Jan-Jozef (Jean-Joseph) Bessems received his first musical education as a choirboy at the Antwerp Carolus Borromeus Church, where he also took cello lessons. He made his debut as a cellist in 1824. In Paris he practised the violoncello with Auguste Franchomme and Pierre Chevillard. Subsequently he was engaged as cello soloist by the orchestra of the Antwerp ‘Théâtre Royal’, as well as the ‘Société Royale d’Harmonie’ and the Cathedral, also playing in several symphonic and chamber music concerts. Consecutively he became Kapellmeister of Carolus Borromeus Church (1833-1845) and Antwerp Cathedral (1845-1871), while in 1842-1844 he was co-founder of the ‘Ecole de Musique de la ville d’Anvers’ together with Frans Aerts and Corneel Schermers. There he taught solfège, music theory, violin, cello and double bass from 1843 to 1867. When in 1867 the school was reorganised under the direction of Peter Benoit, he gave cello classes and from 1874 on also double bass and chamber music classes. Furthermore he was a music teacher at the ‘Institut Pothier’ and the Royal Atheneum. In addition he conducted the concerts of the ‘Société des Dames de la Charité’ (1845-1871) and the ‘Société de Symphonie (1848-1853). After 1871 he resumed his function of Kapellmeister at Carolus Borromeus Church. On the Antwerp music scene he played a role which should not be underestimated with his activities as a teacher, orchestral musician, soloist, Kapellmeister and conductor. On the occasion of the World Exhibition in Antwerp in 1885 he was knighted in the Order of Leopold, together with Emile Wambach and Adolphe Samuel.
Jan-Jozef Bessems composed an Andante (1889) and some fantasies for cello.
© Studiecentrum voor Vlaamse Muziek - Annelies Focquaert (translation: Jo Sneppe)