André Laporte: colourful, curious and involved

The éminence grise of contemporary Belgian music is celebrating his birthday

This November , the Flemish branch of the International Society for Contemporary Music (ISCM) was celebrating the 90th birthday of its honorary member André Laporte. Composer, musicologist, teacher and philosopher Laporte, tireless promoter of contemporary Belgian music, is clearly in the mood. Time for a chat.

By Wynold Verweij

“From an early age I have been involved with modern classical music,” says Laporte. “It started very early on with my grandfather’s clarinet. After learning to play it myself, I introduced the instrument into the Oplinter brass band, which suddenly gave their music a jazzy character. At the time, I listened to Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue on the radio at home (brand: His Master’s Voice), and there you have it. When I studied at the Lemmens Institute in Mechelen in the 1950s, my organ teacher Flor Peeters gave me many modern pieces, varying from Maurice Duruflé via Ernst Pepping to Olivier Messiaen. But in those days I was most interested in the work of Paul Hindemith. That did not come naturally. Before that time, I had studied just about everything by Richard Wagner. And with three fellow students, I hitchhiked to Bayreuth to experience the Festspiele there. Herbert von Karajan, then 44 years old, conducted Tristan und Isolde. But we also listened to the Ring des Nibelungen and Parsifal. Unforgettable. After that I cared much less for Wagner and opted for the coolness of Hindemith”.

“From an early age I have been involved with modern classical music,” says Laporte. “It started very early on with my grandfather’s clarinet. After learning to play it myself, I introduced the instrument into the Oplinter brass band, which suddenly gave their music a jazzy character. At the time, I listened to Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue on the radio at home (brand: His Master’s Voice), and there you have it. When I studied at the Lemmens Institute in Mechelen in the 1950s, my organ teacher Flor Peeters gave me many modern pieces, varying from Maurice Duruflé via Ernst Pepping to Olivier Messiaen. But in those days I was most interested in the work of Paul Hindemith. That did not come naturally. Before that time, I had studied just about everything by Richard Wagner. And with three fellow students, I hitchhiked to Bayreuth to experience the Festspiele there. Herbert von Karajan, then 44 years old, conducted Tristan und Isolde. But we also listened to the Ring des Nibelungen and Parsifal. Unforgettable. After that I cared much less for Wagner and opted for the coolness of Hindemith”.

Grandfather Laporte’s clarinet

In the 1960s Laporte also came into contact with the music of Schoenberg, Stravinsky and Berg. Between 1960 and 1964 he participated annually in the famous Internationale Ferienkurse in Darmstadt and later in the Kurse für Neue Musik in Cologne. There he got to know leading figures such as Pierre Boulez, Bruno Maderna, Luciano Berio and Karlheinz Stockhausen.

Laporte: “Darmstadt had a great influence on my compositional path. There was a chamber orchestra that alternately was conducted by Boulez and Maderna and gave performances of new work. I listened with red ears to Berio’s lectures on his work for female voice with accompaniment. Stockhausen analysed his orchestral work Gruppen. I also met the clarinettist Hans Deinzer there, who asked me to write a piece for him. For clarinet, because there was not enough new material for that instrument at that time. That piece, Sequenza I, has been performed thousands of times all over the world, especially by the Belgian clarinettist Walter Boeykens.”.

In 1988 you became a composition teacher at the Royal Conservatory in Brussels. What did you want to bring to your students?

Laporte: “I only took on students who were already composing. The reason is that you cannot teach someone who is not already composing to compose. That does not exist. It has to come from you, you have to have the gift. I had nine or ten students who produced interesting work before they came to me. I then built on that. I told them which compositions they had to listen to and study the scores.

I was working at the Belgian Radio and Television company at the time and had piles of recordings at my disposal. Later, when I was artistic director of the BRTN Philharmonic Orchestra, I would occasionally have a piece that one of them had written for a special occasion, like Christmas, performed by that orchestra. That way, young, promising composers were given a platform. Apart from that, I left everyone free. I never told them to compose like me. I never showed them my scores, for that matter.”.

What about the legendary cold feet people feel of contemporary classical music? Is there any sign of improvement?

Laporte: “No, the situation has worsened. When I started at the then BRT in 1978, the broadcaster had five orchestras: a large symphony orchestra of 93 musicians, then a chamber orchestra of around forty musicians, a jazz orchestra of sixteen, a variety orchestra and a radio choir. It is all gone, all done. Television idem. At the time, complete operas from La Monnaie were regularly broadcast on TV, including my opera Das Schloss. Now nothing. In the newspapers, too, the number of reviews of classical concerts has drastically declined. New classical works by Wim Henderickx, Luc Van Hove and others are hardly heard on the radio, let alone on TV.”.

In 1972, together with Herman Sabbe, you founded a new Belgian branch of the International Society for Contemporary Music (ISCM), in which you were active until 2007. Why is the ISCM important?

Laporte: “It’s all about the international contacts. The aim was to promote Belgian composers abroad. The annual festivals, at which new work is presented, are the highlight. The fact that the ISCM brings together composers from all over the world and makes their works heard creates an international bond. I have attended twenty festivals all over the world, from China, via Belgium to Boston. The ISCM is purely a promotional tool. I do have to say that there used to be more international interest in music, there was a lot more travelling and getting to know each other.”.

You have been retired for a while now. What place does music have with you nowadays?

Laporte: “I wrote my last composition in 2018: the motet Venite et videte for four-voices mixed choir, which was performed in 2020, in honour of the reopening of St Peter’s Church in Leuven, among other things.  Now I improvise on the piano or play inventions by Bach. Don’t forget that at the Lemmens Institute I was brainwashed with fugue and counterpoint.

I have played all the great Bach works. He is one of the most complete musicians there has ever been in history. Bach is a phenomenon that cannot be explained.

Bach is and remains an example to me.”.

WHAT: André Laporte 90! Birthday party Wednesday 17 November 2021, 17h00. Royal Conservatory of Brussels. Participation is free of charge. Info: https://matrix-new-music.be/nl/kalender/andre-laporte-90/

BOOK: Onvermijdelijk beeldend. Autobiography by André Laporte with Yves Knockaert (final editing), in Dutch. Price € 49.90, published by Stichting Kunstboek, ISBN 978-90-5856-665-2

André Laporte – bio

1931    Born in Oplinter on 12 July.

1949    Start of studies at the Lemmens Institute in Mechelen with Edgard de Laet, Flor Peeters (organ) and Marinus De Jong (piano, counterpoint, fugue).

1952    Journey to Bayreuth, interest in Wagner.

1953    Philosophy and musicology KU Leuve.

            Teacher of musical education and aesthetics, St Thomas Institute, Brussels

            Composed his first pieces under the influence of Hindemith and Bartók.

1960    Internationale Ferienkurse in Darmstadt (yearly until 1964).

1963    Employed by the BRT, successively producer, programme coordinator and production manager of the BRTN Philharmonic Orchestra (1989).

1964    Kurse für Neue Musik in Cologne (also in 1965).

1968    Teacher in “New Techniques” at the Royal Conservatory of Brussels.

1988    Teacher in composition at the Royal Conservatory of Brussels (until 1996).

1972    Foundation of a new Belgian branch of the International Society for Contemporary Music (ISCM), together with Herman Sabbe. Later president.



Member of the Royal Academy of Sciences, Literature and Fine Arts of Belgium. Besides the Lemmens-Tinel Prize, he won the Prix Italia in 1976 with his oratorio La Vita non è sogno. His Kafka opera Das Schloss, created at La Monnaie in December 1986, had its German premiere in 1991 at the Saarländisches Staatstheater in Saarbrücken.Laporte was a visiting professor at the Orpheus Institute in 2001-2002. In 2003 he received the Visser-Neerlandia-Prize. André Laporte was appointed an honorary member of the ISCM in 2006. He received the Klara Career Prize in 2013.

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