Emiel Wambach - Quinten Massijs (1899)

  • QuintenSL1
  • QuitnenSL6Wambach
  • QuintenSl4Verhulst
  • QuitnenSL5Statue
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  • Cover of the 1955 performance program of 'Quinten Massijs'
  • Emiel Wambach
  • Raf Verhulst, librettist of 'Quinten Massijs'
  • Statue of the painter Quinten Matsys
  • Quinten Matsys, 'Madonna with child'
  • 1899 leaflet on the première of 'Quinten Massijs'

Libretto: Raf Verhulst
World première: 16 december 1899, Nederlands Lyrisch Toneel, Antwerp

'De moeder maged en 't goddelijk kind' (Act III, aria Floris)
Joris Grouwels (Floris), 27 januari 2016, Museum Vleeshuis Antwerpen (available in 401Concerts Nr. 2)


Floris Van Tuylt is a rich citizen from Antwerp, and a high ranking member of the painter’s guild. The young smith Quinten Massijs confesses his love for Floris’s daughter Aleide to his boss, the smith Zegher. His enthusiasm culminates in the unruly Spring song, ‘Er is in't woud geen bloem’ (There is no flower in the woods).

Emiel Wambach: Quinten Massijs ‘Ik groet u, jonkvrouwe… Er is in't woud geen bloem’
Joep Weijs (tenor), Walter Crabbeels (piano), 1975 (archief Joep Weijs).
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Aleide is also in love with the young smith, but unfortunately for the couple Floris plans to wed his daughter off to an artist. Thus Quinten leaves for faraway shores in order to become a painter. The second act opens to another Spring song, now by Aleide, ‘Als de eglantier zijn knopjes ontluikt’ (When the eglantine blossoms). As optimistic as the song starts, so sad does it end when she despairs about Quinten’s return. After a mini-contest in the medieval art of rhetoric song (à la Die Meistersinger) between Zegher and Floris another aria of despair by Aleide follows, which is interrupted by a merry song from afar. It is Quinten’s song, ‘Het daghet in het Oosten’ (Light shines from the East). A passionate love duet follows in which Quinten says he will participate in this year’s painter’s guild contest.

Emiel Wambach: Quinten Massijs ‘Intro Act III’
Koninklijke Vlaamse Opera, 1976.

The third act is in reality one big procession of guilds and rhetoric chambers, mass scenes with choruses singing about the glory of this festive Flemish day of the guilds. Floris appears before Quinten’s masterpiece, ‘De moeder-maged en 't goddelijk kind’ (The painting of the virgin mother and the child divine). Gazing at the painting Aleide’s father expresses his deep emotions over seeing the beauty of Quinten’s masterpiece in his aria by the same title, ‘De moeder-maged’. His emotions are confirmed in the jury’s verdict, from which Massijs emerges as the winner. He is allowed into the painter’s guild and gets Aleide’s hand in marriage.

Download fragments from Quinten Massijs

Our download program with Flemish opera arias and duets 401Concerts Nr. 2 was filmed and recorded on January 27, 2016, in Museum Vleeshuis, in a coproduction with the artists, soprano Pauline Lebbe and baritone Joris Grouwels. Lebbe sang  the aria ‘De moeder maged en haar godlijk kind’. Other arias and duets include Jan Blockx' operas De herbergprinses and De bruid der zee, and operas by François-Auguste Gevaert, Armand Limnander van Nieuwenhove and August De Boeck. Some highlights can be seen in the video trailer above. The complete concert is downloadable from our Flemish Opera Arias & Duets Concertpage.


QuintenStagepicThe libretto of Quinten Massijs is loosely based on the historic painter from Leuven (1466 –1530), who made his career in Antwerp. Massijs was famous for his paintings of the Madonna with Child, of which at least ten have been preserved in Western churches and museums. Following a footnote which mentions the particular Madonna with Child in the Staatliches Museum Berlin, this may have been the precise painting that inspired librettist Raf Verhulst. He sketched it upon the firmly established model of Wagner’s Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg, apart from which there are also clear influences of Tannhäuser. Since these similarities also extend to the music, one might actually label Quinten Massijs the 'Meisterpainter of Antwerp'. In Quinten’s singing one easily hears Walther von Stolzing, in the rhetoric song duel we hear the similar contest from Die Meistersinger and Aleide has clear similarities with Eva. Floris’s once famous aria ‘De moeder-maged en ‘t god’lijk kind’ on the contrary has the sentimental tone of ‘Selig sind die Verfolgung leiden’ from Kienzl’s Der Evangelimann, an opera that was composed four years prior to Quinten Massijs (to be clear, both arias hark back to ‘O du mein holder Abendstern’ from Tannhäuser). His conservative style is probably the reason that musical history places Emiel Wambach below Peter Benoit and Jan Blockx, even though Quinten Massijs was a triumphant success that lasted until the late 1960’s. In spite of everything Benoit was judged more important and Blockx was an avant garde composer who brought verism to Flanders in the 1890’s. Wambach is foremost a traditionalist, aiming to please. Nonetheless, the success of Quinten Massijs in Flanders is understandable. Wagner’s Meistersinger is about two hours too long while Verhulst’s sentimental libretto unfolds with lightning speed. In addition Verhulst has bathed his text in a lavish Flemish seasoning, which was not wasted on the native audience. Very different from Jan Blockx in his 1892 opera Maître Martin, Verhulst took a historic subject for his plot that revolved around the traditional contest for the hand of the passive female lead: the medieval Flemish painter Quinten Massijs, along with a painting that the audience of Wambach’s days could immediately relate to. As such, the plot was much more effective than the common coopers that had to compete over something as cheap as ‘the best barrel’ in Blockx’s Maître Martin.

Wambach may not be a revolutionary composer, yet he provided Verhulst’s libretto with very effective music. One can hear Wagner all around, and Verdi’s Falstaff was audibly also already composed, but Wambach succeeded in adding a strong Flemish colourite which shimmers as the morning dew on a spider’s web in the songs, arias and choruses. In addition Verhulst provided the sort of sweet-pious sentimental verses that were so beloved in Flanders until well in the 1970’s, which is reflected in the tremendous success there of such purely sentimental compositions as Armand Preud’Homme’s Op de purp’ren hei. The aria ‘De moeder maged’ is perhaps the most famous early example of this style in Flanders. It is available for download here in our 401Concerts Nr. 2 recording with Flemisch Opera Arias and Duet, as recorded on January 27 2016 in Museum Vleeshuis Antwerp with baritone Joris Grouwels as Quinten.

Thus one can both understand why the critics devoted few good words to Quinten Massijs, while the audiences loved it. Quinten Massijs is in modern days society probably no longer an opera that can have the same effect as it once had. The tremendous success of it in another era will nonetheless ensure its place in Flemish operatic history. For historic reasons it should be performed at least, say, once in every 20 years or so, in addition to which Flanders should have recorded the work already long ago.