(Saint-Germain-en-Laye, 22 August 1862 – Paris, 25 March 1918)
Henry George D’Hoedt (orch.)
(Ghent, 28 June 1885 – Brussels, 14 May 1936)
Noël des enfants qui n’ont plus de maisons (1915)
(Christmas carol for homeless children)
Claude Debussy wrote the music and lyrics of Noël des enfants qui n’ont plus de maisons in December 1915 out of indignation over the suffering the German armies had caused in France, but also in Belgium, Serbia and Poland. In the song, which is the last one he composed, he names the cruelties to which the children have fallen victim and he asks Santa Claus not to visit the enemy and to grant victory to the children of France. This special Christmas carol was published by Durand in Paris in 1916 with an English translation by Clara Swayne Saint-René Taillandier, the wife of composer Gabriel Saint-René Taillandier.
As a composer, Debussy had denounced the violence of war before, in particular the cruelties committed by the Germans in neutral Belgium. In 1914 he wrote the short piano piece Berceuse héroïque ‘to pay homage to His Majesty Albert I of Belgium and his soldiers’. The piano piece, which he would later orchestrate, was published in 1914 in the collection King Albert’s Book. A Tribute to the Belgian King and People from Representative Men and Women Throughout the World. After the Berceuse héroïque he went on to compose two other similar piano pieces, Page d’album and Élégie, which were, respectively, meant for a concert series and a book publication to raise funds for wounded soldiers and war orphans.
It is unclear when and on what occasion Henry George D’Hoedt orchestrated this simple but moving song. Henry George D’Hoedt – born Henri Georges D’Hoedt, but he later anglicized his name – studied at the Royal Conservatory of Ghent with famous teachers and composers such as Oscar Roels, Paul Lebrun, Edward Blaes, Emile Mathieu and Leo Moermans. Later he also took conducting courses in Germany. For a while he played the bassoon in the orchestra of the Royal Flemish Opera in Antwerp, but from 1916 onwards he would predominantly work in higher music education, first as a teacher in Ghent and starting in 1924 as the director of the Municipal Conservatory of Leuven.
D’Hoedt composed songs, chorales, cantatas, an opera, piano music and orchestra pieces. Some of the titles of his pieces for orchestra reveal an open mind and a man of wide interests, like La vocation de Siddharta, Poème pantagruélique (inspired by Rabelais) or Trois évocations antiques (of which the Dionysos part is inspired by the reading of the novel La révolte des anges by Anatole France). He dedicated his most famous piece for orchestra, Chroniques brèves de la vie bourgeoise (1934), to Henri Barbusse. In this ‘rhapsodie orchestrale’, in which D’Hoedt uses quotes by Wagner and Gounod, and sneaks in snippets of light music, he presents a satirical outlook on society.
Until recently, this orchestration was unknown, until all the parts (except for the vocal part) in 2018 were retrieved in the library of the Royal Conservatoire of Antwerp. Based on the orchestra parts, which at one point clearly have been used for a performance, the score was reconstructed by Evgeni Dimitrov.
(Translation: Jasmien Dewilde)
This score was published in collaboration with the Study Centre for Flemish Music (www.svm.be). The orchestral material is available at www.svm.be.
Read full Flemish preface > HERE