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Art circles in Antwerp, around the end of the 19th century




This association has not started its operation out of nowhere. In 1850 already in Antwerp, under the direction of Frans Callaerts, a 'Société de Musique' was created that had the intention to spread and promote music in the port city. In particular, her attention went to the large choir and symphonic repertoire. Here it is appropriate to emphasize the influence and the great importance of the Germanic orientation of Peter Benoit. More than in Brussels, the emphasis was on music from Germany and Austria. Due to a shortage of money this association had to stop its activities after 25 years. In 1898, perhaps with the example of Octave Maus in Brussels, under the impulse of some Antwerp intellectuals, an association was formed that brought together writers, poets, painters and musicians under the name 'De Kapel'.
In addition to exhibitions, lectures, music was also honored. For this they called on the musical direction of Lodewijk Mortelmans and on the name of the world-famous Antwerp opera singer and Wagnerspecialist Ernest Van Dyck. In the end this organization resulted in what in 1903 The Society of New Concerts would become.
The Antwerp Royal Society of New Concerts was one of the most important concert clubs in Belgium. In 1903, the organization grew out of the light anarchist cultural art circle De Kapel.
Frans Franck Henri FesterThe actual founders were :
- François Franck,
- Ernest van Dyck, famous Wagnertenor
- Maurice Huffmann and
- Henri Fester (two ex-presidents of the demised Société de Musique)
Images: Frans Franck and Henri Fester
KMNC PosterThe Music Directors were Lodewijk Mortelmans (1903-1914) and Lodewijk De Vocht (1921-1936).
Thanks to the patronage of the German trade colony in Antwerp, the association was able to present major international conductors and soloists to the Antwerp public.
After the concerts there was always a dinner at Frans Franck home as a closing, with the conductor or soloist. Lodewijk Mortelmans, accompanied by his wife Gabrielle Mortelmans, regularly attended.
Lodewijk Mortelmans prepared the concerts with orchestra, sometimes he conducted himself, but sometimes there was a guest conductor, or there was a soloist, who was invited to play.
He had, in fact, been applauded about the German names on the poster, and the Antwerp public enjoyed it.
Once the trading colony no longer paid financially, due to the high costs for orchestra and organization, this story also ended.
The project concerning the archive of the Society of New Concerts of Antwerp (executor: Jan Dewilde, promotor W. Michaël Scheck) got its final title during the execution of the project: The Society of New Concerts of Antwerp: Lodewijk Mortelmans and De Kapel.
In a first phase, the archive of the Society of New Concerts, as it is kept in the library of the Royal Flemish Conservatory in Antwerp, was described and inventoried in a database. In this way the archive was opened up and made accessible. This is absolutely necessary to get a good picture of the internal organization and the impact of this important Antwerp concert club. For example, it is clear that the Society of New Concerts, thanks to its good contacts with conductors, singers and instrumentalists, also weighed heavily on the Brussels concert life. Furthermore, from the many letters of conductor Lodewijk Mortelmans, the orchestral practice from the first decades of the 20th century becomes clear.
In a second phase, the project executor went on an inspection to locate new material. In a private archive, for example, part of the correspondence was found between Lodewijk Mortelmans and Henri Fester, the chairman of the Society of New Concerts.
These letters shed new light on the conflict between Mortelmans and the Society that provides an explanation for the replacement after the First World War of Mortelmans as conductor by Lodewijk De Vocht. From these letters it becomes clear that Mortelmans wanted to conduct all the concerts himself and would prefer not to see any guest conductors beside him. The board of the Society of New Concerts did not want to admit on that point. Understandable, because thanks to the international contacts of Ernest Van Dijck, the concert association was able to attract world-famous conductors such as Gustav Mahler to Antwerp.
This project will eventually result in:
1. A description of the music share in the activities of 'De Kapel' (concerts, musical enhancement of manifestations, the role of musicians in 'De Kapel');
2. A detailed history of the Society of New Concerts (with an exhaustive list of the concerts);
3. A description of the role that the composer and conductor Lodewijk Mortelmans played in both the Chapel and the Society of New Concerts;
4. An extensive inventory of the archive of the Society of New Concerts.
The project results will be published in two chapters of an upcoming book about De Kapel (red. Stijn Vanclooster).
Archive of the Royal Society of New Concerts in Antwerp (about 11 m of archives)
The music archive contains the documents from 1903 to 1936: invoices, cash books, budgets, contracts, reports, photographs, letters, ..., posters, program brochures and newspaper clippings.
The file consists of a large part of the administrative archive of the Royal Society for New Concerts. It forms the administrative history of the orchestra. Some pieces have been lost.
Depot: Hogeschool Antwerpen Department of Dramatic Art, Music and Dance - Library
* De Koninklijke Maatschappij der Nieuwe Concerten. 1903-1928, Ed. dr. M. Gevers & H. De Curzon, s.a. (Antwerpen), s.a.
* De Koninklijke Maatschappij der Nieuwe Concerten. 1928/29-1932/33, Antwerpen, s.a.



Many famous artists were invited to Antwerp.
Among them several great names:
Gustav Mahler
Gustav Mahler
Austrian composer and conductor<
Siegfried Wagner
Siegfried Wagner
German conductor, opera director and composer
(third child and only son of Cosima & Richard Wagner)
Sergei Prokofiev
Sergei Prokofiev
Russian composer and pianist
Igor Stravinsky
Igor Stravinsky
Russian composer and conductor
Pablo Casals
Pablo Casals
Catalan cellist
Sergei Rachmaninov
Sergei Rachmaninov
Russian composer, pianist and conductor
Pablo de Sarasate
Pablo de Sarasat
Spanish violinist and composer
Jacques Thibaud
Jacques Thibaud
French violinist
Claudio Arrau
Claudio Arrau
Chilean pianist
Hans Richter
Hans Richter
Austrian-Hungarian conductor
Nathan Milstein
Nathan Milstein
Russian violinist
Richard Strauss
Richard Strauss
German composer and conductor


Sources: LFM - Raymond Vervliet - Jan De Wilde, - KANTL Gent - - Wikipedia - Roland Coryn, curator Harelbeekse Muziekbiënnale 2009


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