Lemmens, Jacques-Nicolas

Zoerle-Parwijs, 03/01/1823 > Zemst, 30/01/1881


Lemmens, Jacques-Nicolas

by Annelies Focquaert

Jacques-Nicolas Lemmens was born on 3 January 1823 in Zoerle-Parwijs (Antwerp Kempenland). He got his first music lessons from his father Jean-Baptiste, who was sexton-organist in the village church. At age 11 his father sent him to Van Den Broeck, organist in Diest. In 1839 he was admitted to the Brussels Conservatory in the piano class of Léopold Godineau, but that same year he was forced to interrupt his studies temporarily because a disease led his father to pass on his function as sexton-organist in Zoerle-Parwijs. When towards the end of 1839 there was a vacancy for the position of organist at St Sulpice's church in Diest, Lemmens successfully applied for the job.

Yet the desire to carry on with his studies overtook him and shortly after, he gave up his work to return to the Conservatory, where at the end of 1841 he became a pupil of Michelot. He also attended the classes of Fétis for counterpoint, fugue and organ. From 1842 Christian Girschner had been appointed as organ teacher, and in December 1844 Lemmens got into his class. Already in 1845 he obtained his first prizes for composition and organ. In 1846 Fétis sent him to Adolf Hesse in Breslau with a government grant in order to learn the German style: there, however, Lemmens only stayed some four months, by his own account having learnt nothing. Fétis saw to it that Girschner - who had too many peculiar ideas - was dismissed at the beginning of the school year 1848-1849, so in 1849 Lemmens could be appointed as organ teacher at the Brussels Conservatory.

Lemmens's career as an international concert organist and as an organ expert boomed enormously from 1850 onwards, partly due to his contacts with Aristide Cavaillé-Coll and the support of Fétis. Starting that year he issued his Nouveau Journal d'Orgue, a collection of church and organ music in the German style. The organ method that ensued from it, Ecole d'Orgue basée sur le Plain-Chant Romain (Organ School based on Roman Plain-song), was published in 1862 and had a considerable dissemination to the whole of Europe.

In 1857 he had married the English soprano Helen Sherrington, resulting in a steady shift of his work area towards England. In 1869 for financial reasons he resigned from the Brussels Conservatory and took up his residence in London, where together with his wife he developed their joint concert career and particularly concentrated on the harmonium. At the request of the Belgian clerical authorities he returned to Belgium in 1878 to found a school for Church music in Mechelen (1879), the future Lemmens Institute. He came to an untimely end on 30 January 1881, after having been able to work at the development of his school for barely two years.

Not only do his pupils include Joseph Callaerts, Joseph Tilborghs, Clément Loret and Alphonse Mailly, but also Alexandre Guilmant and Charles-Marie Widor (though the latter attended classes in Brussels merely as private students).

© Studiecentrum voor Vlaamse Muziek vzw - Annelies Focquaert (translation: Jo Sneppe)