- Music was heard in the Cathédrale des Saints-Michel-et-Gudule as early as 1362. Beginning in 1486, the church installed a "singing master" who oversaw production of song and voice. Musical production largely paralleled the presence and prestige of the ruling court. Musical fêtes were staged for the sovereign. From the Burgundian regime on, musicians enjoyed great prestige, and music masters of the royal chapel during the 16th century acquired great fame, notably the composer Jean van Turnhout. Gilles Hamelin served as master of song at Saint-Michel for 40 years (1563-1603).In the 17th century Brussels became the most important music center in the southern Netherlands. The Théâtre royal de la Monnaie was founded in 1700. In the 18th century, Charles of Lorraine proved a generous patron. He attracted musical talent, including Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791), who performed a harpsichord concert on 7 November 1763. The political upheavals of the period 1790-1830 saw little of note, but the establishment of the Conservatoire royal de Musique in 1832 and the Société des Concerts du Conservatoire, under the direction of François Joseph Fétis, restored music's earlier prestige. The Conservatoire (rue de la Régence 30), housed in premises built between 1872 and 1877 by Jean-Pierre Cluysenaar (1811-1880) in neoclassical and neo-Renaissance styles, constituted the center of 19th-century musical life in Brussels and the prestigious Belgian school of the violin had its origins with that body. Violinist Charles Bériot (1802-1870) was Brussels born.Charles-Joseph Sax (1791-1865) arrived in Brussels in 1815, the father of Adolphe Sax (1814-1894), who revolutionized the production of brass wind instruments in creating saxophones, saxhorns, and other instruments after settling in Paris in 1843. The concerts populaires brought to Brussels innovative works by Richard Wagner (1813-1883), Richard Strauss (1864-1949), and others between 1865 and 1930. The concerts for violin composed by Henri Vieuxtemps (1820-1881) set standards that remain in pedagogical use. The Conservatoire staged concerts of classical works by Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1759), George Frideric Handel (1685-1759), and others under Fétis's successor, François-Auguste Gevaert (1828-1908), director from 1871 to 1908.Concerts were held on Sundays in the Grand' Place during the summer in the late 19th century, and Les XX and La Libre Esthétique sponsored concerts to promote contemporary works by innovative, young Belgian and foreign composers. The work of Richard Wagner took center stage at the Théâtre royal, where the first French-language versions of his works were performed from the 1870s through the 1890s. The Théâtre was one of Europe's first stages for lyrical works. Composer Paul Gilson (1865-1942) won the Prix de Rome and held a professorship at the Conservatoire. Michel Brusselmans won the Prix de Rome in 1911.The hiatus occasioned by World War I was followed by renewed activity with concerts given to overflow crowds by the Société Philharmonique, founded in 1926, and the Orchestre national de la Radio. In 1937, Queen Elisabeth created the Concours International Ysaye, a competition featuring young musical performers. In 1951, it was renamed the Concours International Reine Elisabeth. It is housed at the Conservatoire. Musical composition work was undertaken in the 1920s and 1930s by residents who included G. Brenta, R. Bernier, and M. Poot. René Defossez (1905-1988) wrote symphony opera and music for ballet. Jules Delacre and Albert Lepage wrote innovative works.Concerts were given in the vast Palais des Beaux-Arts, completed in 1929. The post-World War II scene saw growing attendance at Société Philharmonique concerts and television joined radio as a means to reach audiences. A Festival of Experimental Music was held in conjunction with the World's Fair of 1958 and a biennale of Belgian music was introduced in the 1960s.Dance in Brussels become synonymous with the Ballet du XXe Siècle. Following televised performances beginning in 1965, the company drew larger and larger audiences for the company that, under Maurice Béjart, made the city a world center for the dance.Virtuoso performers of note include Jacques Brel and Jean "Toots" Thielemans (1922- ), the guitarist and mouth-organ artist who has been one of the outstanding performers on the jazz scene. The duo Via Con Dios has earned international fame for its light jazz.Brussels is Belgium's leading music center, and there are four symphony orchestras based here: the Orchestre National de Belgique/ Orkest Nationaal van België, organized in 1936; the Orchestre du Théâtre de la Monnaie; the Nouvel Orchestre Symphonique de la RTBF; and the Sinfonieorkest van de BRT. The last two are radio orchestras.Founded in 1996 by a group of friends who met to play chamber music, the Bruocsella Symphony Orchestra expanded rapidly to become a full-scale symphony. An international group composed of professional, ex-professional, amateur, and student musicians, the players give charity concerts. Classical music and classical jazz concerts are performed by the Diavolo Chamber Orchestra, created in 1988.Performances of classical music are given in many venues, including the Théâtre royal de la Monnaie, Palais des Beaux-Arts, Chapelle Protestante, Conservatoire, and at many churches. Opera is presented in winter and spring at the Théâtre royal. In the 1980s, under the direction of Gerard Mortier, the Brussels opera earned a position of prominence among European houses of note.
Historical Dictionary of Brussels. Paul F. State.
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