Peter Leonard Leopold Benoit - Encyclopedia

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PETER LEONARD LEOPOLD BENOIT (1834-1901), Flemish composer, was born on the 17th of August 1834 at Harlebeke in Flanders. His father and a local village organist were his first teachers. In 1851 Benoit entered the Brussels Conservatoire, where he remained till 1855, studying chiefly under F. J. Fetis. During this period he composed music to many melodramas, and to an opera Le Village dans les montagnes for the Park theatre, of which in 1856 he became conductor. He won a government prize and a money grant in 1857 by his cantata Le Meurtre d'Abel, and this enabled him to travel through Germany. In course of his journeyings he found time to write a considerable amount of music, as well as an essay L'Ecole de musique flamande et son avenir. Fetis loudly praised his Messe solennelle, which Benoit produced at Brussels on his return from Germany. In 1861 he visited Paris for the production of his opera Le Roi des Aulnes (" ErlkOnig"), which, though accepted by the Theatre Lyrique, was never mounted; while there he conducted at the Bouffes-Parisiens. Again returning home, he astonished a section of the musical world by the production at Antwerp of a sacred tetralogy, consisting of his Cantate de Noel, the above-mentioned Mass, a Te Deum and a Requiem, in which were embodied to a large extent his theories of Flemish music. It was in consequence of his passion for the founding of an entirely separate Flemish school that Benoit changed his name from Pierre to Peter. By prodigious efforts he succeeded in gathering round him a small band of enthusiasts, who affected to see with him possibilities in the foundation of a school whose music should differ completely from that of the French and German schools. In its main features this school failed, for its faith was pinned to Benoit's music, which is hardly more Flemish than French or German. Benoit's more important compositions include the Flemish oratorios De Schelde and Lucifer, the latter of which met with complete failure on its production in London in 1888; the operas Het Dorp int Gebirgte and Isa, the Drama Christi; an enormous mass of songs, choruses, small cantatas and motets. Benoit also wrote a great number of essays on musical matters. He died at Antwerp on the 8th of March 1901.

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