Continued from last week
August Liessens was born in 1894 in Ninove, Belgium. When he was seven years old, he enrolled at the local school for the blind, headed by the Brothers of Charity (Frères de la Charité). Following that, Liessens was admitted to Conservatoire Royal de Bruxelle, a music school that boasts such
famous faculty and students as Eugène Ysaÿe, Henryk Wieniawski and Isaac Albéniz to study composition, organ, and other musical instruments. He completed his training and received Premier Prix (the highest honors) when he was only nineteen years old.
Immediately following his graduation from the conservatory, he accepted a request from the Brothers of Charity to teach at Collège du Mont-St-Bernard in Canada. According to his granddaughter, Hélène Liessens, August travelled alone on a cargo ship for weeks to sail across the Atlantic. August‘s bold decision to move across the ocean on his own to start his career reveals a lot about his adventurous spirit, self-reliance and the strength of his character.
His new home was in Sorel, Quebec, a city about 50 miles northeast of Montreal. He played and taught the piano, organ, clarinet, voice, brass and string instruments. In addition to teaching, he was active as a composer, organist and choir and band director. He was a music director at Notre-Dame Church in Sorel, then at the Parish of St-Pierre-de-Sorel, from 1929 until his death in 1954. Liessens directed the Sorel Concert Band, Orchestra, and the Société chorale Liessens, a choral ensemble for 25 years. Many of his compositions were written specifically for his choral groups.
In 1974, the city of Sorel honored August Liessens’ rich contribution to the cultural life of his city by naming a street after him. Many of Liessens’ compositions are archived at the Bibliothèque et Archives nationales du Québec. The Library of Congress has a recording of August Liessens’ Messe “Lauda Sion” and Les sept paroles du Christ, directed by August’s son Frans Liessens in 1993.
If you would like to read a more detailed description of the Liessens Music Writer, please email [email protected].
I would like to thank Hélène Liessens for sharing her grandfather’s story and providing the photographs for this blog.