Regarded as the founding father of the national movement to establish Flemish music in Belgium, Peter Benoit (1834–1901) studied with Fétis at the Royal Conservatoire in Brussels, an institution very much francophone in its sensibility. This undoubtedly heightened his Flemish consciousness. After winning the Belgian Prix de Rome in 1857, and following the advice of Fétis, he visited Dresden, Cologne, Berlin, Munich and Prague. Between 1859 and 1863 he was conductor of the Théâtre des Bouffes-Parisiens in the French capital where he hoped to establish himself as an operatic composer. This met ultimately with failure, and disillusioned by the French musical scene he returned to Belgium, settling in Antwerp in 1867. Here his efforts to found a Flemish music school were rewarded when the Belgian Government voted to augment its status to that of Royal Flemish Conservatory in larger recognition of the development of Flemish culture. Benoit devoted much energy to the concept of Flemish musical nationalism, which he hoped might achieve a level of creative imagination to match the leaders of German and French music. In this he was also inspired by Herder’s influential theory of Volksgeist
, laying much stress on the significance of folk song and the rhythmic attributes of the Flemish language which, he fervently believed, provided the seeds of a national voice.
from notes by Jeremy Dibble © 2020