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An inherent structural insight, a musical memory and an absorptive power were the main assets Willy Ostyn possessed since childhood. Being an intense player, the studying of a score seems to have determined his horizon as a composer rather than the contact with his colleagues. The lonely contact with the romantic score defined him as an authentic lyric artist and a virtuoso epigone.
Before the war, Ostyn chose an intimate, quasi-impressionistic idiom, which suited performance by his trio. The compositions for this trio for piano, violin and cello are not dated, as most of his work is not, and approximate to the suggestive world of sounds of Debussy, while formally remaining loyal to the themes and motifs he incorporated through Ryelandt and Franck. The qualities of this early chamber music opened up new perspectives for the development of orchestral depth and refinement, but life decided otherwise.
Willy Ostyn’s contact with national radio and the national broadcasting orchestra in 1950 induced a final re-orientation of his art of composing. The composer, who had previously appealed mainly to informed regional listeners because of his adaptation to their taste, could now be enjoyed by any Belgian listener because of his extended symphonic compositions. This prevented him from evolving as a composer and he remarked the following about this:
“I always remained technically and ideologically loyal to the romantic tradition, that considers music as a spontaneous and logical movement from a lyric theme into a classical harmonization and rich, varied orchestration.”
The transparency of his compositions created the effect of easy listening, which explains the enormous popularity of Ostyn. His music was known and performed in several European countries. His skilful piano technique enabled him to undertake transcriptions of Russian and East German romantic works, more specifically pieces by Islamey de Balakirev, the toccatas of Debussy, Schumann, Czerny, Bach, and Chopin. He consulted sometimes Tchaikovsky and Franck for the orchestral creation of his musical evocations, Rachmaninov for piano works.
William (Willy) Ostyn was born on July 13, 1913 in Roeselare (Belgium) where he died on March 30, 1993. At the age of sixteen, he went to the Lemmens Institute in Mechelen to study music. He devoted himself to the piano with Marinus de Jong as his piano teacher and Flor Peeters as his organ teacher. After this training, which was especially focused on becoming a professional church organist, he graduated from the Royal Music School of Gent, with a degree in counterpoint, playing the piano, playing chamber music, and orchestral composition. In this latter art form, he was especially inspired by Joseph Ryelandt, a follower of Franck.
Teaching was definitely not his passion. He gave all his attention to composition and performance. Before the Second World War he attracted public attention with the Willy Ostyn Trio (piano, violin, cello) with whom he performed some of his own work as well as standard pieces.
In spite of his training at the Lemmens Institute, Willy Ostyn composed relatively few pieces for church choir and church organ. This was mainly due to his introduction to national radio by Gaston Feremans (1942) and to the national broadcasting orchestra by Karel Albert (1948). During more than two decennia (1950–1975) his symphonic atmospheric music and virtuoso concert-pieces were played by almost all Belgian orchestras and were also broadcast abroad. Important conductors were successively Paul Doulliez, Steven Candael, Leonce Gras, Pieter Leermans, Jozef Verhelst, and Fernand Terby. Unfortunately, the introduction of three national radio channels (starting in 1961–1962) and the subsequent emphasis on distinctive programming brought an end to the success story by about 1975.
The resulting bitterness was only one of several life-experiences that transformed the rebellious teenager and flamboyant society-figure into a somewhat insecure personality. The gratuitous criticism of his dated, romantic style irritated him a lot. During the broadcasting of the Radio 3 programme ‘Autochtoon’, he once said: ‟Music was my life, but my life has not always been music.”