Ingrid Meuris was born on 13 February 1964 in Beveren-Waas and died in Leuven on 2 December 2003. In 1978 she began her musical education at the music academy in Tienen, continuing her studies 2 years later at the Municipal Conservatory in Leuven. There she studied piano with Jean Bouwers, solfege with Gilbert Huybens and harmony with Frances Cabus. In 1982 she commenced post-secondary studies at the Royal Conservatory in Brussels. In 1985, after a temporary switch to studies at the Katholieke Universiteit Leuven, she made a definitive choice for music. Between 1984 and her premature death in 2003 she earned a number of diplomas from the conservatory in Brussels. In 1990 she wrote a dissertation on the influence of Schopenhauer’s philosophy on the work of Wagner (as part of her music education program) and in 1999 on the meaning of aesthetics in Benedictine spirituality (for a course in cultural history and philosophy). Philosophy – Schopenhauer in particular – is a recurring element in her compositions. Ingrid Meuris used 2 pseudonyms for a number of her early works. In 1979-80 she wrote 3 works under the name Casimir van Chavary; in 1986 she used the pseudonym Reeny Sebastian. From 1987 she used her own name for all her compositions. Ingrid Meuris taught at a number of municipal music academies: from 1990 to 1992 she taught general music culture and music history at the music academy in Dilbeek and also worked as a replacement music teacher in adult education and in a number of schools. From 1994 she taught general music culture and music history at the academy in Ninove and from 1997 she was a harmony teacher at the Academy for Music, Word and Dance in Neerpelt. At the Municipal Conservatory of Leuven she taught music theory from 2000 until her death in 2003.
The most striking characteristics of Ingrid Meuris’s oeuvre can be well illustrated by looking at several of her larger works, which were written at intervals over a number of years. Central elements are clearly the presence of extra-musical themes, a Romantic-Expressionist style and an expanded tonal language.
Crvena Kia op. 4 (1994) is a cantata for 4-part choir and piano, on a text by the composer. This cantata is based on the conflict between Serbs and Croats during the war in the former Yugoslavia. Through shifts in language and the use of fragments from folk songs, Meuris indicates whether we are in the Serb or the Croatian camp. Concrete references are deliberately left out, however, since the composer does not set out to make a political statement with this work, but rather objects to the kind of senseless suffering undergone by those in a war situation. The cantata consists of 4 movements, each of which is constructed around a certain aspect of the war situation. In the first movement, which deals with the farewell of a soldier setting off for battle, a number of important characteristics are immediately evident. Although the work is not conceived on the basis of functional harmony (there is, for instance, no key signature, no traditional chord connections and no clear harmonic progressions), the pitch materials show strongly tonal elements. The first 24 bars of the first movement are based exclusively on the scale of B-flat, albeit often with a lowered seventh degree. Tonal triads also occur frequently in this work. In addition, very often chords of the same type appear in the struck chords and arpeggio figures that characterise the expressive piano accompaniment of the first movement. This type of chord is constructed from an octave, filled in with the fifth in the left hand, all of which is transposed a major second higher in the right hand, with the dissonance strengthened by raising the lowest note in the right hand by a half-tone. This specific intervallic combination gives these chords a sense of expanded tonality. This choice of pitch material is strongly related to another important element, the integration of quotations from Slavic folk music and the Orthodox liturgy. These quotations were chosen more for their content than their musical characteristics. As is the case with the folksongs, the text setting is almost completely syllabic and the melody largely follows the spoken word. This is particularly evident in the use of small melodic intervals, the circumscribing of a particular note and the use of the same or a strongly similar rhythms for the repetition of a word. The second movement of this cantata deals with the discrepancy between the call to arms and the powerless desperation felt by the people. The aspect of struggle is emphatically present in the fairly monotone piano part with its strong march character, which is constructed from repeatedly struck parallel chords and into which the theme of a Serbian battle song has been worked. It is also striking that a great deal of the text is not sung, but is shouted or whispered. The prevailing mood of despair is represented by a quotation from the orthodox liturgy. These 3 elements give this movement a highly expressive character. The third movement of this cantata is much more lyrical than the previous movements. While in the men’s voices a text on the solitude of a soldier on his watch is spoken in a sombre tone, the sopranos and the altos sing a melancholy folksong. The piano part is also much more melodic and severely structured. The pedal note, present almost the whole time, strengthens the sombre, dark atmosphere of the men’s voices, while the right had of the piano part regularly follows the lyricism of the women’s voices. The fourth and last movement of this cantata, which evokes the last moments of a dying soldier’s life, is probably the most dramatic movement. While the previous movements have often been for 2 or 3 voices, with the 4-voice passages usually proceeding homo-rhythmically, in the fourth movement, the choir is for the first time given real 4-part writing. Moreover, various text segments are layered, Meuris’s way of representing the confused thoughts of the dying soldier. Both the vocal part and the piano part include clear references to the first movement, partly by the use of short quotations and the repeated use of a particular type of chord. Having begun piano with more clearly demarcated voices, the various vocal parts move through an extended crescendo to arrive at a homo-rhythmic passage. This climax is fairly abruptly interrupted to make way for a short piano solo. Finally, the choir once again falls in with the piano part, as the central words of the text are spoken and the faltering breathing of the wounded soldier is imitated.
Although Ascensus op. 12 for string quartet (2000) occasionally has a more modern feel, this work, too, is mainly written in a Romantic-Expressionist idiom in which tonality is never far off. Ascensus has strong internal coherence, concentrated around 4 themes that are based on quotations from various philosophers, and a chord that is derived from the name Arthur Schopenhauer. The titles of the 5 movements are also inspired by these quotations. The Schopenhauer chord (A. Sch (e) – c – e-flat – a – b ) forms the nucleus of the first and the fifth movements, together with the theme of the existential question, which consists of (all but one of) the notes in the Schopenhauer chord. The second movement is built around 2 themes, the theme of “Der Wille” and the theme of Redemption, which quotes the Gregorian hymn Crux Fidelis. In the third, slow movement, the complete theme of “Der Wille” returns in a varied form, together with a new theme, that of mystical love. The fourth movement has a tripartite form (ABA’) and opens with a tango. The beginning and the end of the theme of “Der Wille” are separately varied and developed in the movement. The Schopenhauer chord, too, which is here melodically applied, once again makes its presence clearly felt. The second segment of this movement is a rigaudon, built around the retrograde of the Crux Fidelis theme. The “recapitulation” of the tango appears in a varied, much shortened form, in which the themes are, however, very recognisable. An ostinato, based on the second verse of the Crux Fidelis hymn, forms the nucleus of the final movement. This movement also includes references to the themes from the other movements.
Ingrid Meuris’s great interest in all things philosophical is also apparent in Cantus ad Astra op. 7 for baritone and piano (1997). This song cycle reflects on 4 “metaphysical moods”, as the work’s subtitle suggests. The themes of the 4 songs are, respectively, hope for a better world, a sense of transience, a cynical and hedonistic vision of life, and redemption through faith. The chosen texts are by Virgil, Horace and the Roman emperor Ausgustus. The songs are very expressively treated, with an extremely independent piano part. It is clear that the content of the text is very important: the setting of the voice part is mainly syllabic and closely follows the normal accents of Latin, which aids greatly in the comprehensibility.
List of works
Chamber music: Llama de amor viva op. 1 for mezzo soprano, baritone and piano (text: Juan de la Cruz) (1990); Eternal strife op. 2 for flute/violin, violoncello and piano (1991); Cantus ad Astra op. 7 for baritone and piano (texts by Vergilius, Horatius and Augustus) (1997); Ascensus op. 12, for string quartet (2000); Charade for viola and piano (2002)
Choir: Crvena Kisa (Red Rain) op. 4 cantata for mixed choir and piano (text: Ingrid Meuris) (1994); Tormento op. 6 for mixed choir (text: Francesco Petrarca) (1997); Le cri de l’ange op. 10, cantata for choir a cappella (text: St.-Jean Vianney) (1998)
Solo: Pro voce luminis op. 11 for organ (1998); Davai op. 14 for piano (2001)
– Y. KNOCKAERT, The quadrature of the circle: The String Quartet in Flanders since 1950 in Contemporary Music in Flanders I : Flemish String Quartets since 1950 uitg. dr. M. Delaere en J. Compeers, Leuven, 2004, p. 7 – 23
Several unpublished recordings are available from MATRIX
Texts by Rebecca Diependaele
Last update: 2018