BULTERYS Nini (1928-1989)
Nini Bulterys was born on the 20th of November, 1929 in Temse. As a child, she received music lessons from sacristan-organist Jozef D’Hooghe in Temse and piano lessons at her boarding school in Brussels. As a teenager, she took piano lessons from Godelieve Gorlé in Sint-Niklaas. In 1944, she began her piano studies with Yvonne Van den Berghe at the Belgian Music College in Antwerp, where she completed the advanced degree (vervolmakingsgraad) eight years later at the age of 23. At the Royal Conservatory of Antwerp, she then obtained first prizes in solfège (1954, with Marcel Slootmaeckers) and harmony (1955, Rosa Granjé). This was followed by first prizes in counterpoint (1957, Jean Louël) and fugue (1959, Jean Absil) at the Conservatoire Royal de Bruxelles. Under the encouragement of Jean Louël she also took her first steps in composition, and in 1962 she graduated with a degree in composition with the same Jean Louël at the Music Chapel Queen Elisabeth with the cantata Triomf van het bloed (text: Karel Jonckheere). Public recognition for her work was soon to follow. With the cantata Arion (text: Bert Decorte), she won a First Second Prize of Rome in 1963. Two years later, with her Symphony she became second laureate of the International Queen Elisabeth Music Competition, which also earned her the Pro Civitate Prize (Royal Flemish Academy of Belgium). Her Trio for piano, violin and cello (1961) was awarded the Emile Doehaerd Prize in 1969.
She began her professional career as a teacher of solfège and harmony, first at the municipal music school of Hamme, later also in Vilvoorde, Mechelen and Mol. As early as 1962, she was appointed as a teacher of solfège at the Antwerp Conservatory. In 1969 the harmony course was added and from 1970 until her early retirement (1987) she taught counterpoint and fugue. Numerous young composers visited her class, though not always for long: she had the reputation of being demanding and extremely strict, leaving little room for imagination. This approach seems to have been prompted by the rigid jury system that was at the time behind the First Prizes, and was possibly reinforced by the not particularly woman-friendly Zeitgeist against which she had to face as a professor of an important and prestigious subject. Lucien Posman, in particular, credits her as an important contributor to his development as a composer. He also worked for several years as her assistant for the subject of counterpoint and fugue.
Nini Bulterys died on 12 December 1989, a few weeks after her sixtieth birthday.
A significant part of Nini Bulterys’ oeuvre was created in the 1960s, during or shortly after her time as a student. This is the case, for instance, for her award-winning Trio for piano, violin and cello (1961). In the sleeve text for the later recording of the work, Hugo Heughebaert notes that ‘a certain influence of her teacher is still clearly recognisable in this score’, especially in the virtuoso, expressionist style, predominantly atonal writing and dense contrapuntal scoring. The Trio for piano, violin and cello is classical in structure. The first movement (Allegro risoluto) has essentially a sonata form, with a classical contrast between a rhythmically profiled first theme and a distinctly lyrical second theme. The second movement breaks down into an Adagio, in which a cantabile theme is set, an Allegro scherzando that sharply contrasts with it, and finally a third movement combining elements from the two previous movements. In the last movement of the Trio, Allegro giocoso e molto ritmico, speed, virtuosity and poignant hythm dominate, giving this movement a typical finale character. Bulterys’ musical textures are built in a very clear and recognisable fashion and are clearly delineated. Throughout the work, for instance, the clear alternation (for the violin and the cello) between canonic or fugal sections on the one hand, and sections in which the two strings play (quasi) homophonicly, on the other hand, is most striking.
Bulterys started composing relatively late and opted remarkably quickly for major forms. Her graduation from the Queen Elisabeth Music Chapel (with the cantata Triomf van het bloed, 1962) was quickly followed by a second cantata, Arion (1963), a piano concerto (1964), a concerto for two violins and orchestra (1964) and her first and only symphony (1965). The Symphony, which was awarded second prize in the Queen Elisabeth Competition for Composition of the same year, is considered exemplary of Bulterys’ work (Hugo Heughebaert, album note, s.d.). It is a concise composition – less than 25 minutes for four movements – with an expressionistic character. As in the Trio, rhythmically profiled motifs stand out, often with obstinate repetitions, and a thorough counterpoint. While she regularly appeals to the principles of twelve-tone music in shaping themes, she does not systematically apply the technique and the processing of the thematic material follows the classical procedures of motivic labour (Heughebaert, id.). In terms of form, the Symphony is classical in conception, both in terms of its major form and the layout of its individual movements. However, nowhere does the music ever feel like it has been pressed into a mould, rather the contrary: Bulterys seems to have cleverly and decisively chosen exactly the form that suits her expressive needs and writing style, leaning on the reassuring pillars of classical structures. The final movement (Allegro giocoso), for instance, is a closed rondo. The A section bursts with vitalistic energy and thus defines the main tone of the movement. Further on, however, the form also provides ample space for contrasting atmospheres and textures. The rondo form thus reflects the composer’s characteristic combination of drama and structural clarity. Equally strikingly inconspicuous is the finale (the last presentation of A) in fugal style: again, this is an unsurprising choice in itself, but it is perfectly consistent with Bulterys’ fondness for extensive use of counterpoint.
Like the Trio, the Symphony shows a composer in search of high levels of expressiveness. This desire for personal expression also becomes apparent in the use of her own texts, for instance in the song for voice and ensemble Er zullen altijd wolken zijn (“There will always be clouds”, s.d.). Nini Bulterys writes with skill and competence, but she does not seek musical innovation. In that respect, her aesthetics are very much in line with the spirit of the environment in which she was educated and later developed her professional life; a context in which originality and a personal style were indeed pursued, but where (radical) innovation was not encouraged.
As Nini Bulterys grew older, the large-scale works made room for more modest and religiously inspired music, such as a cappella songs and compositions for harmonium. Judging by the dated compositions, a time when she wrote little or no music lies between that first, very prolific period (roughly from 1960 to 1972) and her later work. However, the fact that several works are undated makes it impossible to precisely delineate the contours of that caesura. Her compositional output nevertheless seems to fall into two parts, one having little to do with the other, and between which an important shift in perspective must have taken place.
List of works
Compiled from the description of the score archive
Chronological list of dated works
De terugkeer van de krijgsgevangene (text: Marcel Coole), cantata for soli, koor en 2 piano’s (1959)
Quartet Concours ‘Prix de Rome’ 1959 (1959)
Sonate pour 2 violons et piano (1960)
Symfonische Beweging, for large orchestra (1960)
Trio for violin, cello and piano (1961)
Three a cappella choirs for mixed voices on Early Netherlandic poems (Hendrik van Veldeke) (1961)
Concerto for piano and orchestra (1961)
Quatuor pour deux violons, alto et violoncello (1962)
De Triomf van het Bloed (text: Karel Jonckheere), cantate for large choir, soli and orchestra (1962)
Arion (text: Bert Decorte), cantate for soli, choirs and two piano’s (1963)
Concerto for piano and orchestra (1963)
Concerto for twee violins and orchestra (1964), also arranged for violin and orchestra
De Yadefluit (text: Gaston Burssens), song cycle for hign voice piano (also transcribed for bass) (1965)
Vocalise nr. 3, for bariton and piano (1970)
Rondo for violin and piano (1972)
String Quartet (1972)
Gebed tot Maria (1987)
Wees gegroet (1987)
Kerstlied: in gebed tot het kindje Jezus (1987)
Heer, onze Heer (1987)
Gebed: verenigd in Jezus en Maria, op het feest van de H. Lucia (1987)
Danklied: in dankbaar gebed tot de Heer (1987)
Lied tot Maria (1988)
O sanctissima, for mixed vocal quartet (1988)
Adeste fideles (1988)
Ik groet u: in gebed verenigd met Maria (1988)
Lied tot Sint-Jozef (1988)
28 pieces for harmonium (1988)
Works sine dato, in alphabetical order
Er zullen altijd wolken zijn (text: Nini Bulterys), song for voice and ensemble (wind quintet + string quintet)
God zij geloofd (cycle)
Heer, help mij (text: P. Martens)
Heer, ik roep naar U (text: P. Martens)
Timpe tompe tiereluit
Flavie Roquet: Lexicon Vlaamse Componisten geboren na 1800, Roeselare: Roularta Books, 2007
Devos, Liesbeth, ‘Nini Bulterys’, Master thesis KVMC (unpublished), 2005
‘In memoriam Nini Bulterys’, in: Vlaanderen, jg. 39, nr. 232, Tielt, 1990, p. 323
‘Nini Bulterys: prijs Emiel Doehaerd’, in: Vlaanderen, jg. 18, nr. 103, Tielt, 1969, p. 455-6
Trio for piano, violin and cello, on LP
N. Bulterys – I. Ceulemans – A. Delvaux, Alpha (DBM-V 187), 1973
Symphony, op LP
Hedendaagse Belgische Muziek – Musique Belge Contemporaine, Jacqueline Fontyn – Nini Bulterys, Cultura (5071-5). Performers: Belgian National Orchestra, dir. Daniël Sternefeld
To be consulted here.
In addition, several recordings are available from the archive of the VRT (Flemish Radio and Television)
The work of Nini Bulterys is unpublished. Her archive is kept by the library of the Royal Conservatoire of Antwerp.
Texts by Rebecca Diependaele