Kristin De Smedt was born in Asse on 12 October 1959. After initial studies at the academy in Asse, she completed her musical education at the Royal Conservatory in Brussels. She began her studies there by combining an instrument (violin) with theoretical subjects, but subsequently concentrated completely on the written disciplines: harmony with Peter Cabus and counterpoint and fugue with Rafaël D’Haene. Besides the diplomas that she has earned, De Smedt has been distinguished with a number of awards, including the Gevaert Prize for fugue, the Horlait-Dapsens Prize and the Marguerite Koenigsberg Prize for music history. She continued her studies, earning a meestergraad in composition and the composition diploma in the class of composer Rafaël D’Haene. As a composer, Kristin De Smedt won the composition prize of the Royal Flemish Academy for Sciences and Arts of Belgium in 1999, for her String Quartet (1998). For a number of years, she has been a teacher of written harmony at the Academy for Music, Word and Dance in Sint-Niklaas, and of composition at the Lemmens Institute in Leuven. Since 1985 she has taught harmony, counterpoint and fugue at the Royal Conservatory in Brussels, where she has also taught composition and coordinator of the composition department. Many of her compositions are regularly heard on major concert programs. Her work has been premiered as part of Ars Musica and in other prestigious concert cycles.
It is not unusual for a student of composition to show affinities with the stylistic notions of his or her teacher. This is certainly true when that teacher is a composer as renowned as Rafaël D’Haene. Although De Smedt’s oeuvre is not yet extensive, it is already clear that, like D’Haene, she is responding to the rapid evolution of this century by showing a respect for tradition. In her work there are obvious influences of Bach, Beethoven, Berg and other composers of the past. The contact with the complete history of music is thus a constant in her compositions.
This trait is clearly evident in her one-movement String Quartet (1998). In terms of its form and development, this work is rooted in the classical quartet tradition (Beethoven, Bartok, Berg,…), but nonetheless reveals a striving for personal expression and a contemporary sound idiom. Although the work is also inspired by the cyclical conception of César Franck, it is noticeable that the main ideas not only contrast strongly with one another, but are continually being varied. A first energetic main idea begins the composition, after which various episodes and developmental phases lead to a capriccioso theme. This is followed by a lyrical Andante Cantabile with a singing melody first played by the first violin and then taken over by the other strings. The following, connected movement is a development in which the various motifs are worked out in terms of shading and character. For example, an expressive motif is reworked into a vital and playful motif. A tumultuous coda concludes the work.
In her Sinfonia per organo (1990), too, De Smedt harks back to classical ideals of beauty, by both striving for something of a synthesis of different classical forms from organ literature and highlighting the orchestral possibilities of the instrument. She has gone in search of ideas that reflect the specificity of classical forms. By way of illustration: she sets the homophonic style of the chorale next to the highly contrapuntal setting of the fugue; or she confronts several themes with a dialoguing character from the sonata with typical elements from the passacaglia. In addition, motifs and elements are required as material for divertimenti and transitional passages. In structural terms, the work is one whole, the various movements of which flow into one another, as it were. In the introduction, it is mainly the chorale phrase that sets the tone, while the central movement is generally worked out according to the sonata structure. Finally, after a ricercare-like passage, there is a final section with an improvisatory character around a strict first theme of the sonata form. The work is concisely structured and draws on the mainstream organ tradition. The whole forms a sound-based orchestral work in which De Smedt attempts to bring the different facets of the instrument to the fore.
Besides musical tradition, De Smedt experiences art and literature as a source of inspiration. The orchestral work Tableaux Sonores (2001), for instance, is based on paintings by James Ensor. In songs, the text or the poetry itself will of course form the source of inspiration. Although De Smedt continues to use her own language, the eloquence of the text can be the guiding principle. This is the case in her choral work Stimmungen (2002). The work consists of 2 songs on a text by Conrad Ferdinand Meyer. In the first poem, a fountain in Rome is described in an 8-line poem. The fountain consists of a marble sculpture with 3 scales, one above the other, over which the fountain cascades. The musical equivalent of this verse begins with a broadly moving melody which both evokes a Renaissance mood and carries a rhythmic energy created by continuously rising initial intervals. Flowing rhythmic figures, sudden changes of tempo and dynamic shading illustrate the sparkling quality and continuity of the action. Just as Meyer in his poem expresses the eternal circulation of the water, the song ends in the mood of its beginning, giving the sense that it is eternally starting afresh. The second poem is one of Meyer’s love poems. The romantic and more intimate atmosphere is musically depicted through the subtle use of timbre of the women’s and men’s voices.
De Smedt’s compositions are comprised of a number of parameters from the classical tradition, reworked into a formal concept that is nonetheless contemporary. Atonality in all its aspects plays a large role in the harmonic language of her works, thus embedding the classical ideal of beauty in a modern sound idiom.
List of works
Vocal: Songs on texts by Guido Gezelle (1989); Songs on texts by Paul Van Ostaijen (1994); Canzone (1997); Stimmungen (2002); Diamanten wandern… (2004)
Keyboard: Sinfonia per organo (1990)
Chamber music: Dialogo for violin and violoncello (1988); Impulsion for viola and piano (1996); Strijkkwartet (1998)
Orchestra: Landschap (1994); Tableaux Sonores (after James Ensor) (2001)
CeBeDeM (from 1951 to 2015)
Texts by Ines Swartenbroek
Last update: 2005