Saturday, September 29, 2012


Belgium is home to several famous classical composers, singers, and musicians. One of the most famous composers is César Franck. Actually, his name is César-Auguste-Jean-Guillaume-Hubert Franck. (Whew, did I leave anyone out? I can see why he just went by César.)  He was born in Liège, which was then part of the Netherlands. He later moved to Paris, where he was a professor and renowned organist. He was particularly known for his skills in improvising. He’s probably best known for his many organ works, a shorter work called Panis Angelicus, and the Violin Sonata in A Major, M. 8.

Another composer that was likely born in the Flanders region is Heinrich Isaac.  He’s best known for one of my favorite pieces of lied “Innsbruck, ich muss dich lassen.” I sang this piece when I was in middle school, and it’s one of my favorites to this day.

A contemporary of Heinrich Isaac is Josquin des Prez. Anyone who has studied Renaissance music has probably heard of Josquin des Prez. (I know I have those many years ago as a music major.) He’s often thought of as being the father of polyphonic vocal music, that is, having more than one melodic line. (The Albanians who I covered earlier were also famous for their vocal polyphonic music.) While he wrote many different kinds of masses and is probably best known for them, he also wrote many chanson as well. One of the pieces I’ve known for years and sung in middle school as well is the piece “El Grillo.”

Belgium also has a great tradition in jazz and blues. In fact, one of the instruments that is now mostly heard in jazz and blues – the saxophone – was invented by a Belgian, Adolphe Sax. Another famous jazz musician is none other than Toots Thielemans. He started out on guitar, but really made a name for himself as one of the greatest harmonica players of the 20th century, as well as his whistling abilities. Americans may not realize it, but he’s famous here, too: for whistling the melody in the Old Spice cologne commercials. 

One of my favorite musicians – first introduced to me by my younger sister when we were in high school – is Django Reinhardt. (I actually wanted to name our son Django, but my husband wouldn’t let me.) 

His style of playing reminds me some of the stylings of the late, great Les Paul, whom I had the honor of watching perform in New York City in January 2000. I got to shake his hand at the end and he gave me a kiss on the cheek. I saw an interview with Les Paul, and he said he was in awe of Django's playing and wished he could play half as well as he. I think he certainly does. RIP, Les. 

Sorry, the quality of the photo is bad. But this is me with Les Paul, Jan 2000 at the Iridium Club in NYC. See, I'm not lying. 
As far as popular music goes, my Spotify playlist is huge. Belgium has a ton of indie rock groups, which is good for me since I love indie rock. And what I've noticed is that the vast majority of these bands sing in English. Not sure why that is (marketing, perhaps?), but at least I can understand it. Not that the language a group sings in ever stopped me from liking them. Among the ones I like are Zita Swoon, Admiral Freebee, Absinthe Minded, Das Pop, Zornik, and Hooverphonic. I did find one punk rock band that caught my attention called Janez Detd. I’m still debating on buying the album; I like many of their songs off the album “Killing Me.” Even though they were listed as a punk rock group, and many of their songs did sort of remind me of a late-1990s Offspring-sound, there were also several of their songs that sort of reminded me of more of a Linkin Park sound. I could definitely see them performing on The Warped Tour. 

When it comes to dance, the vast majority of my searches conjured up information on the dance club scene. Electronica, house music, trance, and dance music are highly popular in Belgium, which makes me think I’d fit in nicely. I did have to laugh, because one of the most popular groups was the Belgian group Technotronic. Their songs “Pump Up the Jams” and “Move This” became international hits and fan favorites at my middle school dances and on my mixtapes.

However, folk dancing is pretty popular in and around Belgium, and even in areas where many Belgians moved away to, like Canada and the eastern US. In Belgium and other countries, there are dance troops where they will gather in traditional costume to keep up the folk dancing traditions.

Up next: The Food!

No comments:

Post a Comment