Jacques Nicolas Lemmens




Jacques-Nicolas Lemmens was born on January 3rd 1823 in Zoerle-Parwijs. As a child, he received his first music classes here, taught by his father, who was the organist, school master and verger of the village. In 1839 Lemmens continued his musical education at the Royal Conservatory of Brussels, where he took piano lessons from Léopold Godineau. After one year, he was obliged to quit his higher education because he had to replace his father as main organist in Zoerle-Parwijs. When a bit later the position of organist at the St-Sulpitius in Diest opened up, Lemmens also took up this role. However, after 15 months he resumed his studies, with success. A year later, at the recommendation of Jean-François Fétis, he went to Breslau (then Germany) with the financial support of a Belgian scholarship to study the classic German organ tradition - as surrendered by Johann Sebatian Bach - under the renowned Adolf Hesse. 

Composer, organist and musical educator

Once returned to Belgium, his career really took off in 1847, when his cantate Le Roi Lear won the second price of the Prix de Rome competition. A year later he published his first organ pieces Dix Improvisations dans le style sévère et chantant. In 1849 at the age of 26 Lemmens was appointed as organ teacher at the Royal Conservatory of Brussels. He held this position until 1868, and during this time he expanded the size of the organ class with students from Belgium and abroad. In addition to this, he devoted himself to publications on music education. For instance, in 1850, he published his Nouveau Journal D’orgue, wherein he collected church and organ music in the German style. From this he developed a method for organ in 1962, Ecole d’Orgue basée sur le Plain-Chant Romain, which spread through the whole of Europe. 

Because of a concert trip to Paris in 1850, he not only became a successful organist, he also became acquainted with the organ builder Aristide Cavaillé-Coll. Thanks to this contact and the everlasting support of Fétis, Lemmens' career entered an accelerated phase. When he married the English soprano Helen Sherrington in 1857, his work area moved to England. In 1869 he permanently relocated to London to focus on his concert career with his wife. In this manner, he reached international fame as a renowned Bach performer. 

Messe in F, Jacques Nicolas Lemmens.

Lemmens institute 

In 1878, the Belgian episcopate asked Lemmens to return to Belgium, with the explicit commission to start a school for Church music. As a result, he became the first director of the School for Religious Music, which later moved to Leuven and is now known as the Lemmens Institute (LUCA School of Arts, campus Lemmens). Lemmens only had two years to build his school, as he died on January 30th 1881. 

Choral Works (selection) 

Vocal music

  • Ave Maria, for soprano and organ. 
  • Ave Verum, for bass and organ.
  • Chants Liturgiques, for voice and organ. 
  • Tota pulchra es, for alto, soprano and organ. 

Choral music

  • Messe en fa, for two sopranos and organ. 
  • Messe en Sib, for two male voices and organ. 
  • Messe en sol mineur, for three male voices and organ. 
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