indexThe patron's musicianscategories

Nicolas-Jacques Lemmens

Zoele-Parwijs, Belgium 1823 - Sempst Près Malines, Belgium 1881

Organ professor at the Brussels conservatory.

The son of a village organist, sexton and teacher, Lemmens climbed all the rungs of the musical world. He was a protégé of Fétis, musicologist, and head of the Brussels Conservatory which he had "created" during the 1840s to renew the art of the organ playing in Belgium. (The German organ builder, Merklin, who was established in Brussels, ensured a simultaneous renewal of the instrument before becoming Cavaillé-Coll's main rival in Paris from 1855).

In addition to a strong musical personality, Lemmens had the distinction of having perfected his skills - still at the instance of Fétis - at Breslau under the German, Hesse, who, because of the death of the famous Rinck, was seen as the keeper of the J.S. Bach tradition. Today, musicology has determined that this relationship existed much more on paper than in an active musical aesthetic.

A devout Catholic, and therefore not at all inclined to adopt completely the "Protestant" style of a Bach, Lemmens certainly asked for nothing else but to conquer the musical world with virtuoso playing which, nonetheless, was dominated by that polyphonic control of all the voices, the greatest legacy left by the German master. He dazzled the Paris musical world with his concerts at Saint-Vincent de Paul in 1852, establishing his reputation as a true "modern classicist".

Like Lefébure-Wely he was to marry a singer, the famous English singer, Helen Sherrington, and spent a good part of his career in his wife's country. But, above all, he was known as an organ professor at the Brussels Conservatory, where he taught top students and, on the express initiative of Mr. Cavaillé-Coll, the best young French talent - Alexandre Guilmant, Charles-Marie Widor… - to polish their technical and aesthetic skills. (Cavaillé would have liked Lemmens to settle in Paris, but he obviously wanted to remain free; besides he had not had a big church appointment).

So, Cavaillé-Coll's genius was evident well beyond his actual works, for not only did he have vision with regard to sound, he also had a very specific idea of the artist who would show it to advantage.

back to top of page