For three generations his family had been musicians. His father gave him instructions on the violin when he was four years old. So marked was his talent as a child it attracted the attention of Emperor William I of Germany, who sent him to Brussels. [The Evening World, January 16, 1908]Although all biographies have given 1826 as the birth date and The Hague as the place of birth, his great-granddaughter, Marianne Hall, has obtained from the Centraal Bureau Voor Genealogie in the Hague a birth certificate which gives the birth date of January 14, 1823 at Leiden for Charles Nicolas François Baetens. His father was Joannes Baptist Barends (b. 1782) and his mother was Theresia Naats (b. 1791). His father was a "trumpeter of the 2nd division," who lived in the Witte Poort district of Leiden.
As was his performance in Beethoven's "Archduke Trio" in B-flat, Op. 97:
M. Baetens pleased us much by his method of bowing, and by his blending his second fiddle so well with his right and left-hand coadjutors, aiming at a general in preference to an individual effect—the very first end to be arrived at in the interpretation of chamber music.[The Musical World, Vol. 25 (1850), p. 101]
Mr. Baetens is a capital chamber performer, so unobtrusive and anxious for the success of the whole—not for his own display.For the twenty odd years that Baetens worked with Hallé, he not only played in the orchestra but contributed several orchestral compositions and arrangements. An Overture by Baetens opened Hallé's concert on Wednesday, October 9, 1850.
[The Musical World, Vol. 25 (1850), p. 789]
In the first overture, we hailed with much pleasure and promise an entirely new feature at these concerts, in a highly creditable specimen of the creative talent of the orchestra. It is a manuscript composition, by M. Baetens, one of the new principals of the band, whose exquisite tenor-playing [viola-playing] we have more than once had occasion to notice, and who needs no further confirmation of the reputation which he enjoys, with those who know him more intimately, than this work, evidently the production of a thorough musician. As such, it is hardly possible to judge of all its merits at a single hearing. M. Baetens has judiciously avoided the prevailing fault of too many young composers of the present day, who, in the affected eccentricities of a would-be originality,—the result of mistaken talent or perverted study,—would seem to aim merely at running counter to all established laws in the constitution of music, without having the credit of one single new idea. In his overture, our modest aspirant has, on the contrary, wisely conformed to preconceived notions, and constructed it after the best models. Though it may lack startling novelty, there is much freshness even in the familiarity of his subjects, his treatment of which displays a complete knowledge and skillful management of orchestral resources. The melodies are graceful, and we were particularly struck with the beautiful effect of the finale. Altogether, it is a work we shall be glad to hear again.This was most likely the Ouverture No. 2 de Concert à Grand Orchestre composed in 1846 at The Hague. This is the only extant orchestral work by Baetens and was quite an accomplishment for the 23-year-old composer. It is clearly inspired by Mendelssohn and there are obvious borrowings from that composer's overture to A Midsummer Night's Dream. There are also reminiscences of the first movement of Schubert's 9th Symphony (premiered posthumously by Mendelssohn in 1839). But there are also passages of considerable originality and beauty. To see the score and listen to an audio clip, click on the links below under the list of works.
[The Musical World, Vol. 25 (1850), pp. 680-81]
He first came to Omaha in 1887 with an orchestra that played a one-night engagement there. He was so taken with the area that he moved to Omaha and established a music studio in the old Boyd Theatre.He continued to perform and teach at least until 1897 by which time he was known as "Dr. Baetens" or "Professor Baetens." [The Musical Critic, vol. 1, No. 2, Chicago, Nov. 16, 1897]
He was considered something of an "eccentric character" by his Omaha friends. As a young man he had fought several pistol duels, and finally committed suicide by shooting himself the day after his 82nd birthday.
[Music of Old Nebraska, Authors Catalog.]
"You must be able to play the thing standing on your head," old Dr. Baetens used to say.Baetens claimed that "he applied for and received the degree of doctor of music at Oxford" in 1885. [Omaha World Herald, November 20, 1898] This "instant degree" apparently coincided with a trip to England and Holland that year:
[From "Getting Ready for the Violin Recital" by George Barker, Jr., The Etude (July 1921), p. 470]
Sadly, unable to cope with a final illness, he committed suicide on January 14, 1908—his 85th birthday.
Another Professor of the Faculty, so well and favorably known here, who was identified with the college almost from the beginning and of whom Theodore Thomas once said, ‘He is the only viola player I ever had in my orchestra,’ will find himself during the vacation months in sturdy old England—Charles Baetens. He goes to visit his wife and children, residing in London. But the poetry of his tour is to be found in the fact that, after an absence of thirty six years, he will visit his mother country—Holland the land of dikes and canals. Here he will find many relatives, and more friends, with whom he spent the youth of his days.
[Cincinnati Commercial Tribune, July 12, 1885]
Despite the suicide, he was given a simple funeral service at St. Francis Xavier Catholic Church.
In a fit of despondency due to ill health, Charles Baetens, the violinist and composer, committed suicide yesterday by shooting himself through the heart. He quietly celebrated his eighty-second [sic: see third paragraph at the top of the page] birthday yesterday, and at that time gave no sign of mental depression. [The Evening World, January 16, 1908]
In 1908, the year Baetens died, his Albion: Grand fantasia on Scotch, Irish and English Airs was published by Carl Fischer in an arrangement for band by Miguel C. Meyrelles (b. Portugal, 1837; d. Washington D.C., 17 August 1900). It had already been performed for years in the U.S. and seems to have been even more popular in the U.S. than the orchestral version had been in England. There are several notices of performances from the 1880s through the 1920s. It was featured, for example, as the finale of a Grand Concert performed by Cappa's Seventh Regiment Band, N.G.S.N.Y. for the Veteran Firemen's Association of the City of New York on their Transcontinental Excursion from New York to San Francisco in September 1887. And it eventually became a staple in performances of Buffalo Bill's Cowboy Band!
The services, like the life of the deceased, were simple. Except for the strains of the organ at the opening and close there was no music, and the services comprised merely the prayers, the ceremonial censing of the body and a brief address by the officiating priest.
Father Walsh took up in his address the comfort of religion in times of trial using as his text the words, "Come unto me, all ye that are weary and heavy-laden and I will refresh you." Emphasizing the fact that all men seek something above and beyond themselves, Father Walsh made a strong plea for the true service of God in human life on earth. "The pagan," he declared, "has turned time and time again to the things of this world, seeking some divinity, adoring now virtue, now vice. But all such seeking is but vanity. Vanity of vanities, all is vanity except the seeking for union with the true God, except the constant service of the true God. It is only the Christian religion that can sustain us in our trials as well as in our fortunes.
[Council Bluffs Daily Nonpareil, Saturday, January 18, 1908, p. 5]
Unfortunately, only a few of his works were published. Hopefully, with time and research, some of his manuscripts may surface. If anyone has information about additional Baetens' compositions, please e-mail me at: email@example.com.
Musical America last week contained the following complimentary notices of two Omaha composers:
“In addition to her musicians who have made themselves reputations as performers, Omaha has a number whose names have become well known as composers. At the head of these, of course, is Dr. Charles Baetens, one of the best teachers of harmony in this country. He has composed a number of songs, overtures, masses and solos for the violin.”
[Omaha World Herald, January 22, 1899]
The quartet of Mr. Baetens—the well-known tenor player from Manchester—was a genuine success, and it likely to be heard again. [Review of a concert at Henry Baumer's. The Musical World, June 18, 1864, p. 395]Tarantelle (flute solo) [Spitzer (ed.), American Orchestras in the Nineteenth Century (Chicago: U. of Chicago Press, 2012) lists one performance in Cincinnati in 1870]
At the Musical Club to-morrow afternoon two new compositions by Mr. Charles Baetens will be performed. They are an Introduction and Tarentella for flute to be played by Mr. Wittgenstein, and a trio for piano, violin, and violoncello to be played by Messrs. Mees, Baetens, and Hartdegen.
[Cincinnati Daily Gazette, May 10, 1879]
Tarantella, for flute and piano, 1879.
Why do lovers sigh? For solo voice and piano. Words by "Chalk Level" (Cincinnati: John Church, 1880).
[A]n interesting novelty in the shape of a tarantella for flute, with piano accompaniment, composed by Mr. Charles Baetens, viola player of the Thomas Quartet and Orchestra, and Professor of Theory and Harmony in the College of Music.[Cincinnati Daily Gazette, 6-23-79]
See also the review for the preceding Trio.
This is likely the same as the Tarantelle, mentioned by Spitzer, performed in 1870; perhaps the Introduction was added in 1879.
Click here to listen to a performance by Teresa Radomski and Thomas Turnbull:
Trio, for violin, viola and cello; unpublished, 1881. Reviewed in the Cincinnati Commercial on April 27, 1881:
June Has Come
June has come, June has come,
The roses are blowing,
While the honeybee sings in the sun.
The birds to their mates are calling,
The last spring blossoms are falling,
and the daffodils die one by one.
June has come, June has come, June has come,
and the daffodils die one by one...
By the stream which ever is flowing.
"The music of Mr. Baetens is written in the simple, naïve style of Papa Haydn, now unhappily obsolete or obsolescent." [Bynog]
a. (I) Grave. (2) Allegro energico.
b. Andante expressive.
c. Scherzo vivace assai.
d. Allegro con brio.
First Violin---------Charles Baetens
Second Violin------Henry Buick
[Cincinnati Commercial Tribune, February 5, 1882]
Mr. Charles Baetens’ quartet in A minor was awarded the first prize, and we think there was no opposition to this with those who heard this magnificent composition. There is everything represented in this work that constitutes a good composition[:] harmonies of rare beauty, artistical arrangement, and learned instrumentation throughout. With this composition we are at a loss to mention those movement which excel most. They really are all excellent; but, if it is necessary to make a discrimination to our taste, we would call the scherzo, and above all, the final movement, the most powerful ones.[Cincinnati Daily Gazette, February 8, 1882]
A Midsummer's Holiday: fantasia for orchestra, [unpublished, 1884].
Nocturne (Cincinnati: John Church & Co., )
In The Musical Club Rooms are given during each season some of the most charming performances imaginable. On the evening of the 29th ult. Mr. Baetens’ Prize Quartet in B minor Op. 46 [sic; presumably this was the prize-winning Quartette in A minor listed above], and his Duo Brillante Concertante for viola and violoncello were elegantly performed.
[The Musical Visitor, vol. 14, No. 1, January 1885]
Gavotte Élégante, dedicated to "Miss Ida Leland." In Modern Classics for Violinists, compiled by Roland de Berton (New York: Carl Fischer, 1894).
Fantasia: The Shamrock, Rose and Thistle [1894?] for band.
Than came the distinct event of the afternoon, the premiere of Dr. Charles Baetens’ new concerto in D major, dedicated to and played by his pupil, Mr. Herbert Butler, Mr. Martin Cahn accompanist. The composition shows careful and conscientious study, somewhat conventional in form and suggestive in the opening bars of Rubenstein, but beautifully worked out, strongly phrased and technically, quite difficult. It is undoubtedly Dr. Baetens’ strongest effort in composition, and is, in every sense, worthy of the composer, who enjoys the largest measure of respect in this community. It was hard, however, to judge of the orchestration, the piano score not being sufficient to give one a clear idea of its balance, but Mr. Cahn played with skill and judgment. Mr. Butler received many compliments for his very scholarly rendition of the concerto of his master. He played the difficult passages with ease and fine ability, although at times he seemed to lose the governing theme in the care he bestowed upon the runs. But his was a personal triumph, and he made a step forward through his work of Monday that, taken advantage of, will land him among the “big wigs” of the violin. Dr. Baetens was called for and responded in a few happy words, saying that much of the credit of the composition was due the intelligent manner which marked its interpretation. [Omaha Daily Bee, November 4, 1894]
Our United States: A National Song. Lyrics by Abraham Rudy. (Omaha, Nebraska, ).
Easter is a time when all the world begins anew and in this work-a-day time the tendency is toward gorgeous bonnets, but Mr. Thomas J. Kelly had something new which he was saving and those who attended the Easter evening service at the First Methodist church heard one of the prettiest organ compositions offered in Omaha for a long time. It was a “Pastorale” from the pen of Dr. Charles Baetens and dedicated to Mr. Kelly.
[Omaha World Herald, April 25, 1897]
Thomas James Kelly (b. Ireland, 1870; d. Cincinnati [?], 1960) was organist at both the First Methodist Church and the St. Mary's Avenue Congregational Church, and directed the Mendelssohn Choir and the Mondamin Choral Society in Omaha. In 1898 he was appointed Superintendent of the Bureau of Music at the Trans-Mississippi and International Exposition in Chicago. In 1918 he moved to Cincinnati where both he and his wife taught voice at the Cincinnati Conservatory. He became an American citizen in 1918. From 1929 until 1951 he was director of Cincinnati's Orpheus Club. In recognition of his innumerable contributions, the first endowed chair at the Cincinnati College-Conservatory (The Thomas James Kelly Distinguished Professorship) was established in his name.
Romance, for cello, dedicated to Mr. Charles Tulleys, .
The board of education at its last meeting unanimously accepted the proposal of Prof. Abraham Rudy to furnish a copy of his patriotic song, “Our United States,” free to each teacher in the public schools provided that they were sung in the schools. He composed the words of the song, and the music was composed by Dr. Charles Baetens.[Omaha World Herald, February 2, 1897]
Baetens, Charles (fl. 1856-1887); No. 81 (October 1884). Mr. Baetens was born in Holland (the Hague) and first received instruction at the Royal Conservatory, where he won the first prize, which entitled him to two years study at Brussels without personal expense. Here he studied the violin under Charles de Bériot and composition under François-Joseph Fétis. In 1856 he went to London, where his mental acquirements gained him first a position to conduct and arrange music for military bands. Then later he was made British Band master. This position he filled for six years, remaining with his regiment during its stay in Calcutta, India. Returning to England, he gave up military duty and became a member of the Philharmonic and the Royal Italian Opera Orchestra and formed with Herr Joseph Joachim and Signor N. Riatto one of the original quartets of the celebrated Monday Popular chamber concerts in St. James Hall. He at that time gained an enviable reputation as a composer and arranger of orchestral music. The instrument to which he devotes all his energies for public performance is the viola, and therein he has no equal today in America. In 1872 Theodore Thomas secured him as the principal viola of his orchestra. There he remained until he came to Cincinnati, where he now resides and where he is considered one of the best and most successful teachers. Some of his confreres accuse him of being ultra old school in his tastes and convictions. True, he has a profound admiration for Mendelssohn, but not more so than for the beloved musician of all ages, Beethoven. His grasp on the literature of his art is wide, and if his views are in any way confined, the fact never appears on the surface. No matter what may be, Mr. Baetens is an able musician, a thorough scholar in the theory of music, and a man who is deserving of great respect.
With thanks to Molly Nelson-Haber for valuable research assistance,
And also to David Bynog for help in updating the list of works.
Marianne Hall for clarifying birth/marriage information and
assistance in locating scores.
Published May, 2013.
(Updated July 5, 2013.)
(Updated again January 18, 2014.)