LEGLEY Victor (1915-1994)

Victor Legley was born in Hazebrouck on 18 June 1915 and died in Oostende on 28 November 1994. He received his first music lessons – in viola, harmony and counterpoint – with Lionel Blomme in Ypres. In 1935 he began his full-time musical education at the Royal Conservatory in Brussels, where he earned first prizes in viola, chamber music, counterpoint and fugue. From 1936 to 1948 he played viola in the Symphony Orchestra of what was then the NIR (National Broadcasting Corporation). On the advice of fellow violist Gérard Ruymen, he began to take lessons in composition with Jean Absil in 1941, a study that was rewarded in 1943 with the Second Rome Prize. After the war he played in the orchestra of the opera in Brussels and in the Déclin Quartet, in which he became acquainted with the music of Bartók and Schönberg. In 1947, he became a progammer for the NIR, and then advisor-department head for “serious music” and for the third programme of the Flemish radio broadcasts. In this function, he attempted to promote contemporary music and Belgian composers in particular. From 1948 to 1950 he was a teacher at the Municipal Conservatory in Leuven. In 1949 he was named professor of harmony at the conservatory in Brussels and in 1956 professor of composition and analysis at the Muziekkapel Koningin Elisabeth. He held both functions until 1979. In 1965 Legley became a member of the Royal Academy of Belgium and was its chairman until 1972. He was also the author of numerous articles for the proceedings of the Royal Academy for Sciences, Letters and Fine Arts of Belgium. Legley was chairman of SABAM (the authors’ rights association) from 1980 to 1992, and of the Union of Belgian Composers from 1986 to 1990. He has also often served as jury-member or chairman at international competitions, such as the Queen Elisabeth Competition, the Verviers International Competition of Lyrical Song, and the Bösendorfer-Empire International Piano Competition. In 1986 he was appointed officer of the Order of Leopold. The Vrije Universiteit Brussel granted him an honorary doctorate in 1987. In addition, he has received a great many prizes and distinctions, both for specific works and for his complete oeuvre. He has also represented Belgium at various foreign festivals and new music conferences.



Victor Legley’s list of works totals 124 opus numbers, including 8 symphonies, 10 concertos and concertinos, 5 string quartets, 10 song cycles and 1 opera. Legley always attempted to gear his composition style to his public: “I attach great importance to the audience, although I wouldn’t want this statement to be misinterpreted. By “the audience” I mean of course those people who show an interest in music, understood in the broadest form, from an exalted form of relaxation to certain experiments, for which I show a willing interest, even if I do not follow them with my absolute and complete attention.” The composer was originally heavily influenced by composers such as Max Reger, Claude Debussy and Maurice Ravel, although his main sources were Paul Hindemith and Jean Absil, his composition teacher from 1941 to 1943. Important works from this period are the First Concerto for Violin and Orchestra (1947), the Second String Quartet (1947) and the first three symphonies. His composition style is free-atonal, with tonal echoes. In his opinion, the systematic application of dodecaphonic techniques hindered the communication with the public. He aimed to “effect a synthesis of the different techniques and create a personal music that posed no problems for the listeners.” In the area of form, too, it can be stated that Legley often made use of classical structures, which he then subtly applied. A typical example of his personal vision of the relationship between form and content is his Middagmuziek (Midday Music) for 9 instruments (1948). It is clear that Victor Legley’s attention was focused chiefly on instrumental music, a constant throughout his whole career as a composer. Vocal works from this period are limited to a few song cycles for solo voice, usually with piano accompaniment, such as Het gevecht met het hart (The Fight with the Heart) (1948), on a text by Marcel Coole. This collection of ten songs on Dutch texts, told in the first person, is constructed around the theme of love.

Of the works composed in the 1950s, De stalen kathedraal (The Steel Cathedral) (1958) is the best known. This symphonic poem was inspired by Fernand Stevens’ painting of the same name, depicting a new, steel cathedral, built on the ruins of an old cathedral. It is a symbol for our times, in which technical advances seem to be displacing the spiritual values of the past. Although the painter and the composer were both fascinated by the opposition between the present and the future, De stalen kathedraal is by no means pure programme music. Victor Legley composed a dense score, that in thematic terms comprises very diverse material, although the movements overlap one another. Some of the melodies are incontestably built from the twelve tones of the chromatic scale, such as, for example, the theme of the allegro molto energico. Legley makes maximum use of the dynamic possibilities of the orchestra, creating a great rhythmic diversity and working with stark harmonic contrasts. The work ends pianissimo, which is meant to reflect a purified atmosphere. His Serenade for strings (1957), a work that was awarded first prize in the competition held by the Province of Brabant, should also be mentioned in this regard. The work is built around the richly contrasting alternation of powerful, often homophonic passages, differentiated melodic and rhythmic dialogues between the violins, and more introvert passages. His Concerto for piano and orchestra (1952/59) is remarkable for the placing of the solo piano in the orchestra, which is thus allowed to emerge from its classic, accompanying role.

From the beginning of the 1960s, Legley began to write in a Neo-Classical idiom. His Wind Quintet for flute, oboe, clarinet, bassoon and horn (1961) is a good example of this. It is written in a light, diverting style. Many symphonic works from Legley’s early period were dedicated to the then NIR Orchestra, while various later works, from the 1960s were connected to the Flanders Festival, Ghent. The Festival was the occasion of the world premieres of, among others, the Fourth Symphony (1964), the Fifth Symphony (1967), the Fourth String Quartet (1963), Prélude pour un ballet (1969), the Concerto for Viola and Orchestra (1971), and finally his only choral work, La Terra e la Morte, for women’s chorus a capella and soprano solo (1974).

Vic Legley composed one comic opera, De cluyte van de twee naakten of de mooie ongekende (The Farce of the Two Nudes or the Beautiful Unknown), premiered on 10 December 1966 at the Royal Flemish Opera in Antwerp. The story is a variation on the story of Lady Godiva, adapted by Herman Closson into a libretto of one act, divided into four scenes. Legley wrote his opera on this French text (La farce des Deux Nues). Only later was the text translated into Dutch by Antoon Vandevelde. In this composition, the orchestra plays a primary role, in many places pushing the vocal parts into the background. The singing style is declamatory and fairly virtuoso. This period can rightly be seen as one of the most fruitful in Legley’s career as a composer, for in the same year his Concerto for Harp and Orchestra was premiered in the famous Studio 4 of the former BRT building.

Although Victor Legley was at the time considered a successful composer whose work was performed in Belgium, throughout Europe and equally in the United States, he announced in an interview with Gamma in 1973 that he felt he could no longer compose. In order to escape from this impasse he went in search of new challenges by, for example, writing for other instrumental forces such as wind band.

A psychological turning point came only at the end of the 1970s, when Legley came into contact with Yvon Ducène of the Harmony Orchestra of the Belgian Guides, a renowned Belgian wind band. This started him on the project of transcribing his Le Bal des Halles of 1954, for wind band (1977), as well as Before Endeavours Fade (1979). These experiments were continued in the composition of various new works for brass band, such as Hommage à Jean Absil (1979), a tribute to his teacher and a pioneer in the area of wind music. His Seventh Symphony consists of four movements and is an ultimate example of Legley’s symphonically-conceived wind music. The work accords a central place to the sonorous character of a scoring for wind instruments, varying between exuberant brassy passages and more contemplative movements, such as the two Adagios. In addition, he wrote two other works for brass band, Volharden (Perseverence) (1979) and Triptiek (1980). Other noteworthy works of this last period were the Concertino per oboe e archi (1983), the Cello Concerto (1985) and the Fourth Sonata for Piano. These works suit the milder style that Vic Legley began to use starting from the late 1970s. During the last years of his life, Legley wrote a considerable number of extensive works. These include his Third Concerto for Violin and Orchestra (1990), a commissioned work for violinist Jenny Spanoghe. The work consists of three movements, based on the classical concerto form. The first movement opens with a slow introduction (Andante e molto tranquillo), with a descending melodic line. In the Allegro risoluto to which it is linked, this melody has the function of an accompanying theme. A development and a recapitulation lead the violinist to a cadenza and coda, completely within the traditional concerto form. The second movement, Quasi adagio, has a tripartite song-form; the finale, Non troppo vivo, has a rondo form. The work is composed in Legley’s typical, extended tonal language. In 1994, the year of his death, the Flemish Radio Orchestra premiered his Eighth Symphony.


List of works

Orchestra: Symfonische variaties op een oud Vlaams lied (1941); Eerste Symfonie (1942); Kleine carnavalouverture, Vierde Symfonie (1964); Zesde Symfonie (1976); De stalen kathedraal (1958); Ouverture pour une Comédie de Goldoni (1958); Herfst (1989); Achtste Symfonie (1993)

Soli and orchestra : Second Concerto for violin and orchestra (1966); Concerto for viola and orchestra (1971); Concerto for piano and orchestra (1959); Concerto for harp and orchestra (1966); Third Concerto for violin and orchestra (1990)

Chamber music: Tweede Strijkkwartet (1947); Middagmuziek (1948); Sonata for clarinet and piano (1952); Vierde Strijkkwartet (1963); Cinq miniatures for saxophones (1958); Blazerskwintet for flute, hobo, clarinet, bassoon and horn (1961); Cinq Pièces for guitar (1964); Muziek voor twee piano’s (1966); String trio (1979); Trio for violin, cello and piano (1973); Vierde Sonate for piano (1985)

Organ: Sonate for organ (1950)

Harpsichord: Suite in re (1986)

Vocal: Het gevecht met het hart for tenor and piano (1948); De gevallen vriend (1951); Zeng for soprano and string quartet (1965); La Terra e la morte for female choir a capella and soprano solo (1974)

Opera: De cluyte van de twee naakten of de mooie onbekende (1966)

Wind orchestra: Le Bal des Halles (1977); Paradise regained (1986); Hommage à Jean Absil (1979); Zevende Symfonie (1988)

Brassband: Triptiek (1980)

Radio: De boer die sterft (1949)



About Victor Legley
– K. DE SCHRIJVER, Victor Legley, in Levende componisten uit Vlaanderen, 2, Antwerp, 1955
– Kennismaking met componisten van onze tijd. Een bezoek aan Victor Legley, in Jeugd en Muziek, nr. 20, 1955, p. 6-7
– J. VAN ACKERE, Victor Legley, in Musik in Geschichte und Gegenwart, ed. by F. Blume, 8, Kassel-Basel, 1960, p. 471
– H. HEUGHEBAERT and A. CORBET, Victor Legley, in Algemene Muziekencyclopedie, ed. by J. ROBIJNS en M. ZIJLSTRA, 6, Antwerp-Amsterdam, 1960, p. 381-383
– Victor Legley, in Music in Belgium, Brussels, 1964, p. 84-86
– H. HEUGHEBAERT, Ontmoetingen met Vlaamse componisten. Victor Legley, in Harop, nr. 1, 1967, p. 3-9
– Biography of Victor Legley, in Het Belgisch Muziekleven, ed. by De Nationale Muziekraad, nr. 3, 1969
– C. MERTENS, Deux entretiens avec Victor Legley, in Clés pour la musique, no. 11, 1969, p. 11
– La cathédrale d’acier, in Clés pour la musique, nr. 1, 1969, p. 11
– Personalia Vic Legley, in Vlaams Muziektijdschrift, nr. 10, 1972, p. 317
– Komponeren in Vlaanderen, in Gamma, nrs. 1,2,3, 1973, p. 6-10; 25; 29; 48-53; 117-122
– H. WILLAERT, Ieper. Huldeconcert Vic Legley, in Gamma, nr. 1, 1976, p. 14
– H. VUYLSTEKE, Interview met Victor Legley, in Muziek en Woord, nr. 15, 1975, p. 1-2; and nr. 16, 1976, p. 4-6
– G. HUYBENS, Hulde aan Victor Legley, Leuven, 1980
– Victor Legley over het Belgisch muziekgebeuren. Opklimmen tot de amateur, in Muziekkrant, nr. 5, 1980, p. 30.
– C. TESSELY, Victor Legley. Een inleiding tot zijn oeuvre, licentiaatsverhandeling, Leuven, 1977
– F. PIETERS, Victor Legley (1915-), in Fedekamnieuws, nr. 3, 1981, p. 211
– H. STUBBE, Legley’s gemaskeerde romantiek, in Muziek en Woord, mei 1990, p. 6
– P. VAN GEETERUYEN, De klare esthetica van Victor Legley, in Muziek en Woord, oktober 1992
– M. M. DE SMET, Legley’s oude nieuwe muziek, in Muziek en Woord, 1994, p. 48
– Hommage à trois compositeurs flamands.
Victor Legley, Jan Decadt, Jean Louel, in Fuga, nr. 7, 1994, p. 4
– Victor Legley. 1915-1994, in Fedekamnieuws, nr. 5, 1995, p. 22
– C. MERTENS en D. VON VOLBORTH, Legley, Vic(tor), in The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, ed. by S. SADIE, 14, 2001, p. 481-482


By Victor Legley
– Muziek en radio, Mededelingen van de Koninklijke Vlaamse Academie voor Wetenschappen, Letteren en Schone Kunsten van België. Klasse der Schone Kunsten, 1, 29, 1967, p. 3-16
– Actuele aspecten voor een compositieleer, Mededelingen van de Koninklijke Vlaamse Academie voor Wetenschappen, Letteren en Schone Kunsten van België. Klasse der Schone Kunsten, 2, 32, 1970, p. 3-16
– Muziek en traditie, Mededelingen van de Koninklijke Vlaamse Academie voor Wetenschappen, Letteren en Schone Kunsten van België. Klasse der Schone Kunsten, 3, 36, 1974, p. 3-13
– Hedendaagse muziek, Mededelingen van de Koninklijke Vlaamse Academie voor Wetenschappen, Letteren en Schone Kunsten van België. Klasse der Schone Kunsten, 3, 38, 1976
– Muziek en propaganda, Mededelingen van de Koninklijke Vlaamse Academie voor Wetenschappen, Letteren en Schone Kunsten van België. Klasse der Schone Kunsten, 1, 40, 1978, p. 3-25
– Voor wie componeren wij?, Mededelingen van de Koninklijke Vlaamse Academie voor Wetenschappen, Letteren en Schone Kunsten van België. Klasse der Schone Kunsten, 1, 43, 1981, p. 25-34
– Muzikale antipoden, Mededelingen van de Koninklijke Vlaamse Academie voor Wetenschappen, Letteren en Schone Kunsten van België. Klasse der Schone Kunsten, 45, 1983
– Auteursrecht in de branding, Mededelingen van de Koninklijke Vlaamse Academie voor Wetenschappen, Letteren en Schone Kunsten van België. Klasse der Schone Kunsten, 1, 48, 1987, p. 3-11



– Symfonie nr. 3 (National Orchestra of Belgium cond. by Daniël Sternefeld), Decca 173291
– De stalen kathedraal (National Orchestra of Belgium cond. by Daniël Sternefeld), Decca 143359, 1961
– Suite voor orkest (National Orchestra of Belgium cond. by Fernand Quinet), Decca 143359
– Le Bal des Halles (Philharmonic Orchestra of Antwerp cond. by L. Gras), Decca 173476
– Cinq miniatures (Quatuor Belge de Saxophones cond. by François Danneels), His Master’s Voice RDLP 6
– Concerto nr. 2 (National Orchestra of Belgium cond. by R. Defossez; violin: D. Korosec) Alpha DBM-F-196
– Sonate voor altviool en piano (viola: G. Ruymen; piano: F. Pey) Alpha DBM V 2188
– Sonate voor klarinet en piano (clarinet: M. Ancion; piano: J. Lechat) Alpha DB 88
– Burlesque voor viool en piano (piano: L. Leveque; violin: S. Weiner) Alpha DB 81
– Trio voor hobo, klarinet en fagot (Het Brussels Houtblazerstrio), Alpha DBM-V-141C
– Serenade voor fluit, viool en cello (Trio Orpheus), Alpha DBM N-212
– Strijkkwartet nr. 2 (Dekany Quartet), Alpha DBM-V-160
– Trois Ariettes (guitar: G. Mohiño), Duchesne DD 6057
– Symfonie nr. 4 (National Orchestra of Belgium cond. by L. Gras), Cultura 5067-3
– Ouverture pour une Comédie de Goldoni (National Orchestra of Belgium cond. by L.Gras), Cultura 5066-4
– Concerto nr. 2 voor viool en orkest (National Orchestra of Belgium cond. by F. Huybrechts; violin: A. Gerher), Cultura 5069-10
– Kwintet (Quintette à vent de Bruxelles cond. by G. Caraël), Alpha DB 58
– Sonate voor orgel (organ: Stanislas Deriemaeker) DBM-N216
– Brieven uit Portugal (tenor: L. Devos; piano: M. Gazelle) Philips A 10481
– Symphonie nr. 7, Le bal des halles, Before Endeavors Fade, Hommage à Absil, Paradise Regained, Three Movements for Brass and Percussion (Royal Belgian Harmony Orchestra of the Guides cond. by Norbert Nozy), René Gailly 87123, 1996
– Petite introduction pour une fête royale, René Gailly 87057, 1992
– Mélopée (violin: Jenny Spanoghe; piano: Jean-Claude Vanden Eynden), René Gailly CD 87165
– Orkestwerk (Flemish Radio Orchestra cond. by Jan-Latham Koenig) Maestro 2101, 1998
– Sonata for viola and piano, COMPOSITIONS FOR VIOLA AND PIANO (altviool: Diederik Suys; piano: Filip Martens), Phaedra (In Flanders’ Fields, vol. 4) 92004
– Sonate no. 2 in D flat major, Sonate no. 4, BELGIAN PIANO MUSIC (piano: Jozef De Beenhouwer), Phaedra (In Flanders’ Fields, vol. 15) 92015



CeBeDeM (Brussels, BE; from 1951 to 2015)
Metropolis Music (Antwerp, BE)


Texts by Joris De Henau
Last update: 2018