongs to his later, more neoclassical period? Have you heard any of Meuleman's earlier works? They're impressionistic through and through, with dashes of late-romanticism and expressionism here and there.

Offline vandermolen

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Re: Arthur Meulemans (1884-1966), a prolific Belgian impressionist
« Reply #9 on: August 14, 2013, 10:41:05 AM »
I agree; that's a luscious piece which brings to mind Respighi's piece on a similar subject. Are you familiar with his darkly atmospheric Symphony no. 7, available on the Marco Polo disc Romantic Orchestral Music by Flemish Composers, Vol. II?

I'm sure that I do  ::). Must look it out.
"Courage is going from failure to failure without losing enthusiasm" (Churchill).

'The test of a work of art is, in the end, our affection for it, not our ability to explain why it is good' (Stanley Kubrick).

kyjo

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Re: Arthur Meulemans (1884-1966), a prolific Belgian impressionist
« Reply #10 on: August 14, 2013, 10:45:30 AM »
I'm sure that I do  ::). Must look it out.

I'm sure you'll enjoy it; it's my favorite Meulemans piece I've heard. It's so mysterious! Will we ever know if there are treasures of this quality still buried within his huge output?

Sean

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Re: Arthur Meulemans (1884-1966), a prolific Belgian impressionist
« Reply #11 on: August 15, 2013, 07:13:56 PM »
You sure dig up some stuff kyjo. An unknown figure to me and although I have access to Marco Polo I think he can stay in obscurity for now...

kyjo

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Re: Arthur Meulemans (1884-1966), a prolific Belgian impressionist
« Reply #12 on: August 15, 2013, 07:16:25 PM »
You sure dig up some stuff kyjo. An unknown figure to me and although I have access to Marco Polo I think he can stay in obscurity for now...

Indeed I do! :D But why should he stay in obscurity for now?

Sean

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Re: Arthur Meulemans (1884-1966), a prolific Belgian impressionist
« Reply #13 on: August 15, 2013, 07:31:01 PM »
Well when I attend to music new to me I always play it five times, and I'll chose a substantial work if it's also a composer new to me. I can say I've now got to know music by 1218 composers and as you can imagine not all of those really justified my efforts. So #1219 can always wait a while.

cilgwyn

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Re: Arthur Meulemans (1884-1966), a prolific Belgian impressionist
« Reply #14 on: August 16, 2013, 04:51:44 AM »
It's great to see someone opening up threads like this about neglected or 'off the beaten track' composers. Dundonnell used to do this before he decided to move forum!
Unfortunately,I'm afraid I can't feel as enthusiastic as you about this composer. While he does have a gift for mysterious,shimmering sounding impressionism;again as with Lajtha;while the orchestration certainly captivates while one is listening;as soon as I take the cd out,Meulemans sound world seems to vanish with it!
I must sat,I feel more enthusiasm for your Creston thread. While some of Creston's music does seem to zip in and out the ear;there is a rhythmic vitality & pungency to his orchestration which,at it's best,does genuinely leave some kind of impressionism. Hanson's another one. Too easily written off as a sort of easy listen Sibelius with a dash of Borodin meets Hollywood,thrown in. I find a poignancy to his music which really does touch the heart. And he's also good at hummable tunes!! His unpretentious First is particularly affecting. His earlier shellac recording on the biddulph label is a wonderful recording.
Unfortunately,Hanson seems a bit like Marmite. Either you love it or hate it!
Personally,I prefer Vegemite!! ;D

Keep up the good work,though,kyjo! :)

kyjo

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Re: Arthur Meulemans (1884-1966), a prolific Belgian impressionist
« Reply #15 on: August 16, 2013, 08:30:36 AM »
It's great to see someone opening up threads like this about neglected or 'off the beaten track' composers. Dundonnell used to do this before he decided to move forum!
Unfortunately,I'm afraid I can't feel as enthusiastic as you about this composer. While he does have a gift for mysterious,shimmering sounding impressionism;again as with Lajtha;while the orchestration certainly captivates while one is listening;as soon as I take the cd out,Meulemans sound world seems to vanish with it!
I must sat,I feel more enthusiasm for your Creston thread. While some of Creston's music does seem to zip in and out the ear;there is a rhythmic vitality & pungency to his orchestration which,at it's best,does genuinely leave some kind of impressionism. Hanson's another one. Too easily written off as a sort of easy listen Sibelius with a dash of Borodin meets Hollywood,thrown in. I find a poignancy to his music which really does touch the heart. And he's also good at hummable tunes!! His unpretentious First is particularly affecting. His earlier shellac recording on the biddulph label is a wonderful recording.
Unfortunately,Hanson seems a bit like Marmite. Either you love it or hate it!
Personally,I prefer Vegemite!! ;D

Keep up the good work,though,kyjo! :)

I can understand your reservations about Meulemans' music in regard to memorability, cilgwyn. Many of the really obscure composers I bring up couldn't count memorability among their strong suits. Glad to hear you enjoy Creston and Hanson, though. Hanson gets criticized too much for writing "Hollywoodian" or trite music, as you say, but his critics fail to realize what melodically inspired and emotionally resonating music he wrote. :)
« Last Edit: August 16, 2013, 09:53:01 AM by kyjo »

cilgwyn

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Re: Arthur Meulemans (1884-1966), a prolific Belgian impressionist
« Reply #16 on: August 17, 2013, 02:38:27 AM »
Of course,as has been pointed out before,Hanson's 'Hollywood-ian' Second dates from 1930;long before most of the major Hollywood scores had been composed......let alone,ahem ;D the finale of 'Alien'!!

Years before,Korngold had already created the Hollywood sound. The Sinfonietta is a case in point.  A superb piece of music imho! :)

Offline vandermolen

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Re: Arthur Meulemans (1884-1966), a prolific Belgian impressionist
« Reply #17 on: August 17, 2013, 03:10:31 AM »
It's great to see someone opening up threads like this about neglected or 'off the beaten track' composers. Dundonnell used to do this before he decided to move forum!
Unfortunately,I'm afraid I can't feel as enthusiastic as you about this composer. While he does have a gift for mysterious,shimmering sounding impressionism;again as with Lajtha;while the orchestration certainly captivates while one is listening;as soon as I take the cd out,Meulemans sound world seems to vanish with it!
I must sat,I feel more enthusiasm for your Creston thread. While some of Creston's music does seem to zip in and out the ear;there is a rhythmic vitality & pungency to his orchestration which,at it's best,does genuinely leave some kind of impressionism. Hanson's another one. Too easily written off as a sort of easy listen Sibelius with a dash of Borodin meets Hollywood,thrown in. I find a poignancy to his music which really does touch the heart. And he's also good at hummable tunes!! His unpretentious First is particularly affecting. His earlier shellac recording on the biddulph label is a wonderful recording.
Unfortunately,Hanson seems a bit like Marmite. Either you love it or hate it!
Personally,I prefer Vegemite!! ;D

Keep up the good work,though,kyjo! :)

OT I totally agree with you about Hanson; there is a warmth about his music which I do not find in the music of other American composers, much as I admire them. Actually Diamond's music may be an exception as I find his Third Symphony to be very moving. I have been listening to Hanson's Fifth Symphony, which I increasingly admire, for its powerful, integrated and memorable facets. Now back to Meulemans!
« Last Edit: August 17, 2013, 03:12:29 AM by vandermolen »
"Courage is going from failure to failure without losing enthusiasm" (Churchill).

'The test of a work of art is, in the end, our affection for it, not our ability to explain why it is good' (Stanley Kubrick).

cilgwyn

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Re: Arthur Meulemans (1884-1966), a prolific Belgian impressionist
« Reply #18 on: August 17, 2013, 04:05:41 AM »
Indeed! ;D I may continue some of this on the Hanson thread! ::) I agree about the warmth of Hanson's muse,Vandermolen. The underrated Grant Still has quite allot in his symphonies. Piston a bit,here & there & Don Gillis overdoes it ........

Yep! It's over to the Hanson thread!! ::) ??? ;D

Offline vandermolen

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Re: Arthur Meulemans (1884-1966), a prolific Belgian impressionist
« Reply #19 on: August 20, 2013, 12:04:28 PM »
I listened to Pliny's Fountain again today. It is indeed a very captivating work. It clearly shows the influence of Debussy's orchestral works and has something of the magical, poetic atmosphere of Falla's Nights in the Garden of Spain. Meulemans was one of several Flemish composers whose work I came to admire on the Marco Polo label. Others included Godfried Devreese and Daniel Sternefeld.
"Courage is going from failure to failure without losing enthusiasm" (Churchill).

'The test of a work of art is, in the end, our affection for it, not our ability to explain why it is good' (Stanley Kubrick).