The Belgian composer, Jean-Paul Byloo, attended secondary school in Veurne; then went on to study music at the Royal Conservatory in Ghent, where he earned first prizes in solfège (with Gaston Van Damme), piano (with Abel Matthys), harmony (with Jeanne Vignery), counterpoint (with Roland Coryn) and fugue (with Gery Bruneel). Byloo studied choral conducting at the Kurt Thomas Society in The Hague, and modern compositional techniques with Lucien Goethals. He rounded off his musical studies at the Royal Conservatory in Brussels with a first prize (cum laude) in composition, in the class of André Laporte.
From 1972 to 1982 Jean-Paul Byloo was a teacher of solfège and piano at the Municipal Music Academy in Veurne. He conducted the Beauvarlet Kamerkoor in Nieuwpoort (1975-1985) and the Cantores Servadie in Diepenbeek (1985-1988). Since 1982 he has been the head of the Municipal Academy for Music, Word and Dance in Geel, and a solfège teacher at the Royal Conservatory in Brussels. Since 1992 he has also taught formal analysis and instrumentation at the Brussels conservatory.
Jean-Paul Byloo’s work has won awards in composition competitions organised by such bodies as Sabam, Cantabile, the provinces of West-Flanders and Antwerp and the Belgian Royal Academy. His compositions have been premiered at the Flanders Festival, Ars Musica Brussels, de Nacht van Radio 3 and the Belgian-Dutch Music Days. He has composed compulsory works for important music compositions, and has received numerous compositions commissions from leading soloists, chamber-music groups and orchestras.
Many of the composer’s simple choral works and song arrangements have been published by ANZ Antwerp and by the publisher De Notenboom. The Flemish broadcaster (VRT) has made recordings of choral, chamber-music and orchestral works. Byloo’s works have been performed in Belgium, the Netherlands, France, Germany, Switzerland and Hungary.
The musical style of Jean-Paul Byloo represents a translation of traditional techniques into a contemporary sound-world. In his compositions, Byloo often uses classical techniques, such as traditional formal schemes, canons, imitation, the use of cantus firmus and of the BACH motif. These techniques are combined with contemporary approaches such as atonality, clusters, glissandi, rhythmic complexity, the use of sound-layers and modern instrumental playing techniques.
In most of his compositions Byloo attaches great importance to timbre and often works with sound textures. This may be heard in the motet O Salutaris (1984) for 12-voice choir, a study based on an overall sound constructed from semi-tones and whole-tones. The work arrives at its particular sonority through the continually changing mutual influence of the various parameters. This is particularly clear in the Amen, which in a process of simplification narrows the cluster down to a unison. The whole work proceeds in a very slow tempo and the dynamic level remains low.
Because of this slow tempo, the successive timbres glide very gradually over one another and the whole takes on a very static quality. In Omaggio (1988) for 16-voice choir, the melodies are woven together into a dense sound-web of changing colours.
In Sounds and Colours (1990) for clarinet solo, an extreme agility is demanded of the performer in order to produce constantly changing sound- and colour-shifts, resulting in an interplay of different tensions. In the Concerto for wind orchestra (1994) as well, the emphasis is on timbre. In the 3 movements of the work, thematic passages are alternated with episodes characterised by slowly gliding sound-layers which continually change colour.
In his many compositions for choir, Jean-Paul Byloo aims to present the text symbolically in music by applying particular techniques such as the ‘instrumentation’ of the choral voices and the musical illustration of particular words and phrases. In Avond (Evening, 1982), a nocturne for soprano solo and 7-voice choir, the creation of mood is the central characteristic. A 4-line verse from the Paul van Ostayen’s first ‘Music-Hall’ collection forms the basis of this choral work. The use of diatonic clusters is suggestive of twilight, as the soprano is given a rarefied, almost unearthly melodic line. Omaggio (1998) is a homage to the Medieval composer Hildegard von Bingen and her age. The whole choral work symbolises the text of Hildegard’s responsorium O Clarissima Mater: the mother of God is mild and graceful. In the course of the composition, certain words such as “clarissima”, “mortis”, “infudisti” and “ora pro nobis” are musically portrayed. The modal mood and the use of cantus firmus, canon and hoquetus refer to musical techniques from the Middle Ages. These elements are combined with contemporary techniques such as clusters and glissandi.
Epithalamia for mezzo-soprano, male chorus, strings, piano and percussion, was composed in 1989 on a text by Hedwig Speliers. These Epithalamia or wedding songs are made up of 4 sonnets with a high degree of musicality. Each poem is differently coloured through a particular combination of syllables and vowels. The rhythmic lines are also full of surprising syncopations. The composition aims at a musical translation of the poetic force of Speliers’ verses. The score, a glorification of the union of man and woman, radiates happiness and optimism. This effect is achieved by a dense interweaving of the vocal and instrumental elements, resulting in a sort of forward-shifting cloud of sound in which only the mezzo-soprano solo part comes to the foreground. The male chorus functions as a commentary to the text in the solo part.
Besides singing, the choir is required to produce sound in many other ways, including whispering, humming, speaking, shouting, Sprechstimme, whistling and yawning. The 4 poems are framed by a Prelude and a Nocturne, in which the soloist and the choir melt together into a colouristic element embedded in the orchestral sound. This orchestral use of the human voice in the outer movements results in a timbre-centred composition. In formal terms, the repetition of patterns plays a great role. In opposition to repetitive music, this technique is here applied as a structural element like any other. The overarching form is a clearly recognisable frame-form, as the final movement repeats the opening, with variations in the overall sound and in the dynamics.
In L’Immensita dell’ Attimo (1989), Byloo found his thematic inspiration in the work of the Italian poet Mario Luzi. The music illustrates the central symbolism of Luzi’s poetry: the intangible presence of life. This message is musically translated by the combination of constant and changing elements or the opposition between the immeasurable and the finite. The unity of time (metronome marking 60) and the unity of pitch (choir humming a) are constantly present. In parallel to this, pitch, duration and tonal intensity evolve from a simple to a complex whole, and back again. This creates a labyrinthine texture of sound that reflects Luzi’s words: “Indelible truths are played out on earth, unconnected and incomprehensible.”
Like the choral works, Byloo’s purely instrumental compositions are also based on thematic elements. Nuits sans Sourires (1989), for instance, is a symphonic tribute to the surrealist painter Paul Delvaux. The title of this orchestral work is borrowed from a poem on Delvaux by Paul Eluard, the French surrealist poet. In his paintings, Delvaux attempts to translate reality into dreams, in which things gain a poetic meaning without losing the outer appearance of reality. In his paintings, Delvaux unites elements which one does not normally associate with one another. This initially creates a feeling of alienation, which subsequently changes to a sense of wonder.
Alienation and wonder are elements also expressed in the score of Nuits sans Sourires, a nocturne for orchestra. The basic concept is musically represented by a dense texture of melodic lines, rhythms, timbres and intensities. This texture results in a static effect, in which no individual tones can be perceived, only a cloud of sound with a particular density. Through the use of glissandi and quarter tones, the network becomes even more dense, as floating, intangible shifts in colour are produced.
Besides literary subjects, Byloo also draws on more programmatic elements. Utopia for string orchestra (1992) has as its theme/programme the hope for a better world.
The music sets out to conjure up an idyllic, perfected dream world in which chaos is replaced by order, the tangible by the intangible, disagreement by reconciliation. This ideal is musically interpreted by a gesture that gradually blossoms from pianissimo to climax and back again: “dal niente al niente” – from nothing to nothing. Watermusic, a suite for piano 4 hands (1994), musically evokes water in its various forms. The rhythmic surging of water is suggested by a delicate interplay of teeming small intervals and splashing arpeggios. The kaleidoscopic effects of water and light result in a score in which lightness and subtlety complement a richness of colour and sound.
Well-known motifs from musicals are heard throughout the 3 movements, including such appropriate titles as “Singing in the rain”, “Ol’ Man River” and “The Rain in Spain”.
Byloo has written 2 string quartets to date, in 1989 and 1992. The first movement (Allegretto) of the First String Quartet has a melody, with ornamentation and glissandi, which is passed from one instrument to another. At the same time, contrapuntal lines are worked out against a neutral accompanying figure. In the Allegretto vivo - in pizzicato – melodies are heard which are interrupted by fortissimo intrusions. In the contrast movements, new timbres are achieved with glissandi, trills and chords produced ‘col legno’. The final movement is a nocturne-like Adagio. Here the shadowy sounds of night are suggested by scraps of melody, short whispering pizzicati and glissandi, soft tremolos in “sul tasto” and long ethereal sounds. In the Second Strong Quartet, the creation of contrasts plays a central role. The work may be described as kaleidoscopic: a one-movement composition with constantly changing colours and moods, rooted in 2 different musical ideas. In the first, thematic development is central. The second idea is based on the representation of a sound-amalgam. The overall impression is paramount here, and the sound is, as it were, intangible. The work is a layering of different rhythmic and melodic elements that are constantly in movement. The so-called BACH motif functions as a unifying element and links both the musical ideas.