André Devaere was born in Kortrijk, Belgium on 27 August 1890. His Father, Octaaf Devaere (1865-1941) was organist at the Kortrijk St Martin's church and gave his son his first lessons. In 1901 André registered as a pupil at St Almond's college in his native town, where he was called in to accompany the chapel's Mass celebrations at the organ. His musical talent didn't pass unnoticed at the Brussels Conservatoire either, as in 1903 he was the only one to be accepted amongst fifteen candidates to the piano class of Arthur De Greef (1862-1940).

On 25 June 1907 he obtained a first prize for piano with the maximum score. The chairman of the jury and then Conservatoire director François August Gevaert (1828-1908) was himself so much impressed by Devaere's piano playing that in a breach of protocol he allowed the public to applaud after the young pianist's exam. Devaere's Brussels success also came to the attention of his home town Kortrijk, where he was honoured with the foundation of the Devaere Committee and the organisation of a tributary walk through the streets of Kortrijk on 1 July, followed by a reception of the pianist in the town hall.

After gaining his first prize for piano, André Devaere accumulated concert invitations. Thus the 'Société des bains de mer d'Ostende' invited him to give his first concert at the Ostend Kursaal on Saturday 14 September 1907 with the Kursaal orchestra under the baton of Leon Rinskopf. The programme featured Camille Saint-Saëns' Concerto in c minor and Fréderic Chopin's Fantasy in f minor. In 'Het Kortrijksche Volk' of 18 September 1907 a critic wrote:'The audience was raptured by the wonderful performance of the young artist. No affectation, no useless acting out with the hands, not at all! Firm, solid playing with a sure hand that can hammer when needed, yet also able to make the piano sing and sigh, to a breath-taking effect both on each human soul and the concert-hall alike'.

On 17 November of that same year Devaere was heard for the first time in his hometown, with work by Mendelssohn, Chopin, Schumann, Saint-Saëns, Bach and Liszt. In the 'Gazette van Kortrijk' of 24 November 1907 we read:'Devaere possesses great qualities: he has a large memory, his playing is steady, colourful, both inspired and inspiring. He is fully in control of himself.' 

In the beginning of 1908 André Devaere was given an 'Erard'-piano (with serie number 93707) as a gift with the aid of the Devaere-Committee. The instrument still exist and is in private hands.

Devaere also played chamber music, including a recital with the violonist Godfried Devreese, who has just obtained his first prize for violin with honours in 1909 and was celebrated in his turn in Kortrijk. The two young musicians gave a concert in the great hall of the Kortrijk council house performing works by Grieg, Tartini, Vieuxtemps, Sinding and Wieniawsky.

Concurrently with his budding concert career Devaere continued his studies at the Brussels Conservatoire, gaining first prizes for written harmony and practical harmony 'maxima cum laude' in the class of Paul Gilson (1865-1942), and a first prize for fugue with the highest score in the class of Edgar Tinel (1854-1912).

Meanwhile Devaere also went on studying the piano, obtaining the competency degree for piano on 2 March 1909 with the maximum score. This examination was his admission pass to the ultimate test: the virtuosity degree, which was organised for the third time in the history of the Conservatoire on 7 December 1909.

In order to qualify for this virtuosity diploma a heavy programme had to be completed, consisting of:                                                                                     performing a random piece, set 2 weeks in advance;  performing several works from memory, set by the jury  out of a repertoire  of twelve works proposed by the  candidate himself; performing a work at sight; likewise at sight transposing an a given key an accompaniment of a vocal or an instrumental piece; making a accompaniment on a figured bass; sight-reading a score for full orchestra; improvising an accompaniment under a melody.                                                                                                  

Furthermore the candidate had to perform a concerto accompanied by an orchestra as well as four solo works selected by the jury from a repertoire of twenty works. André Devaere chose the 'Concerto in a minor' by Robert Schumann, which he played together with the conservatory orchestra conducted by his teacher Arthur De Greef. From the works he proposed the jury selected a 'Gigue in G major' by Scarlatti, a Chopin 'Ballad', Schumann's 'Etudes symphoniques' and Brahms' 'Rapsodie in g minor'.

André Devaere earned the degree 'maxima cum laude' and with the congratulations of the jury. Moreover, they were not the only ones to be convinced of Devaere's talent. 'L'avenir de Courtrai' of 12 December 1909 wrote about his performance of the Schumann piano concerto: 'From the very first moments M. Devaere had conquered the public, the pitches being most wonderfully sparkling, his touch velvety, his vigour exempt of rudeness, with great care for nuances'. 'Le Journal de Roubaix' of 8 December 1909 stated: 'He literally hypnotised his audience and his colleagues of the orchestra who acclaimed the new virtuoso full of enthusiasm'. And 'Le Journal de Courtrai' of 12 December claims: 'He showed that in addition to an extremely good technique he possesses the precious gifts of youth, momentum, energy, clarity and rhythm'.

On 2 January 1910 Devaere was again honoured in Kortrijk for earning his virtuosity degree and on this occasion the mayor Reynaert offered him a collection of scores with Beethoven's nine symphonies as well as an original edition of a Bach harpsichord work. There he also played two recitals on 2 and 3 January 1910 with works of Beethoven, Bach, Scarlatti, Schumann, Brahms, Chopin, Liszt and Saint-Saëns, about which 'De Waarheid' reported on 17 January 1910: The most difficult and complex pieces of great masters were presented with utmost talent and skill'.

New concert invitations followed. On 16 February 1910 together with violonist Alphonse Voncken from Verviers, Belgium, a pupil of Vieuxtemps, Devaere gave his first concert abroad, in Tourcoing, France. They played work by Beethoven (Kreutzersonate), Scarlatti, Vieuxtemps, Chopin, Schumann and Saint-Saëns. 'Le Journal de Roubaix' commented on 18/19 February: 'Devaere possesses to the highest degree the qualities that make great piano virtuosos: complete independence of fingers and hands, flexibility of the pulse, power of the forearm, a perfect awareness of the pedal effects, a marvellous mechanism in its ensemble as well as in the slightest details, and to do justice to all these precious qualities an intense musical sensibility and a contagious enthusiasm.

On 15 April 1910 this was followed by a first concert in Germany. In Düsseldorf he played Bach's Concerto in d minor and Beethoven's Fifth Concerto in E flat major. 

On Thursday 4 April 1912 Devaere gave a concert in Brussels on the occasion of the opening of the Blondel hall. He performed work by Couperin, Dandrieu, Scarlatti, Bach, Brahms and Dupuis. That same year Devaere also gave concerts in Ghent, Dottenijs, Verviers, Charleroi as well as Waux-Hall and Tourcoing in France. On 5 December 1912 'De Kortrijkse Katholieke Jonge-Wacht' organised a concert with André Devaere, featuring works by Debussy, Schmidt and Séverac and also Jeu d'eau by Ravel, a programme choice that was rather bold at that time, for a small town like Kortrijk. In a memorial book compiled by three anonymous authors and illustrated by Devaere's brother Antoon can be read in fact that the public had problems with his strange modern French music full of dissonant noise and unusual sound effects.

1913 equally brought along several concerts. In February 'De Gilde van Ambachten' (Trades Guild) organised an art evening in Kortrijk. The proceeds went to the town of Roeselare, which at that time was in distress. André Devaere interpreted Beethoven's sonata opus 28 also called 'Pastorale'. In the 'Kortrijkse Volk' a reviewer wrote: '...his powerful technique..., the artist having fathomed and interpreted the inner thought, the deep emotion that prevails throughout the sonata'. In the spring of 1913 Devaere gained the first prize at a competition of the piano house IBACH.

In addition to giving a great number of concerts Devaere also devoted his time to composing. In the framework of his studies at the conservatory he had already written some four-part fugues, soon after followed by some piano sonatas. Devaere also wrote a set of five songs on text of French poets, four of which have come down to us. Moreover he startet writing transcriptions for strings, as the piano solo became too cramped for composing. Devaere planned to participate in prestigious competitions such as the one in Vienna (Rubinstein, due for 1915) and the Prix de Rome. However, the first World War foiled his plans.

Devaere's last concerts took place in February and May 1914. On 15 February he interpreted Beethoven's third piano concerto and the Toccata (5th concerto) of Saint-Saëns at a symphonic concert in the Ghent conservatory for the Orpheus circle. Featured also were two songs of Devaere himself, 'La Lettre' (now lost) and 'La Plainte' (The Complaint). Soloist for these songs was Leopold Desloovere. On 17 May 1914 André Devaere played his last recital in the Kortrijk town hall. The last programme he performed in public consisted of the 'Toccata and Fugue in c minor of Johann Sebastian Bach, the 'Larghetto' from the second sonata and the 'Rondo in c minor' of Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach, the 'Sonata opus 53' of Ludwig van Beethoven,'In der Nacht, Kreisleriana no.5' and 'Novelette no.2' of Robert Schumann, the 'Prelude in c sharp minor' of Fréderic Chopin and 'Islamey', an Oriental fantasia of Mily Balakirew.

In August 1914 fate caught up with him: André Devaere was conscripted into the 27th line regiment. Already on 10 November 1914 he got mortally wounded in the lungs near St. Joris-aan-de-Ijzer near Nieuwpoort, Belgium. After being transported to the Pensionat Sophie Berthelot in Calais he succumbed to his injuries in the early morning of 14 November. He was buried in the military cemetery of the Cimetière du Nord in Calais, where his grave can still be visited today. He was barely 24 years old.

On 14 November 1920, on the sixth anniversary of his death, a bas-relief of André Devaere sitting at the piano was inaugurated in the Kortrijk municipal theatre. It was designed by the Kortrijk artist Godfried Devreese (1861-1941). The complete André Devaere Committee, his father Octaaf Devaere, his brother Herman Devaere, Godfried Devreese as well as the Mayor and Alderman were present. This plaque had become forgotten due to renovation works. However, in 1992 it was recovered and on the occasion of a concert with Kortrijk composers - including work of André Devaere - inaugurated again. It is still hanging there now. The city of Kortrijk also honoured him in 1949 with a street name, the André Devaerelaan.

The Royal Music Conservatory of Brussels commemorates André Devaere with a listing among the war veterans in the entry hall. The original compositions of André Devaere had for a long time been in the possession of the composer Herman Roelstraete (1925-1985), after whose death they were donated to the Royal Library Albert 1 in Brussels, where they are kept to this day.

                                                                                                                                             Tom Devaere

                                                                                                            (English translation: Jo Sneppe)


André Devaere vzw