1921 – 2015
WASBE Honorary Life Member Désiré Dondeyne passed away on February 12 after a short
stay in hospital. The World of wind band music has lost one of its most important
personalities. Désiré Dondeyne’s career was a landmark not only in the history of wind band
music in France, but also in the international wind band history. He was not only widely
known, but he was an authority and even had become a (living) legend.
Désiré Dondeyne was born in Laon (Aisne) on July 20, 1921. He started studying the clarinet
at the age of eight and obtained a First Prize at the Conservatory of Lille in 1934. On the day
of his 18th birthday (July 20, 1939) he joined the newly created Paris Air Force Band as a
clarinetist and stayed for fifteen years with this band. Meanwhile he had started studying at
the Paris Conservatory of Music where he had obtained First Prizes for solfeggio, clarinet and
chamber music by 1945. Between 1945 and 1953, he also obtained First prizes for Harmony,
Fugue, Counterpoint, Composition (class of Tony Aubin) and Musical Analysis (class of
Olivier Messiaen). In 1954 he was appointed conductor of the “Musique des Gardiens de la
Paix de Paris” (Paris Metropolitan Police Band) which he conducted until July 14, 1979. Due
to his numerous concerts and especially also his very large discography Dondeyne and his
Police Band became a kind of icon in the wind band music world. Dondeyne revealed a lot of
forgotten but extremely valuable original band repertoire (such as Berlioz’s Grande
Symphonie Funèbre et Triomphale, Gabriel Fauré’s Prométhée and the wind band stage music
for 14 Juillet) and invited or incited many great composers to write for wind band (including
Ida Gotkovsly and Serge Lancen). With musicologist Frédéric Robert he published in 1969
the Nouveau Traîté d’Orchestration, an indispensable standard work for all wind band
conductors. From 1980 to 1986 he was director and renovator of the conservatory of music of
Issy-les-Moulineaux (at the Southern outskirts of Paris) where lived since the early fifties.
Above all Désiré liked to compose and his catalogue contains all kinds of instrumental,
chamber and symphonic music, besides a huge amount of most valuable wind band music,
including five symphonies for band. He also wrote a lot of very interesting transcriptions and
arrangements for wind band, as well as numerous pedagogic pieces for several instruments.
Up to the end he continued to compose, even if it became sometimes a rather tiring ‘passion’.
Désiré Dondeyne has also been a wonderful teacher and mentor of many younger composers
and conductors for whom he often acted as a spiritual father. He was also a loving husband,
father, grandfather and great-grandfather, most appreciated by his large family who took care
of him after the decease of his beloved wife.
Our deepest and sincere sympathy goes to his family. The whole wind band world is in
mourning. It was a great honor and a profound happiness to have Désiré as a close friend.
Désiré will remain in the heart of all those who had the privilege to be in touch with him.
Past President WASBE