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Désiré Defauw (Conductor)

Born: September 5, 1885 - Ghent, Belgium
Died: July 25, 1960 - Gary, Indiana, USA

The Belgian conductor, Désiré Richard Defauw, was trained as a violinist at the Ghent Conservatory. He was a violin pupil of Johan Smit. In 1900, at age 15, he became solo violin of the the orchestra of the Winter Concerts of Ghent. For three seasons, 1906-1909, he was Concertmaster of the New Symphony Orchestra of London, which orchestra Leopold Stokowski conducted for his second ever orchestral concert. While in London, Defauw organized the Allied Quartet of London, a chamber orchestra which performed much contemporary music, such as Ravel and Strauss (1914-1918)1.

Désiré Defauw returned to Belgium in 1910, where he organized two string quartets which performed during the 1910ís. In 1922, he organized the Société des Concerts Defauw, which he conducted during the later 1920s. In 1922, he also became professor of violin at the Antwerp Conservatory, until 1925. In 1926 1 he became director of concerts of the Conservatoire Royal de Bruxelles. In this capacity, as well as conducting the Conservatory orchestra, he taught conducting. In 1931, he organized l'Orchestre symphonique de Bruxelles, which was reorganized in 19371 or 19392 to form the National Orchestra of Belgium.

In June 1940, overtaken by World War II, Désiré Defauw left Belgium for England. Then in August 1940, he sailed to New York, and went on to Québec. Following a successful concert with the NBC Symphony Orchestra in 1939, Defauw had been invited to conduct the orchestra of the Chalet du Mont-Royal on August 29, 1940. This success in Québec lead to Defauw's Montreal engagement. In 1940, Wilfrid Pelletier (1896-1982) was conductor in Montreal, but the concert schedule and the employment for the musicians was sporadic. In 1941, Defauw became the first permanent conductor of the Société des concerts symphoniques de Montréal, which was renamed in 1953 the l'Orchestre Symphonique de Montréal. He conducted in Montreal for eleven seasons, from 1941 to 19522 or 19531.

While conducting in Montreal, following the illness and death of Frederick Stock, Defauw for four seasons also conducted the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, from 1943 to 1947. Several of the memoires of Chicago musicians of the period report that Chicago Symphony Orchestra morale was poor, in part because of lack of respect for Defauw. Defauw became a USA citizen during his Chicago term.

After completing his Chicago and Montreal responsibilities, Defauw returned to Belgium in 1953, where he was a guest conductor. Then, from 19501 or 19542 to 1958, he conducted the Gary Symphony Orchestra in Indiana. He died in Gary, Indiana on July 25, 1960.

1. Bakerís Biographical Dictionary of 20th Century Classical Musicians (1997)
2. Website (retrieved August 25, 2010)
Contributed by
Aryeh Oron (January 2002)

Recordings of Bach Cantatas & Other Vocal Works




Désiré Defauw


Selections from BWV 245

Links to other Sites

Chicago Symphony Orchestra Principal Musicians (


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