I have just recently visited my favourite bar in Brussels called La Fleur en Papier Doré (The Golden Paper Flower). My visit was to meet up with my two dear friends Gunnar & Gunnila Preifors who are from Sweden. Gunnar is very much involved as a clarinettist with The Göteborg Symphonic Band, who have performed a couple of my works over the years.
What is so special for me about La Fleur en Papier Doré is that in the 20th century, it became a meeting place for members of the Belgian surrealist movement, including the artist René Magritte.
The writer Georges Prosper Remi, better known by his pseudonym Hergé of Tin Tin fame, also frequented this bar, as did the Belgian singing legend Jacques Brel.
I am a frequent visitor to La Fleur en Papier Doré. Apart from the attraction of the famous Belgian beers and traditional cuisine on offer(!), I am excited to think of all those great minds, intellects and talents that have come together there. I felt I wanted to write a musical portrait about this unique haunt from my very first visit. I have described my musical offering as a `Surrealist Fantasy’. The work is written in two distinct sections named after Magritte paintings: I. La Lampe Philosophique (The Philosopher’s Lamp) II. L’Echelle de Feu (The Ladder of Fire). Both are intended to conjure up the undoubtedly thought-provoking conversations and debates that must have taken place amongst all those eminent artists, writers and poets as they propped up the bar. I commissioned a poem by the writer Martin Westlake to capture the atmosphere and sentiment of the work.
Here is the world premiere which conductor Matthew J. George gave with his orchestra `Grand Symphonic Winds’ – the performance was given on 20th December 2019 at the Midwest Clinic, in the McCormick Convention Centre, Chicago. This for concert for me was the last concert I attended before the Coronavirus lockdown in Belgium. The work is published by HAFABRA Music and is dedicated to Louis Martinus who commissioned the work.
Nigel Clarke – La Fleur en Papier Doré
The Golden Paper Flower
As the war drifted away to the East,
Geert[i] had an idea.
Art was thirsty work.
Surely artists needed a space to think and drink,
And talk, of course.
So, he and Marie-Jeanne[ii]
Rented a small house in
And opened a café,
La Fleur en Papier Doré –
The Golden Paper Flower.
Geert had further thoughts,
And he painted them on the walls.
Who could disagree with his belief
That everybody is entitled to twenty-four hours
Of liberty every day?
Or that when the grass grows,
The cow dies?
In true anarchist spirit,
He and Marie-Jeanne
Decorated the walls
With anything and everything,
While countless cigars and cigarettes
Turned the walls golden brown.
Truth be told, Geert was not that good an artist.
Or perhaps it was more that he was an artists’ artist,
For the artists came in their droves to think and drink,
And talk, of course,
Just as Geert and Marie-Jeanne had imagined they would
In the autumn of 1944;
René Magritte and the surrealists,
Pierre Alechinsky, Pol Bury and the Cobra movement,
And Hugo Claus celebrated his first marriage
By inviting fifty friends.
Georges Prosper Remi came,
When he was not Hergé drawing Tintin,
And Jacques Brel savoured the Geuze
And helped brown the walls with
Twenty years after Geert had that idea
He passed away, and everybody said
That it wasn’t really the same anymore.
Anyway, all the artists have long since gone now,
But the café lives on
In the Cellebroerstraat,
With Geert’s thoughts on the walls
And all those artists’ spirits
Dancing above the tables
Of La Fleur en Papier Doré.
[i] Geert (Gerhard) Van Brauaene (1891-1964), anarchist poet, actor and art dealer.
[ii] His partner, Marie-Jeanne Cleeren.
[iii] The Celle Brothers were an ancient and obscure religious order.
 Geert (Gerhard) Van Brauaene (1891-1964), anarchist poet, actor and art dealer.
 His partner, Marie-Jeanne Cleeren.
 The Celle Brothers were an ancient and obscure religious order.