Creating a Belgian Violin School

  • Richard Sutcliffe

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


The Belgian Violin School was born just a few years after Belgium became an independent country. This school of playing trained some of the most important soloists, orchestral musicians, and teachers of the 19th and early 20th centuries. Nevertheless, in present day parlance it is rarely referred to as an independent school but rather as part of the Franco-Belgian Violin School. In order to ascertain the individual nature and identity of the 19th-century Belgian Violin School we need to pose the following questions:
• What role did nationalism play in the administrative and artistic choices taken in forming the Belgian Violin School?
• What were the pedagogical approaches of its proponents and how did they view their own contributions?
• What were its artistic ideals, not only as expounded by its teachers and performers, but as perceived by the public and its critics?

This study will focus on the formative period of 1834 to 1870, which corresponds to the directorship of François-Joseph Fétis at the Brussels Conservatoire. The rich archival collection of the Brussels Conservatoire, along with the numerous publications of the four principal violin teachers of this period (Wéry, Meerts, de Bériot, and Léonard), are supplemented with published and unpublished writings by the teachers themselves, contemporary criticism, and literature. The administrative archive reveals the strong influence of the Belgian government in forming a national school of violin playing. Producing new national products was of utmost importance to the young country, particularly in the field of the arts. In this respect, Belgium was struggling to liberate itself from France, its neighbour, former ruler, linguistic and cultural cousin, and the centre of the European musical world.

The intention of this study lies not only in the valorisation of Belgian musical heritage in the greater picture of 19th-century Europe, but also in the practical application of violin playing techniques, in particular bowing techniques, which are no longer in the present-day violinists’ vocabulary. Additionally, this study confronts the stark contrast which exists between the goals and culture of 19th-century Belgian conservatoires and those of today.
Date of Award28 Jul 2023
Original languageEnglish
SupervisorDavid Milsom (Main Supervisor) & Steven Jan (Co-Supervisor)

Cite this