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Diels, Hendrik

Antwerpen, 29/06/1901 > Parijs (FR), 10/12/1974


Diels, Hendrik

by Jan Dewilde

Just like his brother Joris he first trained as a schoolteacher, a profession he in fact practised for some years. Meanwhile Diels took courses of harmony, counterpoint, fugue and composition with Flor Alpaerts at the Antwerp Royal Flemish Music Conservatory, and with Felix Weingartner in Basle he also studied conducting. In 1931 he became the conductor of the Royal Flemish Opera (KVO), where in his first season he immediately distinguished himself with a performance of Die Walküre featuring Lotte Lehmann. Indeed he particularly made his name as a conductor of Wagner, a reputation which he confirmed during the 1943-1944 season in the KVO with the performance of the complete Wagner cycle. As a Wagner and Strauss conductor he also got booked by several German opera houses and by some major European orchestras.

Concurrently Diels dedicated himself unconditionally to Flemish music, especially to performing Peter Benoit and Jef van Hoof. In Cologne on 10 January 1940 he conducted the Reichssender Köln orchestra in a direct broadcasting of a 'Vlämisches Konzert', programming work of Benoit, Emile Wambach, Edward Verheyden, Van Hoof, August de Boeck, Maurits Schoemaker and Arthur Meulemans.

With the Berliner Philharmoniker he made a gramophone recording of Paul Gilson's La mer. During the war Diels's conducting career reached its apex in Flanders as well as in Germany. With the Antwerp Philharmonic Orchestra founded by him he almost exclusively programmed German and Flemish music. In addition to several productions in German opera houses he regularly conducted symphonic concerts throughout Germany. In Darmstadt on 9 July 1941 he performed work of Benoit, Van Hoof, Lieven Duvosel, De Boeck and César Franck. In that same year the Vlaamsche Cultuurraad (Flemish Culture Board) nominated him together with Van Hoof for the succession of Alpaerts as the Antwerp Conservatory director. Lodewijk de Vocht was the 'belgicist' candidate, but eventually in 1942 Van Hoof was appointed, and consequently Diels kept concentrating on his conducting career.

On 28 June 1942 his decennial conducting anniversary was celebrated at the KVO with a performance of Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg, on the occasion of which the mayor of Cologne appointed him as honorary conductor of the Cologne opera. In 1942 he took over the artistic directorship of the KVO from Jozef Sterkens.

At the end of the war Diels fled to Berlin, but he got arrested in May 1945. In 1949 he was sentenced on appeal to three years for cultural collaboration i.e. for conducting concerts for the Duitsch-Vlaamsche Arbeidsgemeenschap (German-Flemish Labour Society) and the Wehrmacht and for his patron membership of the SS-Vlaanderen. In the early 1950's he gave a series of concerts with an orchestra of unemployed musicians in the Antwerp Concordia hall in aid of the Committee for unemployed orchestral musicians. Here, too, he programmed Flemish music consistently, causing the concerts to become strong pro-Flemish manifestations.

Diels was active as a music critic as well, in Het Handelsblad since 1952 under the pseudonyms of H.E. and Borluut, and in De Standaard since May 1958 as the successor of Eugène van de Velde. In the meantime he had been rehabilitated (1956), so he was able again to resume his career as a conductor. First he was contracted by the Gelsenkirchen and Augsburg opera houses, after which in the 1960's he directed the radio orchestra and the National Opera orchestra on different occasions, among the latter several Béjart productions. He was also a much-praised conductor at Flemish National Zangfeesten (Singing Gatherings) since 1937 and IJzerbedevaarten (yearly pilgrimages to the First World War memorial in West-Flemish Diksmuide) since 1958.

From the year 1957 he was delegate director of SABAM, where he devoted himself to promoting the interests of the Flemish composers. He died in Paris, while attending an international copyright conference by order of SABAM.

Hendrik Diels composed songs, choral works and piano music. He translated several plays into Dutch.

© Studiecentrum voor Vlaamse Muziek vzw - Jan Dewilde (translation: Jo Sneppe)