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Lodewijk Mortelmans 1868-1952


Lodewijk MortelmansLodewijk Mortelmans Jury member1893 - Prix de Rome

Participations at the Belgian Prix de Rome for music composition :
  1889 - 1st participation: deuxième second prix
  1891 - 2st participation: withdrawel due to sickness
  1893 - 3st participation: winner

Lodewijk Mortelmans (standing in the middle),
as member of the jury of the Prix de Rome

The "Prix de Rome" and his story

Peter Benoit

To have a winner of the Rome Prize in the house, that was one of Peter Benoits major concerns in the 1880s. It was his ultimate aim to give his Municipal Music School the status of Royal Conservatory. For so long he saw his best students leave for Brussels to get – in french! - a First Prize. In order to reinforce his claim, he wanted to demonstrate at all costs that his education was equivalent to that of the Royal Conservatories of Brussels, Ghent and Liège. A student who became laureate of the Prize of Rome and thus crowned the best Belgian composer of his generation, was an irrefutable quality label for his school. Benoit's hope was set in Lodewijk Mortelmans. As the first of his students, he was destined to achieve this state prize.
In 1889 Lodewijk Mortelmans took part 'just to try' and then, together with Paul Lebrun, won a shared second prize from Rome with the cantate Sinaï. He was 21 years old at the time.
In 1891 he interrupted his participation, forced by illness, and had to abandon the final test.
In 1893, barely 25 years old, Lodewijk Mortelmans won the first prize in Rome with his cantata Lady Macbeth.
In 1896 he traveled to Italy, met his friend Jean Delville, who guided him around Rome. There, in his mind, the sketch of a Homeric Symphony ripened. Still at Rome he wrote Treurmarsch from that symphony. His dream was to stay in Rome for a few years to complete his works, but regarding his marriage to Gabrielle Mortelmans (pianist) in 1894, and in the meantime having a first child, he returned home.

Jean Delville

* From the Art Book JEAN DELVILLE (1867-1953) Maître de l’idéal, published 2014
   after the exhibition in Musée Félicien-Rops :
Page 21: Jean vit son départ pour Rome comme une délivrance. Accompagné de sa femme et de ses deux fils, il réside à l’Académie belge. Là, il noue amitié avec le compositeur flamand Lodewijk Mortelmans, Prix de Rome de musique.
Pages 88-89: Jean Delville part pour l’Italie en mars 1896. Il se rend d’abord à Florence, où il séjourne peut-être chez Baltus, puis passe le printemps et l’été à Rome. Là, il se lie au compositeur Lodewijk Mortelmans, avec qui il projette de réaliser une symphonie homérique mêlant musique et peinture.
* From Privat family collecion:
A Ludovic Mortelmans
en souvenir de notre sympathique rencontre à Rome
21 mai 1896 - Jean Delville

Royal Flemisch Conservatory

On September 27th 1887, Mortelmans enrolled at the Royal Conservatory of Brussels for the piano class of De Greef and for the counterpoint course of Hubert Ferdinand Kufferath. The fact that Mortelmans wanted to perfect himself with Kufferath was clear with a view to participation in the Prix de Rome. After all, Kufferath had the reputation of being able to prepare young composers for this prestigious state prize for music. But Mortelmans had a hard time in Brussels - also because the Antwerp city council refused him a scholarship - and in September 1888 he left the Brussels Conservatory.
For the music school in Antwerp it was important to have a pupil who won the Prix de Rome as soon as possible to prove the level of education. So Mortelmans was under pressure to become Benoits first student who would win the prize. Yet Benoit was unaware that in 1889 he took his chance.
Mortelmans later testified: "Benoit advised me not to go, saying: 'you will get something, but it would be better to wait and to win the first prize'. But I replied that I did not think about getting something. but that I only wanted to experience how such a competition went. It is therefore beyond Benoit's knowledge that I went."
Benoit was right: Mortelmans had to content himself with a second prize shared with Paul Lebrun. It was Paul Gilson who won the first prize with his cantata Sinai. In 1891 he went for a second chance, but this time he gave up before the end of the preparatory test. He was ill and he also feared machinations from the jury.
1893 De deelnemers aan de Grote Prijs van RomeEventually, in 1893, he won the coveted prize with the cantata Lady Macbeth. For Mortelmans it was evident that he chose the Dutch text for his cantata: "I fully agree with Benoit that a work of art always has to translate the personal feelings and the highest impressions of the composer. This can only happen honestly when that artwork is inspired by the language itself in which the artist thinks. I did not hesitate for a moment to choose the Flemish text of Lady Macbeth for the Prize of Rome, even though it was a bad translation. This is not to say that I would never want to compose on a French text. I would only venture if this is absolutely in accordance with my harmonic principles."
After obtaining the Romeprice Mortelmans was overtaken in Antwerp as a true people's hero. His victory had a more than symbolic meaning in Benoit's struggle to raise his Music School to the Royal Conservatory. It is therefore no surprise that Mortelmans was prominently present during the festivities for the Royal Flemish Conservatory of Antwerp in 1897. For the party concert on September 12th 1897, Mortelmans conducted Benoits 'Feestzang’ and his own occasional work 'Homage to Peter Benoit'.
   © - Studiecentrum voor Vlaamse Muziek vzw - Jan Dewilde
   * Transl. from personal notes of Lodewijk Mortelmans :
   "This victory made Benoit very happy. He told Lodewijk Mortelmans : your victory will renovate our Conservatory. And this got confirmed. 4 years later (in 1897) the Antwerp Music School was elevated to 'Royal Flemisch Conservatory'".
..owned by the City of Antwerp since 1810, the complex served as a gendarmerie from 1810 to 1839, as a Royal Athenaeum from 1840 to 1884, and as an 'Antwerp Flemish Music School' from 1885 to 1968, the later Royal Flemish Conservatory of Antwerp...
Address : Sint-Jacobsmarkt 11, Antwerpen
website :
The Prix de Rome, better known by the French term "Prix de Rome", was an incentive prize for young artists in the disciplines of architecture, painting, sculpture, graphics and music. For this last discipline the prize was awarded between 1841 and 1973. For young composers, competing for the prize was often an important step in their career because it opened doors to a leading position in the music world. The candidates had to compose a cantata. All these cantatas were deposited at the Brussels Conservatory. The collection is particularly fascinating because, in addition to an overview of young, compositional promises in our country, it also gives an idea of the stylistic evolution and artistic criteria with which the jury assessed the candidates.
HERITAGE COLLECTIONS : © Erasmushogeschool Brussel 2018


Villa Medici RomaVilla Medici Rome
The Prix de Rome was installed in 1663 in France by Lodewijk XIV, after the foundation of the Académie Royale de Peinture et de Sculpture. It was a prestiguous and encouraging price for young french musicians and the first price was originaly a price money with a scholarship to Rome, where the winner could work for about four years at the Académie de France.
The Academy of France was housed in the Palazzo Capranica from 1666 till 1737, and then in the Palazzo Mancini from 1737 to 1793. In 1803 Louis Napoleon had the Academy moved to the Villa Medici. In 1968, and with the social movements at that time in France, the price was awarded for the last time.
Prix De Rome (Belgium) WinnersBooks LLC ® Memphis USA 2001
Later, other countries took over the Prix. After the separation of the Netherlands and Belgium in 1830, the belgian government awarded as from 1832 a belgian Prix de Rome for painting, sculpting, and architecture.
The belgian Prix de Rome for music composition existed from 1841 till 1973, founded by François-Joseph Fétis, and followed the french model.
There were concours for art painters, graphics, sculptors and architects (normally every discipline was to compete every three years), and -separatly- for musicians (every two years).
The Royal Academy of Fine Arts Antwerp organised his Prix de Rome till 1920, afterwards the national government took over. The first prize is also sometimes called the Grand Prix de Rome.
Academia Belgica RomaAcademia Belgica
Via Omero 8 (Valle Giulia) – 00197 Roma
The Academia Belgica is based at the borders of the Villa Borghese, where several other foreign academies and universities also are located.


The candidats, selected during a preparatory test (four voices and a choral work with orchestra), had to compose a cantate, an unscened opera, on given lyrics. For the execution, in Mortelmans' days, the candidats were granted 25 days. Later five additional days were added, and the isolation in the loge became thirty days. The price contained a scholarship, which allowed the winner to continue his studies abroad, in a art center of his choice.
Only surveyors, staff, and the secretary of the jury had the right to enter the loges of the competitors.
Contrary to the fears of Guillaume Lekeu, candidats could receive mail. The adressed package or newspaper were opened and checked by the guard of the loges before handed over.

Winners of the 'Belgian' Prix de Rome for Music Composition:

1st Price :
  1841 - Étienne Soubre - Sardanapale
  1844 - Félix-Étienne - Ledent
  1845 - Adolphe Samuel - La Vendetta
  1847 - François-Auguste Gevaert - Le Roi Lear
  1849 - Alexandre Stadtfeldt - Le songe du jeune Scipion
  1851 - Eduard Lassen
  1857 - Peter Benoit - Le Meurtre d'Abel
  1859 - Jean-Théodore Radoux - Le Juif errant
  1863 - Joseph Dupont - Paul et Virginie
  1865 - Gustave Huberti - La fille de Jephté
  1873 - Franz Servais - La mort du Tasse
  1877 - Edgar Tinel - De Klokke Roeland
  1879 - Sylvain Dupuis - Le Chant de la Création
  1889 - Paul Gilson - Sinaï
  1891 - Paul Lebrun - Andromède, op.11
  1893 - Lodewijk Mortelmans - Lady Macbeth
  1897 - Joseph Jongen - Comola
  1899 - François Rasse - Cloches nuptiales
  1901 - Adolphe Biarent - Oedipe à Colonne
  1903 - Albert Dupuis - La Chanson d'Halewyn
  1909 - Robert Herberigs - La Légende de Saint Hubert
  1913 - Léon Jongen - Les Fiancés de Noël
  1920 - René Barbier - Légende de la soeur Béatrice
  1921 - Fernand Quinet - La Guerre
  1927 - Alex De Taeye - Le Rossignol
  1929 - Georges Lonque, Antoine Van Ulft - Antigone
  1932 - Sylvain Vouillemain - L'enfant prodigue
  1933 - Prosper Van Eeckhaute
  1935 - René Defossez - Le vieux Soudard
  1937 - Léon Simar
  1945 - Marcel Quinet - La Vague et le Sillon
  1952 - René Driessen
  Painting :
  1895 - Jean Delville - Le Christ glorifié par les enfants
2nd Price :
  1845 - Léonard Terry
  1847 - Jacques-Nicolas Lemmens
  1851 - Jean-Baptiste Rongé
  1877 - MM Simart, de Paw
  1887 - Paul Lebrun - Les Suppliantes, Edmond Lapon
  1889 - Lodewijk Mortelmans, Paul Lebrun - Moïse au Sinaï
  1891 - Guillaume Lekeu - Andromède
  1895 - Joseph Jongen - Callirhoé
  1899 - Léon Henry
  1907 - Henri Sarly - mention
  1919 - René Barbier - Thijl Ulenspiegel
  1922 - Jean Absil - La Guerre
  1923 - Joseph Leroy (1894-1963) premier second prix
  1935 - Léon Simar (1909-1983)
  1943 - Pierre Froidebise - La Navigation d'Ulysse


Philibert Mees played Mortelmans in Rome

Philibert MeesPhilibert Mees (piano - 1929-2006)
In the years 1980 he travelled several times to Rome.
He gaved several concerts at the Academica Belgica playing also music of Lodewijk Mortelmans.

Homage to the Belgian Prize of Rome

22 - 29 OCTOBER  &  19 - 26 NOVEMBER 2009

Academia Belgica, Via Omero 8, 00197 ROMA
Academia Belgica - Brochure 2009GRAND PRIX DE ROME:
for the 70th anniversary of Academia Belgica (1939-2009) in collaboration with Royal Conservatories of Antwerp, Brussels and Gent
Program :
* Thursday 19 NOVEMBER 2009 - 19:30
Royal Conservatory of Gent
- Lodewijk Mortelmans : ‘t Avondt
* Thursday 29 OCTOBER 2009 - 19:30
Royal Conservatory of Brussels
- Lodewijk Mortelmans: 10 miniatures
   Full program: AGENDA 2009