15 17 Oct '24

Frédéric Devreese's music appeals to the imagination

Jdb filmfestival 2019 29 of 51 1
Stories 30 Sep 2020
Film Fest Ghent commemorates Frédéric Devreese, who died at 91, a festival friend and a fascinating composer who mastered both film and classical music.

The death of Frédéric Devreese not only means that Belgium lost his father of film music, Film Fest Ghent also loses a lifelong festival friend and an ambassador. He was awarded multiple times and received a Lifetime Achievement Award at the WSA last year on the occasion of his ninetieth birthday. His elaborate, rich, sharp and intellectual yet accessible scores will outlive him for a long time. They enriched every film he ever worked on. André Delvaux would most definitely agree.

Spiritual Father

The tandem Devreese-Delvaux has been compared several times with the collaboration between Federico Fellini and Nino Rota. Devreese himself fed this comparison by citing Nino Rota as his example and inspiration. But in the interview book Moving Music, which was published by Film Fest Ghent, André Delvaux regarded him as "his spiritual father because he always brought out the best in me". The two met in the early 1960s at the BRT. At the time, Devreese was working on the TV opera "Willem van Saeftinge" for which he was awarded the Prix Italia in 1964 while André Delvaux shot De man die zijn haar kort liet knippen, based on the novel by Johan Daisne.

Musical Feeling

It was the beginning of a fruitful collaboration, although Devreese sometimes had the impression that he did not need to write music for Delvaux. The Belgian director had a strongly developed musical feeling and took the score into account when writing his script. Everything seemed predetermined. For the dance of death at the end of Un soir, un train, Delvaux had already written the text. All he had to do was compose the melody. Nevertheless, the tango from Un soir, un train and the Benvenuta Suite, which was performed at the WSA last year, are among Devreese's best works. However, fragments from, say, L'oeuvre au noir for which he received the Joseph Plateau Prize in 1988 in Ghent, are equally wonderful.


Before he met André Delvaux, Frédéric Devreese, born in Amsterdam on the 2nd of June in 1929, had already gone through a variety of musical journeys. He received his first musical training from his father Godfrey, who was also a composer and regularly accompanied silent films with music. He studied composition in Rome and learned to conduct in Vienna with Hans Swarowski. Hence, classical music held no secrets for him. And the jazzy, Gershwin-like influences in his compositions are due to American soldiers who played the piano with the Devreese family during the war years. He never lost the rhythm and modernism of jazz.


Before he joined the BRT in 1958, Devreese worked on a documentary about the painter Paul Klee. These were his first steps into the world of film. In 1958, the year of the Expo, he was responsible for the broadcast of the famous world exhibition, but was particularly concerned with sonorization. He had to provide existing programs with a new soundtrack and, in his own words, made it “a matter of honour to never use obvious music”.


He always came to the foreground as a generous man to the youth. He was conductor of the Belgian youth orchestra and supported the once famous Tenuto competitions for young talent. Young filmmakers could always turn to him. The most striking example of this is Lieven Debrauwer knocking on his door for the music of his film Pauline and Paulette. Which brings us to the other directors he collaborated with. For La partie d'échecs by Yves Hanchar, he received the Georges Delerue Award for Best Soundtrack/Sound Design in 1994 at Film Fest Ghent. Marion Hänsel called on Devreese for Les noces barbares and for Il Maestro. After being rejected by the BRT for the Eurosong festival, Devreese gave his song to Hugo Claus for The Sacrament. His last film score dates from 2003 for Meine Name ist Bach by Dominique de Rivaz.

Cultural icon

Devreese always composed for a small ensemble for budgetary reasons. But later on, he usually reworked his suites for a large orchestra, which he preferred to conduct himself: “because then you remain in control over the interpretation of your work. If you conduct yourself, you have more control over this creative process”.

Over the years, Frédéric Devreese along with his wife Annie De Clerck have become a cultural icon. Together, they were familiar faces in the cultural sector and of course in the world of classical music. Devreese himself denounced the distinction between film and classical music and could hardly bear condescending discourses on film music. Piano was probably his favourite instrument and at the age of 19, he won the first prize in Ostend with his Concerto No. 1 for piano and orchestra. It opened the gate to Rome and Vienna.


His Concerto no. 4 for piano and orchestra is perhaps best known as it was the compulsory work at the 1983 Queen Elisabeth competition. He also wrote a violin concerto, a symphony, two operas, choral music and ballet suites including the delightful Gemini on the occasion of the tenth birthday of the Flanders Ballet. According to experts, he always evokes an exceptional world that appeals to the imagination.


According to FFG music director and conductor Dirk Brossé, Frédéric Devreese would have been world famous if he had lived in the US. On the occasion of Devreese's death, maestro Dirk Brossé declared to the VRT that “Devreese had a very personal, intense style, which touched upon the collective memory, with a clear outline and melody. He used popular forms such as the waltz or the tango. But there was always a melancholic, dark side to his music”. We would not be able to formulate it more accurately. May he rest in peace.

Raf Butstraen

Stay up to date, subscribe to our newsletter

Would you like to stay up to date about festival news, composers, awards, and our programme?