Benoit Lagye was the son of a tailor who had been a regimental musician during Napoleon's campaign in Spain. He received basic tuition from his father, but in fact he was self-educated, apart from some lessons taught by the violinist Jean Andries. As an eight-year-old prodigy he played a concert in the Casino of Ghent and at age twelve he was incorporated in the orchestra of the Ghent 'Grand-Théâtre', where his father was second clarinettist. The conductor of this orchestra, Karel Lodewijk Hanssens (junior), took a liking to the young man and invited him for some concerts in Paris, where the latter settled temporarily. According to biographer Bergmans, Lagye led a Bohemian life in Paris, striking up a friendship with the writers Henri Murger and Gérard de Nerval.
Lagye became violinist in the newly founded orchestra of the 'Société du Conservatoire' led by François Habeneck and also played in orchestras led by Jules Pasdeloup and Jacques Offenbach. After his marriage to the French pianist Zacharie Portret he relocated in 1840 to Ghent, where he became violinist in the orchestra of the Opera (1842), as well as being active both in church and in ballroom orchestras, while also performing in concerts of the 'Melomanen' and the 'Société Royale des Choeurs'. When his teacher Jean Andries retired as first violinist of the Opera in 1855, Lagye took over his position as principal. In 1857 he was appointed at the Conservatory as a second violin teacher next to Andries, being promoted in 1859 to first violin teacher, a function he held until 1887, in addition to teaching viola lessons (1860-1873) and instrumental ensemble (1861-1875). In his living-room he organised weekly chamber music concerts at which works by Mozart, Beethoven and Haydn were played with pianist Max Heynderickx, violinists Firmin Blondeel and Joseph Rogiers, viola player Alexandre De Vigne as well as violinist Callewaert taking part. Subsequently these musicians were joined by Gustave Beyer, Désiré Van Reysschoot, Jean-Baptiste Rappé, Karel Miry and Edouard Nevejans. This group became known as 'de Zeve Straven'. In 1879 Lagye was knighted in the Order of Leopold. He retired in 1889 and passed away three years later.
Bergmans mentions that Lagye didn't compose much, apart from some simple works for violin, such as Le Rêve d'un Ange (op.18); yet quite a lot of children's songs, children's plays and solfège for beginners are supposed to be from his hand. There might, however, be a confusion over names with Benoni Lagaey, another Ghent composer.
His daughter Marie was a singer in Lyon, Strasbourg, The Hague, Liège and Montpellier, and she also travelled to America. His son Gustave was a man of letters, making French translations of the Legende von der heiligen Elisabeth of Franz Liszt and several works of Flemish composers, among them Blockx' Herbergprinses (The Tavern Princess).
© Studiecentrum voor Vlaamse Muziek vzw - Annelies Focquaert (translation: Jo Sneppe)