Raymond Schroyens was born in Mechelen on 14 March 1933. As a 9 year-old choirboy in the famous St Rombaut’s Cathedral choir he came into contact with Jules Van Nuffel and Flor Peeters. In 1950 he entered the Lemmens Institute, then still located in Mechelen, studying with Staf Nees, Marinus de Jong and Jules Van Nuffel. After his military service he studied organ with Flor Peeters from 1954 at the Royal Conservatory in Antwerp. From 1958 to 1960 he was choirmaster at St Alphonse’s Cathedral in Dearborn, Michigan, and from 1960 to 1963 he was music teacher and choirmaster at the Scheppers Institute in Mechelen and at St Stanislas College in Berchem. In 1963 Raymond Schroyens began a 30-year administrative-cultural career at the classical radio broadcaster Radio 3 of the BRT. As a musician he was active as a harpsichordist from 1962 to 1972 in the Concertino J.B. Loeillet in Mechelen. From 1970 to his retirement in 1993 he taught harpsichord at the Royal Conservatory in Brussels. In 1975 he became harpsichord teacher at the Municipal Conservatory in Mechelen, where he remained until 1988. Schroyens was also active as a member of the board of various organisations, including the Flanders Festival, where he was also music advisor (1983-2000), Ars Organi Mechelen (chairperson, 1994-1999) and the Flemish Federation for Youth Choirs in Ghent (chairperson, 1996-1997). Raymond Schroyens passed away on 13 July 2021.
The above – highly condensed – biography of Raymond Schroyens omits one very important aspect in his life, his passion for composing. Despite a busy life as a production leader, teacher and musician, Schroyens managed to write some 100 compositions over the course of his career. Since retiring, this number has been increased again by half. The principal part of this oeuvre (some 80 percent of the total) are works for voice or choir, with or without instrumental accompaniment. The instrumental music is dominated by works for keyboard instruments (piano, organ and harpsichord).
Raymond Schroyens began to apply himself seriously to composing during his studies at the conservatory in Antwerp. His admiration for the work of Jules Van Nuffel, Flor Peeters and composers of the Baroque period are evident in the composer’s early works, which consist mainly of piano pieces, song arrangements, choral compositions and basso continuo realisations. The use of modality was characteristic of this period and would remain a constant throughout his whole oeuvre. Equally influential on Schroyens’ music, and in particular his choral music, was his contact with the work of Hugo Distler, Willi Träder, Karl Marx and Ernst Pepping, all representatives of the new German choral style. From these composers he drew his feeling for linear thinking. The polyphonic desire to give each voice its own independent and interesting melodic line is nicely illustrated in his early choral work Ende want God over alles es (For God is above all things, 1962).
The quantity of choral literature that Raymond Schroyens has produced to date is impressive and is in no way the result of repeated applications of a few general traits. Nevertheless, an analysis of several representative compositions can reveal a number of characteristics prevalent throughout the whole oeuvre, notwithstanding the large stylistic and musical diversity and value of each work on its own terms. Between 1963 and 1965, Schroyens wrote Three canticles, a composition for 4- to 6-voice mixed choir a capella. Central to these 3 choral pieces – and indeed to all the choral works that have followed – is Schroyens’ concern for the proper musical treatment of the word accents. A stressed syllable should be musically emphasised. This has compositional consequences, not least on the level of metre, as the metrical accent is determined by the text, reducing the bar lines to little more than a crutch. In concrete terms this leads to many changes of metre. A look at the second piece from Three canticles, A voice in Rama was heard, reveals how a free polyphonic texture can result in the simultaneous use of different time signatures in the different voices. In Six Dickinson Miniatures, a 4-voice composition written between 1980 and 1983, Schroyens dispenses with the time signatures altogether, in order to avoid a fixed beat. This results in a texture that strikes the listener as more unified in form than Three canticles. The 6 settings in the Six Dickinson Miniatures are mainly set homophonically and homorhythmically. And yet the composer is able to create variation within this texture by having pairs of voices (often soprano/alto and tenor/bass) sing their own melodic progressions at a sustained parallel distance or by alternating between monody and polyphony. Three canticles, in contrast, is striking in its diversity, with canonic passages, imitation, free polyphony, homophony, and both homo- and polyrhythmic passages. In Songs at midnight (1994), Schroyens tends more to set the general textual content rather than descending into copious word painting. A melody can be organically formed by allowing it to evolve from a small motif into a large melodic conception, as occurs at the beginning of the Spring song at midnight, from Songs at midnight. In his melodies he is very economical with melismas, as a syllabic setting prevails. He is also keenly aware of the range of possibilities of the voice and of how a choir should sound.
In harmonic terms, Raymond Schroyens writes in free tonality, which is based on the church modes while being enriched with selected dissonances. In Nunc dimittis (1978), for example, the link to the church modes is made explicit through the melodic fragments referring to Gregorian melodies. The Lord’s Prayer, the first part of the Three canticles, exudes a mood that flirts with the Phrygian mode on g. On the other hand, the expressionist musical language in Autumn song at midnight, from Songs at midnight, is sometimes very acerbic, evoking the bleak autumn nights. A combination of parallel voice leading in all voices of a work often creates harmonic mixtures.
At the beginning of his career as a composer, Raymond Schroyens wrote a great many arrangements for voice and instruments or piano. These are often settings of folk songs in which the folk melody is preserved, accompanied by a freely tonal piano arrangement. In his song cycle De la lumière aux ténèbres (1994) for baritone and piano on texts by Emile Verhaeren, Schroyens creates an ingenious construction. Both the voice and the piano present a musical expression of the text or interpret the general mood of the poem. The soloistic use of the voice leads the composer to more difficult melodic lines than in his choral scores. The diversity of melodies and concepts thus created receives a structural unity over the 3 songs through the specific treatment of the piano part. In all the movements, both the superimposition of two dissonant triads and a mixture-progression of a triad and a layering of fourths reappear in the piano.
The vocal works of Raymond Schroyens cannot be considered separately from their text. The text determines the melody, structure and tone. The choice of the texts reveals something of the composer as a person. In vigiliam (1993), Crépuscule (1993), Meditatie (2000), I saw seven angels (2001) and Euangelion (1994/2002) are all compositions with a textual and musical profundity which have shaped the composer being’s in all its wonderment and delight but also in all its bewilderment.
While a text can often represent an expression of a composer’s feelings or fantasies, Raymond Schroyens often also ascribes an implicit reference to a particular instrument. For instance, the recorder and cello in the large-scale work for instruments, mixed choir and soprano solo, In vigiliam, refer respectively to the Old Testament figures of David and Solomon. In many instrumental works there is a quotation or a theme derived from the letters of a textual element. In Thinking of July the 4th for organ (1989), the composer and organist Schroyens pays homage to his teacher Flor Peeters by linking the four letters of his first name to four pitches (Fa La Do Re).
Instrumental works: Pianosonate (1964); Sonata da Camera for recorder quartet (1964); Three birthday presents for Daniël for piano (1972-1975); Aureolen for major brass ensemble and percussion (1974); Thinking of July the 4th for organ (1989); Divertimento Acacia floreat for woodwinds trio (1990); Templum for brass quintet (1991); Stars in Zenith for Alleine piano (1994); Hält im Gedächtnis concertrondo for harpsichord (1995); Eleusis for alto saxophone and piano (1996-1999); El pasado termina manãna for guitar (1997); Al di la del Sonno for string orchestra (1997); Dispuut for 2 violins (1997); De nacht noemt vele namen for piano (2000)
Choir works: Adagio Triptiek for 4- or 5-voice a cappella (1961-63-65); Three Canticles for 4- or 6-voice a cappella (1963-65); Six Dickinson Miniatures for 4-voice a cappella (1980-83); Pentalpha for 4- or 6-voice a cappella (1983); Penelopee for 4- or 6-voice a cappella (1992); Les Muses Gaillardes for 4- or 8-voice a cappella and soprano solo ad libitum (1992); Crépuscule 4- or 7-voice a cappella and celeste ad libitum (1992); Liederen van Stilte for 4-, 5- or 6-voice a cappella and soprano solo (1993); Emed for soprano solo, 2 mixed choruses and small ensemble (1993); In vigiliam, for soprano solo, mixed choir, recorder, violoncello and organ (1993); Gemini for 4-voice a cappella or 2 choirs (8-voice) ad libitum (1994); Kers(t)entijd for 3 equal voices. (1996); Songs at Midnight for 4voice a cappella (1994); Van Hooftse Minne for TTBB a cappella (1994); An All Scottish Ride for 4- or 8-voice a cappella (1994); In Flanders Fields for 6-voice a cappella (1995); My Madonna, She Walks in Beauty for TTBB a cappella (1995); Credo for 4-voice a cappella (1995); Vocalisen for 4 voices and piano (1996); Uwt Herten Minne for SSA and celeste (1997); Veni Dilecte Mi for SSAA a cappella (1998); Testimonium for TTBB a cappella (1998); Kleine Bouwtriptiek for 4 equal men’s voices a cappella (1998); Beobachtung for 4 or 6 voices, soprano and baritone solo and piano (1999); Winterwijding 4- or 8-voice solo quartet, talks, harp and celeste (2000); I Saw Seven Angels for 4 voices, horn and trombone (2001)
Songs: De la Lumière aux Ténèbres for baritone and piano (1994); Vijf Vlaamse Volksliederen for medium voice and piano (1957/1995); Taillé dans le granit voor middenstem en piano (2004)
– TUSSEN EBBE EN VLOED (Beauvarletkoor o.l.v. I.Thevelein), B 5598
– NOG KLAARDER DAN DE ZONNE (Capella Vocale Teneranmundae o.l.v. Marc Goossen), Anz 20.003
– KOOR IETS ANDERS (Kalliope o.l.v. Sabine Haenebalcke), 1295306
– M’N ZIEL IS LOUTER KLANKEN (Aarschots jeugdkoor o.l.v. Frans Breugelmans), AJK 5659
– 20 JAAR KOORLEVEN IN VLAANDEREN (BRTN-koor o.l.v. Vic Nees), CD 1536
– ONS EIGEN LIED (Cohe-koor-Orfeo en eigenwijs o.l.v. Paul Thijs), PT 5626 A
Texts by Ruben Bruneel
Last update: 2007