When one art enlarges another


Wallonia’s musical heritage has nuggets that can be discovered or rediscovered without further delay once the containment is over.

By Frédéric Marchesani

At the beginning of the 19th century, the German philosopher Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel compiled a list of five arts as part of his aesthetic courses at the University of Berlin. Revised and corrected at the end of the 20th century, this record now has ten. If the architecture stays at the top of this famous list, the music will be placed in fourth place. These two different arts, however, are found when the need to make them side by side in their minds. Wallonia, like many other parts of Europe, thus retains an architectural heritage associated with high-quality music. There are no theatres, opera houses, conservatories, concert halls and other entertainment venues that have been protected by classification measures since their establishment. It is the legacy that these two great arts come together.

The glass roof of the Peristyle of the Forum de Liege.
Edgar Scauflaire’s organ and paintings at the Royal Conservatory in Liege.
The Royal Theatre of Mons, on the famous Grand Place.
The Royal Theatre of Namur and its elegant facade.
The Music Conservatory of Tournai, the work of Bruno Renard.

A separate educational place

Queen Elizabeth Musical Chapel. ©DR

Among the many monuments of the royal estate of Argenteuil, in Waterloo, is a place of music teaching that has a special place in Wallonia: the Queen Elizabeth Musical Chapel, a jewel of art deco architecture, although already impermeated with a touch of modernity. It was built according to the plans of the architect Yvan Renchon and inaugurated on 11 July 1939.
The building was specially designed for the activity intended for them: to welcome and accommodate young musical miracle children, while at the same time giving them the opportunity to improve and perform together. The chapel, an institution of higher artistic education, was founded by the Queen, a lover of classical music. Until 2004, she welcomed a dozen young musicians to Residenz, accompanied by a teacher for three-year cycles, before closing her doors and carrying out an intensive restructuring campaign.

The project has since been completely renovated and is fully dedicated to high-level training in six disciplines (vocals, violin, piano, cello, viola and chamber music) and professional integration through a network of cultural partners in Belgium and around the world. Since 2004, the chapel has welcomed around fifty young talents each year and is preparing to participate in various international music competitions, including the famous Queen Elizabeth Competition.

Royal theatres and unique places

The Royal Theatre of Liege, seat of the Royal Opera House of Wallonia, and the large hall with dome and chandelier. ©DR

Liege, Mons and Namur have in common that they are not only provincial chiefs, but also all three of them host a royal theatre, each with its own peculiarities.

The Royal Theatre of Liege houses the Royal Opera House of Wallonia, the Opera Centre of the Federation of Wallonia-Brussels. The building was built under Dutch rule according to the plans of the architect Auguste Dukers and inaugurated on 4 November 1820 with great pomp. The venerable building, which is now at the beginning of its 200th anniversary, has undergone many changes in its history. The original theatre preserves the main facade, which is characterized by the red marble columns of Saint-Remy from the former monastery of Chartreux. The magnificent foyer of the theatre has also retained its features from the early 19th century.

As early as 1860, the institution was cramped in its walls and the architect of the city, Julien-Etienne Rémont, was responsible for the renovation and expansion. During this work, the theatre acquires part of its current shares. In 1903, the painter Emile Berchmans created the beautiful canvas of the dome, whose composition represents the pantheon of music. At the same time, his brother Oscar formed the magnificent, bronzed, crystal-decorated chandelier from louis XVI. The same Oscar Berchmans is the author of the theatre’s pediment in 1930: Monumental work, showing two women draped around Apollo in antiquity.

The Royal Theatre of Liege is old and unsuitable for the conditions of the 21st century and enjoys an impressive facelift between 2010 and 2012. A complete restoration of the interior and exterior is carried out in order to return to its original condition and to modernize the equipment. It is then equipped with a roof extension, the only part of the building that is not subject to any classification measure. Visible from afar, it is wrapped in a double metallic open skin, creating light effects on the facade, which has regained its original white brush.
The Royal Theatre of Mons enjoys an ideal location in the heart of the city, on the famous Grand Place, and is built on the corner of Rue Neuve by the city’s architect, Charles Sury.

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It was inaugurated in 1843 in neoclassical style and features a plastered brick facade with stone columns and coves with stucco frames. It is crowned by a pediment and opened on the ground floor of three central bays, which are closed by elegant metal doors decorated with medallions representing the weapons of the city of Mons, as well as the profiles of Racine, Moliére, Grétry and Roland de Lassus, a Montois composer. Inside there is a richly decorated chamber. It has since been amended several times, most notleast during two major restoration campaigns, 1947-1948 and between 1997 and 2006.

Namur Royal Theatre. ©DR

Also in the hypercentre, the Royal Theatre of Namur features an elegant neoclassical facade, built in 1868 according to the plans of the city’s architect, Thierry Fumiére, with the support of Julien-Etienne Rémont, with his recent experience in Liege. The main facade, which was characterized by its imposing entrance sports, was built, like the rest of the building, from Savonniéres stone. This limestone of the French Meuse, almost golden in colour, makes the Namur Theatre a true landmark in a city where most buildings use the brick and grey-blue limestone of our regions. Inside is an Italian-style room of NapoleonII, a second empire-style decoration that is rare in Wallonia. The dome is adorned with a neo-bararchic trompe l’oeil canvas, reminiscent of a cloud-covered sky in which a reborn iconography unfolds: Putti musicians, loved ones, flower garlands.

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Places of instruction

For a long time, conservatories and academies have been the most important of music pedagogy. All Walloon cities have them. Among these educational institutions, the Federation of Wallonia-Brussels has three royal conservatories, one in Brussels and the other two in Wallonia.

Royal Theatre of Mons. ©DR

The Royal Conservatory of Music in Mons is the legacy of a music academy founded in the 18th century. The institution is housed in a listed building of great architectural quality, the former refuge of the Abbey of Epinlieu, a fine example of the Montoise architecture of the end of the Old Regime. The old chapel has a bell tower and is opened by a baroque entrance gate, with a broken gable with a winged niche. Inside we hold a beautiful straight staircase separated by landings, one of the first examples of its kind built in our regions. The building was restored between 1982 and 1987 as part of a campaign to bring this architectural heritage back to life.

The Royal Conservatory of Music in Liege also hosts the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra of Liege. The institution, which was founded in 1826 under the Dutch regime, moved into a new building built by the architect Louis Boonen between 1882 and 1886. The monumental facade of the Neo-Renaissance is richly decorated and consists of three forebodies. There are a variety of details, including beautiful masks related to the performing arts. Inside, the concert hall is worth a visit: the music played by the orchestra makes the architecture really great.

The hall, one of the largest in Europe at the time of its construction, is furnished in Louis XIV style. The ceiling dome is pierced in the middle of a magnificent glass roof, surrounded by ten compartments with ten paintings by the artist Emile Berchmans, who is also the author of the dome of the Royal Theatre. The stage is crowned by an extraordinary organ of 3,676 pipes, which was installed in 1888 by the organ builder Pierre Schyven. On both sides, the walls of the scenes are decorated with oil paintings, which were added between 1952 and 1954. They are the work of Edgar Scauflaire and magnify both mythology and music. The paintings relate in particular to two great Liege composers, André-Modeste Grétry and César Franck.

In Tournai, the Conservatorythe work of the prolific architect Bruno Renard. Integrated into the architectural ensemble of Queen Astrid Square, which was completely designed by Renard in 1822, it remained unfinished. Very well restored, it is characterized by the presence of a chamber supported by two rows of Tokan columns.

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It is impossible to be exhaustive when it comes to listing hereditary assets related to musical entertainment. Of these, however, the fate of the lot is, as it is the only one placed on the list of the extraordinary heritage of Wallonia. The Forum de Liege was built between 1921 and 1922 in Art Dé style. It combines the preferred materials of this interwar architecture: concrete, iron and glass. It has two facades, one in Pont d’Avroy Street and the other, the most beautiful, rue du Mouton blanc. It is now home to a cinema and is characterized by its huge bay in basket handles decorated with a magnificent stained-glass window, which represents a stylized theatre. The theatre has a number of painted staff, with geometric and gilded motifs with brass leaf.

The kiosks, a little-known heritage

The kiosk of Harmony Park in Verviers. ©DR

In line with the architectural innovations of the 19th century, kiosks from the 1820s-1830s were created in the form of temporary and detachable buildings. Until after the Second World War, they were the result of the musical madness that spread to towns and villages through music clubs, harmonies, brass bands and local festivals.

As early as 1840, these privileged places, which are often located on the town square, were permanently established as a symbol of new musical art. They are a way of making this culture accessible to all. But while many of them have since disappeared, others are receiving protection. Witnesses to our history and real sights in the countryside, eleven kiosks are classified as a monument in Wallonia. Many others deserve to follow this path. Under the sheltered property we can mention the beautiful kiosk of Verviers: restored and well maintained, it gives the park of harmony a special charm.