Roelstraete, Herman


Roelstraete, Herman

Symphonia brevis Op. 21 for string orchestra (score and parts / first print)



Herman Roelstraete – Symphonia brevis, op. 21 (1952-1953)

(Lauwe, 20 October 1925 – Kortrijk, 1 April 1985)

Herman Roelstraete received his first music training at the Torhout Normal School where he studied to become a liturgical organist. These studies sparked his lifelong interest in Gregorian chant, the organ and the Flemish Movement. In 1942 he went to the School for Religious Music (the ‘Lemmens Institute’) in Mechelen, where he had eminent teachers such as Henri Durieux (harmony), Marinus de Jong (piano and counterpoint), Flor Peeters (organ) and Jules Van Nuffel (choir conducting and music aesthetics). Van Nuffel, who led the publication of Philippe de Monte’s work, introduced him to Flemish polyphony. After graduating magna cum laude and as a ‘Laureate of the Lemmens Institute’, he continued his studies at the Royal Conservatory of Brussels. He received the awards for singing (under Maurice Weynandt), counterpoint (under Marcel Poot) and organ (under Paul de Maleingrau). Finally, in 1957, he went on to study dodecaphony under Mátyás Seiber.

In the meantime he strongly influenced the cultural life in the region of his hometown: he founded choirs, ensembles and orchestras; he maintained close contacts with the many amateur choirs he accompanied, he performed research on folk songs and became the director of the Music Academy in Izegem. In addition, he also had a short singing career as a soloist (high tenor), but in 1953 a temporary vocal cord paralysis ended this abruptly. However, as a concert organist he continued to perform throughout his entire career.

Throughout his career and like many others in his generation (Frits Celis, Roland Coryn, Vic Nees), he was involved in reviving the forgotten or neglected music of his predecessors, such as Frans J. Krafft (1727-1795), Pieter Vanderghinste (1789-1860), Philippe Vanden Berghe (1822-1885), Edward Mechelaere (1827-1906), Peter Benoit (1834-1901), Edgar Tinel (1854-1912) and Alfons Mervillie (1856-1942). Roelstraete created new arrangements of various works by these composers, allowing them to be performed in a contemporary setting. Some of these arrangements were published by Musica Flandrorum, a foundation he established in 1978 to revive the work of forgotten Flemish composers. He also promoted these oeuvres through his career as a conductor. In 1967, the city of Antwerp and the Peter Benoit Fund awarded him the Peter Benoit Award for his performance of Benoit’s Drama Christi and in 1983, the Belgian music press gave him the ‘Snepvangersprijs’ for his recording of Benoit’s Requiem. As an organologist, he studied the organ building Anneessens family and he made an inventory of countless Flemish organs.

Roelstraete created a varied oeuvre of about 160 opus numbers and representing nearly all genres, except for opera. He particularly focused on choir music (both a cappella pieces and oratoria), but the rest of his oeuvre often remains overlooked. He might have written his best pages in his chamber music, especially in the three string quartets, which he composed when he was already in his fifties and battling growing health problems.

Throughout his oeuvre, Roelstraete always strove towards a balance between tradition (Gregorian, baroque, neoclassicism) and new ideas (polytonality, polymodality, seriality, dodecaphony). He was a strong counterpointist, but attached great importance to expressive melody. His work hovers between expressionist, vitalistic pages and – especially towards the end of his life – meditative and elegiac compositions. A significant part of his oeuvre is religiously inspired.

This early Symphonia brevis for string orchestra is the first of four symphonies composed by Roelstraete: it was followed by Symphony in E, op. 39 for symphonic orchestra (1957-1959); Symphony in C, op. 75 for wind orchestra (1968-1969) and Symphony no. 4, op. 82 for symphonic orchestra (1971).

The Symphonia brevis is one of those works that is characteristic of Roelstraete in which he packs a contemporary, polytonal idiom into a traditional form. The casting of his still searching contemporary language in the old mold of a pre-classical sinfonia creates an interesting tension. The short corner movements – a sonata form in the first movement and a contrapuntally elaborated gigue with a short violin cadence in the last movement – surround the broader meditative-elegant middle movement (a Lied-form).

This lively and virtuoso work was first performed during a studio recording in Brussels on 4 October 1954 by the NIR’s Broadcasting Orchestra, conducted by Jozef Verelst; in 1955 the Limburg Symphony Orchestra performed it publicly for the first time, in Harelbeke. This was followed by performances with the Brabant Chamber Orchestra under Anton Koene in 1975 and in 1996 with the Collegium Instrumentale Brugense conducted by Patrick Peire. (The performances of 1955, 1975 and 1996 were recorded and are kept in the broadcasting archives in Brussels.)

Jan Dewilde
(translation: Jasmien Dewilde)

José Reyes edited this score on the basis of a facsimile of the autograph, kept in the library of the Royal Conservatoire of Antwerp (KVC 193.036). The autograph manuscript is kept in the music department of the Royal Library in Brussels (Mus. Ms. 2315). This score is published in cooperation with the Centre for the Study of Flemish Music (


Full  Flemish and German preface > HERE

Score Data

Special Edition

The Flemish Music Collection


String Orchestra


225 x 320 mm


Set Score & Parts


First print



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