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René-Louis Becker (Composer)

Born: 1882 - Bischheim, Alsase, France
Died: 1956 - Dearborn, Michigan, USA

The Frenchborn American composer, René-Louis Becker, was born to Edouard and his wife, Adele, in the town of Bischheim, Alsase, France. It took most of Edouard's income to raise the children and pay for their training at Strasbourg's Conservatory of Music. Some noted musicians of the time were their teachers. René's piano teachers, for example, included Ernest Munch whose son Carl (Charles Munch) became music director and conductor of the Boston Symphony Orchestra. Another was Fritz Blumer, a pupil of Franz Liszt. René studied advanced composition under Carl Somborn, a pupil of Josef Rheinberger. His organ instruction came from Adolphe Gessner, a Swiss organist. Four of Edouard Becker's five children went on to careers in music as performers, teachers, or composers. The composer Johannes Brahms came to the Strasbourg Conservatory once a year to perform a piano recital. In the spring of 1894, young René L. Becker was chosen to turn the pages for the Maestro during the performance because of his high scholastic standing. It was the supreme honor for a conservatory student.

By 1900, the lure of America hit the Becker family and two of René's brothers, Lucien and Camille, made their way to St. Louis. Lucie, who had majored in violin, remained in the Strasbourg area as a music teacher and concert performer. René-stayed behind mainly to complete his studies and refine his interest in liturgical music. In 1904, René joined his brothers in St. Louis and formed the Becker Conservatory of Music where he taught piano, organ and composition. He performed in concerts often and had his own first compositions published then. Camille died in his early twenties and Lucien, a member of FAGO, started a music school in Portland, Oregon. Neither brother had children.

Over the next forty years, nearly a hundred of René-Louis Becker's works were published, including three major organ Sonatas, 15 Masses, 25 piano solos, and 35 motets. Some of his works are still used by soloists and choral groups, despite recent modernization of church liturgies. These include his First Organ Sonata, Toccata in D Major, La Chatalaine, Melodious Studies, Two Etudes, and his Masses in honor of St. Angela, St. Felix Valvois, and St. Francis Xavier. René's published works also include compositions for violin and viola. Fischer Brothers, Schirmer, McLaughlin Reilly, and John Church have published his works. By 1908, René left his brothers and taught organ and music at St. Louis University and Gregorian Chant at Kendride Seminary.

New impetus to René-Louis Becker's professional career came in 1910 when he married Angela Landzettel. She was an accomplished musician in her own right. She was also devoted to the fine arts and did numerous oil and water color paintings and wrote poetry. Angela composed and had published by Theodore Presser several piano and organ compositions. The music from the pens and pianos of René and Angela in those productive early years of their marriage seemed relentless. The couple moved to Belleville, Illinois in 1912, the year after their first child, Catherine, was born. Then came René Claude in 1913 and Francis in 1915, by which time they moved to Alton, Illinois where they lived for the next 15 years. While there, René continued to teach and compose and was the organist at St. Peter and Paul Cathedral. Last but not least in the family came Julius (or Jay) who was born in 1929.

The Great Depression years were not all that difficult for the Beckers, especially in the wine and roses days of church music. In 1930, René became the first organist at the newly-built Blessed Sacrament Cathedral in Detroit, which was a center of a burgeoning interest in church and classical music in southeast Michigan. He held this post for the next thirteen years. He continued to teach music at home and in area schools, often giving lessons free during the depression years. René also gave lectures and concerts, and, he continued composing.

A member of the American Guild of Organists (Detroit Chapter), René-Louis Becker helped to establish the Catholic Organists Guild. With his son Francis, he founded the Palestrina Institute to teach area organists Gregorian Chant and liturgically correct music. He played at the installations of Detroit Cardinal Mooney and Bishop Woznicki. After 1943, he moved on to St. Alphonsus Church in Dearborn and was organist there until he retired in 1952 at the age of 70. René L. Becker died in 1956 after a long illness, leaving behind a lengthy legacy of music for his family, the church and the ages.

Source: La famille Becker page (Author: Gene Scott)
Contributed by
Aryeh Oron (April 2011)

René-Louis Becker: Short Biography | Bach-inspired Piano Works: Works | Recordings

Links to other Sites

La famille Becker - une dynastie de musiciens [French/English]




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