Antoine Bessems – 4th Solemn mass for four voices and organ
(Antwerp, 4 April 1806 – Paris, 19 October 1868)
Antoine Bessems was initiated into music as a junior chorister in the music chapel of Our Lady’s Cathedral in Antwerp, Willem J.J. Kennis serving as Kapellmeister and Auguste Beckers as conductor of the choristers, while François Janssens taught the violin as a member of the church orchestra. In 1826 Bessems moved to the Conservatoire de Paris, where his brother Joseph (1809-1892) later studied the cello.
It was not uncommon in this era for young musicians from the southern Netherlands to pursue advanced music studies in Paris. At the Paris Conservatoire Bessems attended the violin classes of the virtuoso, pedagogue and composer Pierre Baillot. There he also made friends with Hector Berlioz. The most remarkable evidence of this friendship is the autograph manuscript of Berlioz’ Messe solennelle, which came to light again in 1992 at the Antwerp church of St Carolus Borromeus. On the title page Bessems noted: ‘La partition de cette messe entièrement de la main de Berlioz m’a été donnée comme souvenir de la vieille amitié qui me lie à lui. A. Bessems, Paris, 1835.’ (The score of this Mass, which was entirely composed by Berlioz himself, was given to me as a testimony of the old friendship that unites us. A. Bessems, Paris, 1835.’ Undoubtedly Bessems contributed to performances of Berlioz’ work in Paris.
After his studies Bessems stayed in Paris. He taught the violin there, played concerts and was appointed as violin solo of the Théâtre Italien after an audition. For his own purposes he wrote a whole series of chamber music works, sometimes in collaboration with the French pianists Louis-Emmanuel Jadin or Jules Dejazet (the latter also teaming up for compositions with the Flemish cello virtuoso Adrien François Servais). Several works of his were published in Paris, such as songs, violin duos, works for violin and piano, as well as fantasias for violin with orchestral accompaniment.
In between Bessems performed in Italy, Germany, Great Britain and his native country. Thus he was involved in the Rubens celebrations that were organized in Antwerp in August 1840 on the occasion of the unveiling of the Rubens statue of sculptor Willem Geefs. For that festive event Bessems composed an occasional hymn. In 1845 Bessems became the conductor of the Société royale d’Harmonie d’Anvers, a prestigious concert society. A year later, on 7 June 1846, he conducted the inaugural concert of the new concert hall. He started the programme with the overture to Les Francs-Juges by his friend Berlioz, concluding it with the premiere of his own Introduction et valses nouvelles. In the context of the Société d’Harmonie he also participated in chamber music concerts. Thus he performed works by Beethoven and Boccherini there, but also compositions of his own, such as Bérisca (for tenor and cello accompaniment) and an Introduction et thème suisse varié pour le violon. In this period he also composed songs on texts by Victor Hugo. …
Read full English preface / German preface / Flemish preface > HERE