François Callaerts started his musical career as a boy soprano in the choir of the Antwerp Our Lady's Cathedral. Later he didn't only stay there as a tenor, but was also trained as a violinist, from 1855 on even being principal of the first violins. As solo singer he regularly performed for Antwerp musical societies such as the 'Société royale d'harmonie', the 'Société de symphonie' and the 'Cercle artistique', while in the chamber music quartet of Charles Wilmotte he played the viola.
As from the 1840s indeed he had become very active on the Antwerp choral music scene, which flourished considerably at that time under the influence of the German Liedertafel associations. Thus consecutively he was musical director and/or conductor of the choral society 'De Scheldezonen', the 'Association royale des sociétés lyriques' and the Berchem Amphion choir. From 1852 till 1874 he was leader of the musical department of the 'Cercle artistique, littéraire et scientifique d'Anvers', with whom he conducted performances of vocal and symphonic music of Händel, Haydn, Beethoven, Mendelssohn and Schumann, as such promoting this 'classical' music to a broader public. He was also one of the first to execute works of the forgotten renaissance polyphonists again. Since 1864 he also conducted the 'Société de musique d'Anvers' for three years. Yet his major appointment followed in December 1878, when he became Kapellmeister in Our Lady's Cathedral, a position he held until his death in 1894. In this function François Callaerts sustained the tradition of the concert Masses with big choral and orchestral strengths, having as his pupil the later world-famous tenor Ernest van Dijck. In this way the rood loft of the cathedral became a family matter: for years and years his brother Joseph had been organist there and together as experts they were members of the advisory committee for the construction of the new organ (1888-1891).
Already at a young age he started composing (1841), his predilection for men's choruses with or without accompaniment running as a thread throughout his oeuvre list. Later as well he continued writing for this cast and strength, both on Dutch and French texts. Examples are the cantatas Segher de Cortrazyn (1849) for baritone solo, male-voice choir and orchestra, Nacht in Venetiën (Night in Venice) for male-voice choir and orchestra (1850), De Nerviërs (The Nervii) for male-voice choir and orchestra (1850), and Hommage au Roi for tenor, choir and orchestra, the latter being created with Callaerts himself as soloist in the Royal Palace in Brussels on 21 December 1851. In this listing Callaerts’ devotion to the Belgian dynasty as well as his idealization of a heroic Flemish past came to the fore. Other choral works for 4 male voices include De zang der Kempen (Campine Song, 1850), Feestzang (Festive Song, 1851) and Snelt aan, O Berchemnaren (Run along, Berchem Citizens). Also some chamber music works (a string quartet and two pieces for symphonic brass and percussion band) as well as songs (Aime moi d'amour; Aimer, espérer and La voix mélodie) are on his honor roll. Some works, among them a six-volume Album de Chant, were published in Antwerp.
© Studiecentrum voor Vlaamse Muziek - Annelies Focquaert (translation: Jo Sneppe)