KAREL MIRY (1823-1889)

KAREL MIRY (1823-1889)

Karel Miry (© 1982 Algemene Muziekencylcopedie)

Karel Miry is composer of the month April 2012, because on April 29, 2012, his opera Charles Quint will be revived for the first time in more than 150 years. The location of the event was De Bijloke, in Ghent (Flanders), where the opera's plot is also situated. 

Karel Miry – Life & art

Karel Miry was born on August 14, 1823, in Ghent.  On the occasion of Miry's death, on October 3, 1889, theatre play & operetta association Belfort published an insightful, moving necrology which memorized Miry's humble origins:

“Miry was born in a poor family, where, nonetheless, music was practiced. His first teacher was his uncle, Pieter Miry, later conductor at the Flanders' Theatre, when the music there was excecuted by 8 tot 10 strings. Just as his uncle, Miry practiced the violin, accompanying his uncle at Sundays and festivities, to many a party or kermis, where people danced to the beat. At the end of each dance, Miry would go around, hat in hand, to collect money, before taking bow and violin in hand again, in order to play the next tune. truly, a humble and sad beginning for an artist like him!”

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Uncle Pierre prepared Karel for studies at the local Cisty School of Music. Upon which he took violin playing lessons with Jean Andries, while working as a copyist for its director Martin-Joseph Mengal, who duly noticed Miry’s progress in contra punt and harmony.

After having finished his studies there, Miry went to the Royal Conservatory in Brussels, where François-Auguste Gevaert became his tutor. Soon enough, he developed into the direction of composing. When an attempt to secure a post as the second violinist with the orchestra of the French Theatre failed, Mengal urged the City of Ghent to give Miry a scholarship that would enable him to continue his studies in Paris.

Ghent Symphony

Once returned from Paris, Miry rewarded his native city with a 'Ghent Symphony', which proved a hue success at its premiere. Residing in Ghent, Miry takes a post as second conductor at the Théâtre L’Opéra of Ghent, in addition to which he is appointed director of the Cercle Musical et de la société ‘Les Mélomanes’.

Miry’s eerste opera’s

Hipploiet van Peene (1843, Hendrik Dillens)Karel Miry’s first operas (comedies with music) emerge at the request of his increasingly famous uncle, Hippoliet van Peene. Coincidence has it that Miry's first attempt at opera with Van Peene’s piece à tiroirs Een man te trouwen (To marry a man; Ghent, October, 12, 1845) is also the very first work in which Van Peene uses the local dialect of the Flemish farmers as main language. This was of course not a coincidence, since nationalistic awareness was then rife throughout Europe, and in Belgium, specifically Hendrik Consience was already opening the doors to Flemish self esteem (Consience would later supply Miry with the libretto of The poet and his dream).

Miry's second collaboration with his uncle was in Black and white. This comic opera, premiered on November 9, 1845, was effectively the first Flemish 'Singspiel'. In spite of the complex plot in which a count is taken for a baker and vice versa, upon which the guilty go unpunished while the innocent are jailed, the work becomes a smash hit that remained on the repertoire for decades to come.

An important next step is de inauguration of the Minards-Theatre, which was erected in favor of Flemish art. It opened its door with Van Peene's and Miry's comic opera, Brigitta or the two foundlings. Napoleon Destanberg described it in his 1865 biography of Van Peene:

“Although it is out of scope here to discuss the music, I cannot resist to mention that one can already trace the author of Le lanterne magique, Charles V and Bouchard d’Avesnes in it: if the orchestration was still not perfect, one applauded the fresh, melodic invention and the keen sense of theatrical effects. The text was also very suited to the music, and thanks to the care with which it was performed, it went on to take an honorable place in the pantheon of the Flemish repertoire. It should also be mentioned, that the fans of national theatre, already stimulated by Black and white, now witnessed the day where a Flemish piece proved not just equal to the international, but in fact also superior to the vastly subsidized French pieces of the same genre.”

Miry’s first French language operas

In 1851 Miry is awarded the medal of the Société des Beaux Arts of Ghent. The success of his operas in those years is such, that he is appointed professor of harmony at the Ghent Conservatory, where also is entrusted with leading the orchestra.

On March 3,1853, Miry’s first French language opera is premiered, La lanterne magique, een magical opera after a play by Désaugiers. This opera was the second French language text of Van Peene, and received due enthusiasm at its premieres in Brussel and Ghent, where it was brought on stage with the necessary forces. Tamboer Janssens followed on October 1, 1854, a piece that following Destanberg would remain on the repertoire of “any company that for whatever reason cannot bring a woman on stage."

Eternal fame

Again on a text by Van Peene, 1854 is the year in which Miry composes the song that reaped him eternal fame in Flanders, De Vlaamse Leeuw (The Flemish Lion):

Zij zullen hem niet temmen, de fiere Vlaamse Leeuw, (They won't tame him, the proud lion of Flanders)
Al dreigen zij zijn vrijheid met kluisters en geschreeuw. (Despite threatening his freedom, with cuffs and shouts)
Zij zullen hem niet temmen, zolang een Vlaming leeft, (He can't be tamed, as long as the Flemish live)
Zolang de Leeuw kan klauwen, zolang hij tanden heeft. (As long as the lion can claw, as long as he has teeth)
Zij zullen hem niet temmen, zolang een Vlaming leeft, (He can't be tamed, as long as the Flemish live)
Zolang de Leeuw kan klauwen, zolang hij tanden heeft. (As long as the lion can claw, as long as he has teeth)
Zolang de Leeuw kan klauwen, zolang hij tanden heeft. (As long as the lion can claw, as long as he has teeth)

De tijd verslindt de steden, geen tronen blijven staan: (Time eats cities, no throne stand forever:)
De legerbenden sneven, een volk zal nooit vergaan. (Army's whither, but the people survive)
De vijand trekt te velde, omringd van doodsgevaar. (The enemy approaches, death surrounds us)
Wij lachen met zijn woede, de Vlaamse Leeuw is daar (But we laugh at his anger, for the lion of Flanders is here)
Zij zullen hem niet temmen etc.

Hij strijdt nu duizend jaren voor vrijheid, land en God; (Thousand years of fighting for freedom, land and God;)
En nog zijn zijne krachten in al haar jeugdgenot. (And still he is in the full blossom of his youth.)
Als zij hem machteloos denken en tergen met een schop, (Think him defenseless, and test him with a kick,)
Dan richt hij zich bedreigend en vrees'lijk voor hen op. (He will rise and bring terror upon them.)
Zij zullen hem niet temmen etc.

Wee hen, de onbezonnen', die vals en vol verraad, (Poor those who approach him deceitful,)
De Vlaamse Leeuw komt strelen en trouweloos hem slaat. (Caressing him first and then trying to strike.)
Geen enkele handbeweging die hij uit 't oog verliest: (He never misses a movement of one's hand.)
En voelt hij zich getroffen, hij stelt zijn maan en briest. (If he feels threatened, he shows his manes and roars.)
Zij zullen hem niet temmen etc.)

Het wraaksein is gegeven, hij is hun tergen moe; (The sign of vangeance is given, he is sick of mockery;)
Met vuur in 't oog, met woede springt hij den vijand toe. (With fiery eyes he jumps at the enemy.)
Hij scheurt, vernielt, verplettert, bedekt met bloed en slijk (He tears them up, leaving them covered in blood)
En zegepralend grijnst hij op 's vijands trillend lijk. (Roars triumphant, his feet on the enemy's trembling corpse)
Zij zullen hem niet temmen etc..

This nationalistic song is written in a pointed march rhythm, that reminds one of the ‘Marseillaise’ and ‘Brabançonne’. In 1973, 'The Flemish Lion' won the battle for becoming the Flemish national Anthem from the ‘Blauvoet’ (a composition of Johan de Stoop, later also set to music by August de Boeck and Emile Hullebroeck). The arguments pro and con concerned whether to favor the revolutionary sprit of marches like ‘Marseillaise’ and ‘Brabançonne’, or to seek the spirit of hymns such as the Dutch 'Wilhelmus', the English 'God save the Queen', or the German 'Das Lied der Deutschen' As for the ‘Blauwvoet,’ this song eventually became the battle hymn of the catholic student movement. When discussing Miry's 'The Flemish Lion,' we should, however, acknowledge that, like the Dutch 'Wilhelmus' (stolen from a Polish attempt to create a popular 'Hungarian' tune), 'The Flemish Lion' is not wholly an independent composition. To begin with, Van Peene borrowed the verse from Nicolaas Beckers' 'Sie sollen ihn nicht haben, den freien Deutschen Rhein' (They shall not conquer, the free German Rhine) and turned it into: "Zij zullen hem niet temmen, de fiere Vlaamse leeuw". Then Miry went on a shopping spree of his own, ending up in Germany, where he borrowed much of  Robert Schumann's song 'Sontags am Rhein'.

Miry's song ‘La Belgique’ likewise was once up for a vote, when it came to select the Belgian national Anthem, but that battle was lost against the ‘Brabançonne,' much to the chagrin of the author of the Belfort Necrology:

“‘La Belgique’ is heartfelt, easy tune, breathing peace and love, an much more deserved to be the National Anth emof all Belgians, than Campenhout's trifle ‘Brabançonne’, which merely expresses hatred and violence. As for ‘De Vlaamsche Leeuw,' contrary to what has been written about it, that song was composed  at the first rise of Flemish troupers in 1845, instead of at the time of the French turnover in 1848. This proud and stimulating song will remain on the tongues of the Flemish as an expression of the people's deepest feelings, their pride and their rights. Another of his songs, still popular in Ghent, 'The boys from Ghent,' is not of the same caliber”.

La Belgique ou le Règne de vingt ans

On the wings of the tremendous success of 'The Flemish Lion,' Miry composed his opera La Belgique ou le Règne de vingt ans, once again to a libretto by Van Peene. This opera was performed on July 21, 1856, on the occasion of the 25th anniversary of the coronation of King Leopold.

Bouchard d’Avesnes

Margaret I, Queen of Flanders, wife of the beheaded Bouchard d'AvesnesJudging on the Algemene Muziek Encyclopedie, Miry's most important opera was Bouchard d’Avesnes, premiered in ghent, 1864.

His 1857 opera Charles Quint was not less successful, but triumphs in Ghent and Mons (Bergen) counted for less than the successes reaped by Bouchard d’Avesnes in Brussels and Liège (Luik). Napoleon Destanberg (later one of Miry’s librettists) recalls the triumph of Bouchard d'Avesnes as follows in his biography on Hippoliet van Peene:

The beheading of Bouchard of AvesnesBouchard d’Avesnes, grand opera in five acts, with a subject taken from 'William of Dampierre', is a work in which both librettist and composer showed the best of their talents. [...] Bouchard was first performed in Ghent on February 6, 1864, and then in Luik, after which the Muntschouwburg in Brussels received it with an ovation that outclasses any reception that ever befell to a work by a local composer."

On the subject of the performance in the Royal Theatre in Ghent, and the subsequent death of Van Peene, Destanberg writes:

“Flowers! curtain calls! laurels! an unheard of triumph!... But who would have been happy with it, had he known that Van Peene's role in the national theatre would be cut short by his sudden death. 'O!', I wrote on February 20, the day after his passing away, 'He proved so gay and merry just the night before, so youthful and happy. He spoke so kindly with his nephew Karel Miry... He spoke so confidently of the future of both the Flemish and French Belgian theatre world..."

Destanberg neatly adds that Van Peene, all by himself, achieved more for the French theatre than all other Belgian playwrights together. A remark that becomes even more sarcastic, when he adds that French was not only not Van Peene's first language, but also a language in which he significantly fell short compared with his Flemish language works. Although, even with his limited French Destanberg judged him vastly superior to a haphazard, sloppy 'sribent' as... Eigène Scribe, the "God-like assistant of Meyerbeer"!

Vice director

When Ghent’s Conservatory is upgraded to Royal status in 1871, Adolphe Samuelis entrusted with the post of director, with Miry as vice director. The same year sees Miry taking on a position as inspector of Ghent's musical institutes. In 1881 he even accepts the post of national inspector of musical institutes, and to date he is praised for having vastly enhanced the level of musical education in Belgium.


The musical value of Miry is greater than one would think, given that he is remembered today only by that one song that became the National Flemish Anthem, 'The Flemish Lion'. Admittedly, he composed a lot of once popular entertainment music, and he quoted freely from the Italian and French operatic fashion of the day. The Belfort Necrology duly acknowledges these facts, while also stressing his importance in other aspects: in his best worse he was not just a fiery and sparkling composer,  but:

“He found the path to the heart, the true voice of the people, and once can be sure that in decades to come his songs wills till be sung from door to door. [...] We recall some French and Flemish 'romanzas' – which is the name given to chamber songs these days – such ‘Mon bon ange’, ‘Roosje’, and some choruses: ‘de Eerbanier’, ‘de Eik’, ‘Drinklied’, ‘de Kermis’, and most particularly ‘de Vlaamsche Leeuw’, once sung at many a party, spread his name throughout the country. [...] What other Dutch composer can say the same?”

In a sense, this summary is perhaps rather modest. Of curse, Miry borrowed too easily from Italian and French composers, but his great achievement was to have been one of the very first Flemish composers to set Flemish language libretti to music. Apart from that, he was also the first who integrated folkloristic musical elements in his operas. In this respect, he proved himself a true pioneer, even internationally. In a more strict sense, this also makes him the direct predecessor of a Peter Benoit, who would later plead the Flemish cause more directly, and became a spokesman for the Flemish movement. In Miry’s case, his turning to Flemish texts seems to have been more literary inspired, than that it was a political choice; he never protested French culture and wrote himself a good number of French operas and operettas/ opera comiques as well.

Musical multi talent

Except operas and operettas, Miry wrote songs, symphonies, cantatas, liturgical music, orchestral pieces, chamber music, piano music and songs for children. The latter was very dear to him, due to his passionate involvement with the musical education of the Belgian youth. This part of his oeuvre helped to end up with over 1.000 composition behind his name:

“Foremost, Miry proved himself a master in his vocal plays for school children: songs, fables, choruses, small plays, in which he distinguished himself throughout by lovely melodies, now jolly and gay, then sincere and heart rendering. Written as they are, for children, they are easy to remember and to sing along with. What better praise could one receive? Miry, foremost, was a gifted melodist. Gifted as he was, the work never seemed to be an effort, and he composed endlessly."

The human side of Karel Miry

Karel Miry (1889-05)

The Belfort Necrology doesn't fail to mention that Miry was an open, life loving, kind and tolerant human being, surrounded by many a friend:

“If he sowed signs of sympathy to the liberal cause, this was more in appearance than in his heart, for he never shared the hatred that certain apologetes of modern... society harbor for those who think differently than them. His heart remained God loving, and he never forgot where he came from in terms of homeliness and education. He contemplated the briefness of life in relation to the road the soul would eventually take, towards the day of judgment. Once, when sitting at a table with Knight De B., they smoked a cigar while contemplating the path to the unknown land that we all eventually have to take. Among the guests was a catholic. Miry said to him; "I'm sure that you will end up well." His friend replied: "I'm sure that you will not end worse than me." Miry's reply is typical for his way of thinking: "I hope so, but will leave the judgment to God."

Miry’s final days

Again, the Belfort necrology describes Miry's final hours better than a reconstruction could ever do, and therefore I quote it here integrally:

“Final mercy has been lend to the kind and hard working man. When the poet of  'Mon bon ange' felt his final hour approaching, he turned to his wife with the request to be given a final opportunity to confess to the Priest of the military hospital, who was an old friend of him. This man stood by him in these days, and comforted him with words in a way that perfectly prepared him for his final hour and the journey that was to follow it.

Monument in memory of Karel Miry, Gand

The priest came and gave him absolution, as well as the bread of the angels, that Miry had asked for, and that he received with confidence, trust, and an unbreakable love for his creator, the one that had lifted him from a poor and seemingly lost child to the ranks of an educated musician through his talent and his love for work and art. He died in gratitude for the beautiful live that had been granted to him, but only after having thanked the nurse that had taken care for him in his final days, after which he spoke to her his final words: ‘I die a happy man, because I can part the way I have always wanted to part."

Peace upon his ashes! And may his 'Flemish Lion', as yet a song of battle and bitterness, soon resound as the hymn of satisfaction and triumph throughout all the Dutch speaking Belgian lands."


Karel Miry passed away on October 3,  1889. Thanks to a legate, a monument in honor of him was erected thereupon.

With the help of Jan Neckers

Opera chronology Karel Miry

Wit en zwart (Opera in 1 akte. Libretto: Hippoliet van Peene. Premiere: 18 January 1846, Gent).

Brigitta (Opera in 3 akten. Libretto: H. van Peene. Premiere: 27 Juni 1847, Gent)

Anne Mie (Opera in 1 akte. Libretto: Hippoliet van Peene. Premiere: 9 october 1853, Antwerpen)

La lanterne magique (Opera in 3 akten. Libretto: Hippoliet van Peene. Premiere: 10 Maart 1854, Gent)

La Belgique ou le Règne de vingt ans (Libretto: H. van Peene. 21 juli 1856, Cirk-Schouwburg, Brussel)

Charles Quint (Grand opéra in 5 akten. Libretto: H. van Peene. 29 januari 1857, Grand Théâtre, Gent)

Bouchard-d'Avesnes (Grand opéra in 5 akten. Libretto: H. van Peene. 6 maart 1864, Grand Théâtre, Gent)

Maria van Boergondië (Opera in 4 akten. Libretto: Napoleon Destanberg. 28 August 1866, Grand Théâtre, Gent)

De Keizer Bij de Boeren (29 October 1866, Ghent). 1 act, N. Destanberg.

De occasie maakt den dief (Opera in 1 akte. Libretto: N. Destanberg. 24 December 1866, Ghent).

Frans Ackermann (Opera in 4 akten. Libretto: N. Destanberg. 13 October 1867, Brussel)

Brutus en Cesar (Opera in 1 akte. Libretto: P. Geiregat. 14 October 1867, Ghent)

Le mariage de Marguerite (Opera in 1 akte. Libretto: M. De Wille. 27 November 1867, Gent)

Een engel op wacht (Opera in 1 akte. Libretto: P. Geiregat. 8 December 1869, Brussel).

La Saint-Lucas (Opera in 1 akte. Libretto: J. Story. 17 February 1870, Ghent)

Het Driekoningenfeest (Opera in 1 akte. Libretto: P. Geiregat. 1870, Brussel)

De dichter en zijn droombeeld (Opera in 4 akten. Libretto: Hendrik Consience. 2 December 1872, Brussel)

De twee zusters (Opera in 1 akte. Libretto: P. Geiregat. 1872, Brussels)

Muziek in t'huisgezin (Opera in 1 akte. Libretto: N. Destanberg. 1873)

Het arme kind (Opera in 1 akte. Libretto: J. Story. 1874, Ghent)

De kleine patriot (Opera in 4 akten. Libretto: J. Hoste. 23 December 1883, Brussels)

La Napolitaine (Opera in 1 akte. Libretto: J. de Bruyne. 25 February 1888, Antwerp)


• Het Belfort. Jaargang 4. S. Leliaert, A. Siffer en Co, Gent 1889.

• H. van Peene en zijn werken (Napoleon Destanberg, Boek en Steendrukkerij van F.-L. Dulle-Plus, Gent, 1865))

• Algemene Muziek Encyclopedie (Unieboek bv, Bussum, 1982)

• Dictionnaire des compositeurs de Belgique du Moyen Âge à nos jours (Thierry Levaux; Éditions Art In Belgium, 2006). 

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Componist: Robin de Raaff (1968)
Waiting for Monroe
9 juni 2012
11,12, 13, 15, 16 juni

  • Marilyn Monroe: Laura Aikin
  • Gable: Alain Coulombe
  • Joe: Tom Randle
  • Norma Jeane: Hendrickje Van Kerckhove
  • Fox: Dale Duesing
  • John F. Kennedy: John Tessier
  • Robert F. Kennedy: Daniel Belcher
  • Eve: Maria Kowan
  • Paula: Helena Rasker
  • Whitey: David DQ Lee

Nederlands Kamerorkest o.l.v. Steven Sloane
Regie: Lotte de Beer
Scenografie: Clement & Sanôu
Librettto: Janine Brogt

De Nederlandse Opera
Waterlooplein 1, Amsterdam (NL)
Info: www.dno.nl
Tickets: https://www.dno.nl/index.php?m=tickets

Binnenkort volgt een uitgebreid portret van de componist Robin de Raaff