Hanssens, Charles-Louis


Karel Lodewijk Hanssens jr. (° Ghent 12-7-1802 - † Brussels 8-4-1871)

Karel Lodewijk originates from a musical family of 13 children. His father Josephus and his uncle Karel Lieven Jozef Hanssens Sr. were both soloists in orchestras in the Netherlands and in Belgium. 

Being the son and the nephew of excellent musicians, Karel Lodewijk turned out to have a great affinity with music from an early age. As an autodidact, he has never had a teacher, as he himself once said: “...I have never studied, except in the works of Reicha”. 

In 1812 his parents moved to Amsterdam. He was barely 10 years old when he became second cellist at the National Theatre. His first compositions date from as early as 1816. At the age of 19 he married the Dutch Jacqueline Devries. They had 5 children, most of which died very early. 

In 1825 he became second cellist at the theatre “La Monnaie” in Brussels. In 1827 he was appointed professor of harmony, counterpoint and composition at the newly established “Ecole royale de Musique” in Brussels. His sympathies for the Dutch regime in 1830 forced him to leave the country. After a short stay in the Netherlands, he returned to Brussels in 1832 where he founded the music society “La Société du Beau-Site”.

In 1833, Karel Lodewijk became first cellist and later second concert master at the “Théâtre Ventadour” in Paris. The bankruptcy of this theatre forced him to return to the Netherlands, where for a few months he was teacher at the French Opera of The Hague. Back in Paris, the unemployed Hanssens composed a.o. a clarinet concertino, dedicated to the Brussels clarinettist Frederic Franck, and a violin concerto, dedicated to the Ghent violin player Theodore Hauman.

In 1837, the clarinettist Joseph Blaes, to whom the second clarinet concertino was dedicated, found Hanssens in the greates hardship. Through the intervention of Fétis, he received a commission from the Belgian government to write a requiem mass. Today this mass is considered a revelation, which enjoys a renewed interest.

Hanssens became second concert master at the “Concerts du Casino Paganini” in Paris. However, shortly afterwards this theatre had to close down. 

Early 1838 he returned to his hometown of Ghent. His only income resulted from some private teaching activities. Yet his life became less nomadic and more stable. He formed an orchestra and became director of the “Société des Concerts du Casino”. 

These concerts soon achieved an excellent reputation, and thanks to Hanssens they became famous all over Europe. Karel Lodewijk took this opportunity to insert a lot of his own compositions in the concerts and festivals. 

From 1840 he held the position of concert master at the Opera. He founded the chamber music society “Réunion Artistiqué and cooperated with the “Société des Choeurs”, the “Société des Mélomanes” and the Conservatory. In 1840, Karel Lodewijk became the first Belgian composer elected foreign honorary member of the Congregation and Academy of Composers and Music Teachers of Rome, and became a permanent jury member of the composition competition for the “Prix de Rome”. Since 1844 he also conducted the concerts of the “Société royale de la Grande-Harmonie” in Brussels.

In 1845 he left his hometown for good to live in Brussels where the same year he became a member of the Music Section of the “Académie royale des Sciences, des Lettres et des Beaux-Arts de Belgique”. In 1846 he founded the filantropic “Association des Artistes-Musiciens de Bruxelles”. Being the conductor of the “Waux-Hall Concerts” , he became a dedicated promotor for the Flemish music. In 1847, Hanssens became general music director of the “Vlaemsch-Duitsch Zangverbond. From 1847 until the outbreak of the Franco-Prussian war in 1869 he was concert master at “La Monnaie”.

Karel Lodewijk Hanssens sacrificed his entire life to music: he composed, conducted and taught. His most important pupils include Peter Benoit, Henri Vieuxtemps, Verhulst and Waelput. Being an energetic promotor, he has brought a remarkable development in the artistic life of Belgium. Karel Lodewijk Hanssens Jr., however, died a bitter man: “Jamais de satisfaction, jamais de repos...” (“Never satisfied, never taking a break...”.)

His Compositions:

The accumulation of many posts has not kept Hanssens from composing. He wrote ouvertures, symphonies, fantasies and arragements for harmony band, concertos, chamber music, cantatas, oratorios, masses, a requiem, choral works, romances, operas, ballets, and some theoretical writings.

His oeuvre is imbued with a romantic German influence. Great was his love for the Germanic heritage, with Beethoven as his ultimate example. This was not only reflected in the choice of his repertory pieces: his own musical ideas were greatly inspired by it. He was called the ‘Belgian Meyerbeer’ and the ‘Beethoven of the Netherlands’. Benoit saw him as a forerunner of the Flemish music movement and Samuel acknowledged him as “the only real important composer”. 

Both his concertinos for clarinet and orchestra are a clear example of virtuosity full of brilliant romance, including a flawless technique and a balanced structure for which Hanssens found his inspiration by his contemporaries (there is som affinity with Weber...). The manuscripts are silent witnesses of his Flemish musical talent. Apart from some lost works, most manuscripts are kept in the Conservatories of Brussels and Ghent. 

It is the merit of the renowned Flemish clarinettists Freddy Arteel and Eddy Vanoosthuyse to have made the Hanssens’ clarinet compositions available to both musicians and audiences. They initiated the publication with piano accompaniment of these pieces, as well as a CD-recording:

- Concertino nr. 1 for clarinet and orchestra (1836) 

- Concertino nr. 2 for clarinet and orchestra (1837)

- Solo de clarinette for clarinet and orchestra (1843)

Dr. Roos Van Driessche

wetenschappelijk bibliothecaris Conservatorium Gent (Hogeschool Gent)

voorzitter CaGeWeB vzw www.cageweb.be.