2013-05-12 Notes from the Bench

Partita on “Awake, My Heart with Gladness” by Flor Peeters
A commentary on this week’s music by Dr. James T. Gerber, Music Associate


Awake, my heart, with gladness,
See what today is done,
Now after gloom and sadness
Comes forth the glorious Sun!
My Savior there was laid
Where our bed must be made
When to the realms of light
Our spirit wings its flight.

This hymn for the Easter season was written by Paul Gerhardt (1607-1676), an important teacher within the Lutheran tradition. The full text speaks of the joy of the resurrection and triumphal victory of Christ over the forces of death.

The partita setting of this hymn was composed by the Belgian composer, organist, and teacher, Flor Peeters (1903-1986). Peeters was born in the village of Tielen which is located near the Belgian-Dutch border. Peeters began his studies in music and organ at the age of sixteen at the Lemmens Institute, located in Mechelen at that time, where he received highest honors and the Prix Lemmens-Tinel in 1923. Later that same year, he began his teaching career as an organ teacher at his alma mater, where he taught until 1952. He also taught at the Conservatory of Gent from 1931 until 1948, the Royal Flemish Conservatory beginning in 1948, and was the director of this institution from 1952 until his retirement in 1968. Following his retirement teaching at the conservatory, he continued to teach masterclases as assigned by the Ministry of Flemish Culture until his death. In addition to his teaching duties, he served as an organist for St. Rumbold’s Cathedral in Mechelen, in an assistant capacity for two years, and later as the head organist of the cathedral; he remained in this position for the rest of his life. Peeters was awarded honorary doctorate degrees in 1962 from the Catholic University in Washington and the Catholic University of Louvain in1971. King Baudouin of Belgium granted him the title of baron in 1971.

Peeters was greatly renowned as an organist and teacher, performing concerts around the world, teaching hundreds of organists, and teaching masterclasses. He was regarded as a skillful liturgical improviser. Peeters was also a prolific composer with an oeuvre of over one-hundred works, writing for organ, piano, solo voice, and choir. Many of his works are influenced by Gregorian chant and modality, or chorale melodies, and are intended for liturgical use. He utilized classical forms with contrasting colors, intense lyricism, and strong rhythms. His later works used more serial and atonal compositional techniques. Peeters died in Antwerp Belgium.

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