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February 25, 2014

Classical Music in The Netherlands (3) - 20th century

At the end of the 19th century, the musical infrastructure in The Netherlands was relatively complete: the Concertgebouw and its Orchestra (plus orchestras in other major cities); the Conservatories of The Hague (founded already in 1825) and Amsterdam, and other academies of music; and the beginning of a native compositional tradition, as described in my previous post. Still, although there are many composers worth listening to, the Netherlands failed to produce a "new Dutch music" in the 19th century.

That in itself is not so strange: the country had been building up its musical culture by transposing the German model. The most gifted music students went to Germany, especially Leipzig, for their studies. Amsterdam itself, with its Conservatory and Concertgebouw, was a copy of Leipzig. It took time to assimilate these influences and transform them into "Dutch" music.

The turning point came with the composer Alphons Diepenbrock (1862–1921), who discovered modernity by looking back to polyphonic Renaissance composers of the Franco-Flemish school, and combining them with Wagner and Mahler, before coming under the influence of Debussy and other French music - Diepenbrock initiated the strong French flavor in Dutch music in the first half of the 20th century.

Although Diepenbrock did not exercise much direct influence (except perhaps on Hendrik Andriessen), the direction he choose served as an example for the generations that came after him, including such composers as Matthijs Vermeulen, Willem Pijper, Rudolf Escher and Lex van Delden, who strove to create a new Dutch music. Instead of the German sonata form with its linearity and development of themes, we get melodic cells as the basis for development. Renaissance polyphony was broadened into a poly-melodic concept, allowing several different melodies to develop at the same time.

This new Dutch music is characterized by clarity, concision and economy of means. It is modest and understated and never outstays its welcome. Twentieth century Dutch music is, in a way, like the paintings of Piet Mondrian.

Not everyone followed the same direction. Composers as Dopper and Wagenaar remained under strong German influence, as did Van Gilse in his early years. Dopper propagated a more banal and atavistic type of "national music," based on folk melodies - this direction was fiercely criticised by Vermeulen and Pijper (Vermeulen called Dopper's music "Salvation Army tunes"), leading to the almost total oblivion of Dopper later in the century.

Twentieth century Dutch composers in general maintain a belief in melody (but not necessarily bound to tonality), even in the postwar years, when Schoenberg and his twelve tone atonality reigned supreme around the world. Serialism came relatively late to the Netherlands, and for most composers (except Kees van Baren who initiated it in The Netherlands) was a passing phase. Composers who started their career in the 1960s, found other solutions - Ton de Leeuw was inspired by Eastern music and micro-tonality, Louis Andriessen by minimalism and popular music.

During the 20th c., the Concertgebouw Orchestra developed into one of the leading orchestras of the world, helped by the ideal acoustics of the Concertgebouw hall, resulting in a "sound" characterized by transparency. Great conductors include Willem Mengelberg, Eduard van Beinum and Bernard Haitink. The dominant presence of such a large orchestra in a small country also created problems: composers who were disliked by, for example, Mengelberg, faced great difficulty to get performed (as happened to Vermeulen). Other important orchestras are the Residentie Orchestra of The Hague (1904) and the Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra (1918).

The 19th century had been the age of the great pianists, but here, too, the Netherlands had to wait until the 20th century, when we get famous pianists as Dirk Schäfer (1873-1931), Cor de Groot (1914-1993), Hans Henkemans (1913-1995), Daniel Wayenberg (1929), Jan Wijn (1934), Theo Bruins (1929-1993), Rian de Waal, Ronald Brautigam, Wibi Soerjadi, etc. The Dutch violin tradition goes back to the famous teacher Oskar Back and includes violinists as Herman Krebbers, Theo Olof and Janine Jansen. There is also an important oboe tradition, with the Stotijn family and Han de Vries, among many others. The Netherlands knows an important choral culture, with more than 12,000 amateur ensembles and two major professional ones. In the 20th century, also internationally renowned opera and ballet traditions came into being.

An important international first of The Netherlands is the authentic or period performance tradition, which was pioneered in the early 1970s by Gustav Leonhardt, Frans Brüggen, Ton Koopman and Anner Bylsma.

[Concertgebouw in Amsterdam]

Here is a list of important Dutch twentieth century composers.
  • Alphons Diepenbrock (1862-1921). Born in Amsterdam, Diepenbrock was self-taught as a composer - he studied classical languages, even finishing with a cum laude thesis written in Latin. But he was not happy as a teacher, so he gradually broadened his activities in the field of music. As regards his style, it has been said that Diepenbrock discovered modernity by combining polyphonic Renaissance composers of the Franco-Flemish school with Wagner and Mahler. His music became increasingly Impressionistic following his discovery of the music of Debussy in 1910. In this way, he initiated the strong French influence on Dutch music in the first half of the 20th century. Diepenbrock wrote typical fin-de-siecle music with a touch of mysticism. His output was predominantly vocal - as a Catholic, he wrote liturgical music such as a large Mass (Missa in die festo) and a grand Te Deum, but also works for choir and orchestra as Hymne an die Nacht and Im grossen Schweigen; other works were inspired by his classical education, such as the wonderful overture to The Birds by Aristophanes.
    [Orchestral Works (Overture The Birds / Marsyas Concert Suite / Hymn for violin and orchestra / Elektra Symphonic Suite) and Symphonic Songs (Hymne an die Nacht / Im grossen Schweigen, etc), both by Residentie Orchestra The Hague conducted by Hans Vonk on Chandos]
  • Johan Wagenaar (1862-1941). Born in Utrecht as the out of wedlock son of an aristocrat and his maid, Wagenaar became interested in music when he heard Richard Hol play the organ in the Dom Church. Wagenaar studied with Hol and Samuel de Lange and also with Von Herzogenberg in Germany. He followed in the footsteps of his teacher Hol by becoming organist of the Utrecht Cathedral; he also became teacher and later director of its music school, before moving to the Royal Conservatory in The Hague in 1919. His pupils include Alexander Voormolen and Willem Pijper. Wagenaar wrote in the late-Romantic style of Richard Strauss with a touch of Berlioz - not surprisingly, his orchestral works mainly consist of overtures and symphonic poems. He also wrote operas, cantatas and organ music, but never tried his hand at a symphony.
    [Orchestral Pieces (Saul and David / Amphitrion / Cyrano de Bergerac / The Taming of the Shrew etc) played by the Concertgebouw Orchestra conducted by Richard Chailly on London]
  • Cornelis Dopper (1870-1937) was born in Stadskanaal in the Northern Netherlands. After studying music in Leipzig, he first settled down in Groningen before moving on to Amsterdam in 1897. He became choir master and assistant director of the Dutch Opera Company, before this group was dissolved in 1903; after that Dopper worked for two seasons for the Henry Savage Opera Company in the United States. In 1908 he became second conductor of the Concertgebouw Orchestra (in fact, the assistant of the famous conductor Mengelberg), a position he would keep for 23 years. As a composer, Dopper wrote in a German style (he was another Leipzig Conservatory student): 4 operas, 7 symphonies, as well as many vocal works and chamber music. He was not an innovator, but possessed a great instinct for orchestral color. He also was a nationalist composer, like Zweers before him, as is clear from the "Dutch" titles of his symphonies: "Rembrandt," "Amsterdam" and "Zuiderzee" (the Dutch Inland Sea, a work in which Dopper uses melodies from Valerius' Gedenckclanck from 1626). His most popular work is the Ciaconna gotica for orchestra (1920), which is one of the few orchestral works published during Dopper's lifetime.
    [Symphonies 2, 3 and 6 plus Paan I and II played by the Residentie Orchestra conducted by Matthias Bamert on two Chandos cds; Symphony No 7 on NM Classics]
  • Jan van Gilse (1881-1945) was born in Rotterdam, but went for his musical studies to the Conservatory of Cologne in Germany. He also studied with Engelbert Humperdinck in Berlin and from 1909 to 1911 in Italy. In 1901 he received the Prize of the Beethoven-Haus in Bonn for his first symphony, and in 1906 the Michael Beer Prize (a sort of German Prix de Rome) for his third symphony. He worked as conductor in Bremen and Berlin, but returned to the Netherlands at the start of the Great War. From 1917 to 1922 he conducted the Utrecht Municipal Orchestra, which he brought to a high professional level; from 1927 to 1933 he lived and worked again in Berlin, but left Germany after Hitler came to power. For a number of years he was director of the Utrecht Musical Academy, but from 1937 on he dedicated himself solely to composition. In 1911, Van Gilse was one of the founders of the Society of Dutch Musicians (Genootschap van Nederlandse Componisten) and in 1912 of the Dutch Bureau for Musical Copyrights (Buma). Van Gilse was influenced by the German late Romantic composers as Richard Strauss and Max Reger. From the 1920s on, his music becomes more modern. His masterpiece was the opera Thijl (1940), which has been called one of the best operas written by a Dutch composer.
    [Van Gilse's four symphonies are available on 3 CDs from CPO, played by the Netherlands Symphony Orchestra conducted by David Porcelijn]
  • Sem Dresden (1881-1957) was born into a Jewish diamond-broking family and initially studied composition with Bernard Zweers; he also studied with Pfitzner in Berlin. He developed an early interest in Impressionism. Dresden worked first as a choral director, before in 1924 becoming director of the Amsterdam Conservatory and in 1937 of the Royal Conservatory in The Hague. As a Jew, he was in 1941 stripped of this position by the Nazis. Later in life, he devoted himself wholly to composition. His work shows the influence of both French Impressionism and Renaissance polyphony. Besides concertos for violin, oboe and flute, he wrote chamber music and above all excelled in large choral compositions.
    [Two cello sonatas played by Doris Hochscheid and Frans van Ruth included on Dutch Cello Sonatas Vol 5 on MDG]
  • Daniel Ruyneman (1886–1963) studied in Amsterdam with Zweers. In the 1920s he worked in Groningen, where he realized the first Dutch performance of Le Boeuf sur le Toit by Darius Milhaud. In the 1930s, back in Amsterdam, he set up the Dutch Society for Contemporary Music and was very much interested in new developments in music. In his own compositions, he was influenced by Debussy and Milhaud, but he also knew Berg and Webern, and in the 1950s he propagated the work of Berio, Boulez and Nono. He was also influenced by Asian music. Among his compositions are Hieroglyphs for chamber ensemble of 1918, and the Symphonie Brève (Symfonie no. 1) of 1929. 
  • Hendrik Andriessen (1892-1981) was born in Haarlem. He studied with Zweers, but was mostly influenced by Cesar Franck and Alphons Diepenbrock. Like Diepenbrock, he was a Roman Catholic composer who in the first place wrote liturgical music as masses and organ music. He was organist of the Utrecht Cathedral and taught for two decades at the Institute for Catholic Church Music in Utrecht. He also was consecutively lecturer at the Amsterdam Conservatory, the Utrecht Conservatory and the Royal Conservatory in The Hague. During his later years, he was Extraordinary Professor of Musicology at Nijmegen University. Besides his voluminous church music, Andriessen wrote four symphonies, other orchestral works as the famous Variations and fugue on a theme by Kuhnau, and chamber and instrumental music. Also his Ricercare for orchestra, which commemorated the 200th anniversary of the death of J.S. Bach, is a notable work with its clean and neo-classical textures. Andriessen was a modest man and his music is characterized by serenity. Hendrik Andriessen came from a very musical family: he was the brother of pianist/composer Willem Andriessen and the father of the composers Jurriaan Andriessen and Louis Andriessen (see below).
    [Symphonic works Vol I incl. First Symphony and Kuhnau Variations by David Porcelijn and Netherlands Symphony Orchestra on CPO; Symphonic Works Vol II incl. Second Symphony and Ricercare by the same also on CPO; Symphony No 4 etc by Ed Spanjaard and Residentie Orchestra on Olympia]
  • Matthijs Vermeulen (1888-1967) was the "enfant terrible" of Dutch 20th c. music. Also Vermeulen was inspired by the 16th c. polyphonic masters - their work in fact motivated him to study music. Due to financial constraints, however, he never followed a formal musical education. In 1909 he started working as a musical journalist, and became known for his advocacy of contemporary composers like Diepenbrock. Due to a conflict with Mengelberg, whose German orientation Vermeulen had criticized, he could not get his music performed in The Netherlands. From 1921, he lived for more than 20 years in Paris, where he worked as a musical and general journalist. In the postwar years, the situation changed for the better - in fact, already in 1939 his Third Symphony had been performed by the Concertgebouw Orchestra conducted by Eduard van Beinum. He now continued composing his small but fine oeuvre, where seven symphonies stand in the central position. Besides that he wrote chamber music: two cello sonatas, a violin sonata and several songs. Vermeulen's musical style was in the first place based on polymelodicism, the simultaneous combination of several melodic lines. Vermeulen's music is filled with vitality and power, often leading to an obsessive, march-like propulsion. (See my post on his Sixth Symphony in Cult Composers 2).
    [Symphonies 2, 6 & 7 by the Residentie Orchestra The Hague conducted by Gennady Rozhdestvensky on Chandos; first and second cello sonatas in Dutch Cello Sonatas Vol. 3 played by Doris Hochscheid and Frans van Ruth on MDG]
  • Willem Pijper (1894-1947) has been called the most important and influential composer of his generation. Pijper was born in Zeist and studied briefly under Wagenaar at the Utrecht Conservatory, but was mostly self-taught. Like Vermeulen, he worked as a newspaper critic with a sharp pen. In the early 1920s, he grew into one of the most advanced composers in Europe, working with "cell technique" and - like Vermeulen - polytonality and bitonality. As long-time teacher at the Conservatories of Amsterdam and Rotterdam he exerted a huge influence over several new generations of composers (Piet Ketting, Guillaume Landre, Kees van Baren, Henk Badings, Rudolf Escher, etc.). Pijper's large and varied output includes operas, three symphonies, concertos for piano, violin and cello, and five string quartets as well as a number of chamber works. His music is always technically of superior quality. He is mostly remembered for his enigmatic but also colorful Second and Third Symphonies (1921 and 1926) and his late string quartets - plus the Cello Concerto from 1938.
    [Cello concerto on NM Classics; two cello sonatas played by Doris Hochscheid and Frans van Ruth on Dutch Cello Sonatas Vol 1 on MDG; five string quartets on Olympia]
  • Alexander Voormolen (1895-1980) first studied with Wagenaar in Utrecht, and next spent many years studying in France in the early 1920's. He felt a particular sympathy with the music of Roussel, and was also friendly with Ravel, who supported him. From 1923 Voormolen settled in The Hague, where he became librarian of the Royal Conservatory. He also was music reviewer for an important Dutch newspaper. In his own work, Voormolen searched for a Dutch musical style, as in his large piano work Tableaux des Pays-Bas and the Baron Hop Suites. Voormolen also wrote a wonderful Concerto for Two Oboes. I have discussed Voormolen and his oboe concerto in my post Best Works for Oboe.
    [Baron Hop Suites and Concerto for Two Oboes by the Residentie Orchestra conducted by Matthias Bamert on Chandos]
  • Henk Badings (1907-1987) was born in the Dutch East Indies. As his family did not approve of a career in music, he studied mining and palaeontology at the Delft Polytechnical Institute, but dedicated himself completely to music from 1937. Badings was largely self-taught, although he received advice from Pijper. Badings first musical success already dates to 1930, when he wrote his First Cello Concerto. He used unusual scales and harmonies and composed a large oeuvre, in which fourteen powerful symphonies take a central position. He also excelled in concertos and chamber music. From the 1950s he also explored the possibilities of electronics, notably in stage works. One of his most noteworthy works is the Third Symphony from 1934.
    [Symphonies 2, 7 & 12, as well as 3, 10 & 14 played by the Janacek Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by David Porcelijn on 2 CPO CDs; Cello Sonatas 1 & 2 played by Doris Hochscheid and Frans van Ruth included on Dutch Cello Sonatas Vol 5 on MDG]
  • Rudolf Escher (1912-1980) grew up in the Dutch East Indies where he received piano lessons from his father, a geologist who was the nephew of the famous graphic artist M.C. Escher. Back in Holland, he studied at the Rotterdam Conservatory; he also had Pijper as his teacher. After the war, Escher befriended Matthijs Vermeulen. In the 1960s, he became interested in serialism and electronic music and took lessons with Boulez, before deciding that these techniques did not fit him. In the early 1960s, Escher taught at the Amsterdam Conservatory and from the mid-60s to late 70s he was Senior Lecturer at the University of Utrecht. During WWII Escher composed Musique pour l'esprit en deuil (1941-43), which overnight made him a famous composer in the Netherlands.  Other noteworthy works are the Concerto for String Orchestra (1947-48) and Summer Rites at Noon (1969).
    [Concerto for Strings, Musique pout l'esprit en deuil and Summer Rites at Noon by the Concertgebouw Orchestra cond. Richard Chailly on NM Classics; chamber music on NM Classics; piano music on Ottavo]
  • Lex van Delden (real name Alexander Zwaap, 1919-1988) was born to a Jewish family active in the diamond industry in Amsterdam. He was a pupil of pianist Cor de Groot and associate of Sem Dresden, but so far as composition was concerned, Van Delden was largely autodidact. During WWII he was a member of the student's resistance movement fighting against the German occupation; he lost almost his whole family in the Holocaust. Most of his early compositions were also destroyed during the war, his approximately 125 surviving works, including eight symphonies, were written after 1945. Van Delden continued writing tonal music in the grim years that atonality had most other composers and critics in its grip; his music is dark-hued but tuneful and rhythmic. Among his best known works are the Piccolo Concerto for twelve winds and timpani from 1960 and the Concerto per Due Orchestre d'archi from 1961. His works extend over all spheres of music except opera and church music.
    [Orchestral works (incl. the two above mentioned ones, plus the Sinfonia No 3 and the Musica Sinfonica) by the Concertgebouw Orchestra on Etcetera; complete string quartets by Utrecht String Quartet on MDG; chamber music by the Viotta Ensemble on MDG]
  • Ton de Leeuw (1926-1996) was taught by Olivier Messiaen, and influenced by Béla Bartók; he also studied ethnomusicology. De Leeuw was a teacher at the University of Amsterdam and later professor of composition and electronic music at the Amsterdam Conservatory. Ton de Leeuw made a study of Asian music, visiting India and Japan, and wrote, for example, pieces for gamelan orchestra. He was interested in microtonality and in his later work uses spatial effects. De Leeuw was one of the Dutch pioneers of electronic music; his brother Reinbert de Leeuw (born 1939) was also a composer and was influenced by Cage and minimalism. Ton de Leeuw wrote three operas; also notable are his Symphony for Winds and Second String Quartet.
  • Louis Andriessen (1939) is the son of composer Hendrik Andriessen and together with Ton de Leeuw the most famous Dutch composer of the 1970s and 1980s. He studied with his father, Kees van Baaren en Berio. Later he joined the faculty of the Royal Conservatory in The Hague. After experimenting with various contemporary trends, in the mid-1970s Andriessen evolved a minimalist style, somewhat like Philip Glass, but more abrasive. Since the 1980s, this style has evolved into a broader mainstream idiom. Interesting works are Hoketus for small ensemble (1977) and De Staat for four women's voices and ensemble (1973-76).
This is a partial list - I have only included composers whose music I know myself. Some CDs listed are older and only available second-hand.
Written with some input from Wikipedia and CD text books; another resource is the Biographical Dictionary of The Netherlands. Two interesting websites providing more information are an article about Dutch 20th century music by Mark Morris at Musicweb International, and Canon van de Nederlandse Klassieke Muziek.

Posts about classical music include:

February 22, 2014

”Jupiter and Io" by Correggio (Best Paintings)

Jupiter and Io was painted with oil on canvas around 1531 by the Italian Antonio Allegri da Correggio. It is now in the Kunsthistorisches Museum of Vienna, Austria.

The painting shows how Jupiter, disguised as a dark cloud, seduces Io, daughter of the King of Argos, a story from the Metamorphoses of Ovid. We see how Jupiter embraces the nymph, his face just barely materializing in the cloud above her, his smoky hand reaching under her left arm and touching her back. Notable is the contrast between Jupiter's evanescent form and the realistic, fleshy body of Io, who seems to recline in rapture.

The background
  • The painter, Antonio Allegri da Correggio (1489 – 1534), was an Italian Renaissance artist who spent most of his life in Parma. He was an eclectic painter without apprenticed successors, but his brilliant illusionist experiments and grand domed ceilings with illusionary heavens (such as The flight of the Madonna in the vault of the cupola of the Cathedral of Parma) are now considered as revolutionary, prefiguring the Mannerist and Baroque styles. 
  • Besides his many religious commissions, Correggio is known for his mythological series, four paintings about the loves of Jupiter commissioned by Federico II Gonzaga of Mantua: Danaë, Ganymede abducted by the Eagle, Leda with the Swan and the present Jupiter and Io - all dating from 1531–32 and based on the hugely influential Metamorphoses of Ovid (written in 8 CE). The paintings were probably meant to decorate the private Ovid Room in the Palazzo Te of Federico II Gonzaga (obviously, these paintings were not meant for stray eyes). However, the paintings were donated to the visiting Emperor Charles V and thus left Italy for Madrid within years of their completion. Now they are scattered over three European museums: Danaë in Rome's Borghese Gallery, Leda with the Swan in the Staatliche Museen of Berlin and the other two in the Kunsthistorisches Museum of Vienna.
  • Jupiter, the king of the gods and deity of the sky and of thunder, is known in Greek/Roman mythology for his frequent marital infidelities. As his wife Juno was very jealous, he was forced to assume various ingenious shapes to escape her sharp eye. In these four paintings, we see him approach the object of his love transformed into a swan, an eagle, golden rain and a dark, dense cloud. 
  • The story of Jupiter and Io is as follows. On a certain day, Jupiter happened to notice Io, who was an attractive young maiden, and started lusting after her. Io rejected Jupiter's whispered nighttime advances until the oracles caused her own father to drive her out into the fields of Lerna. There, Zeus approached her in the shape of a gaseous cloud, at the same time covering her in dark mists, to hide her from the eyes of Juno - the very scene of our painting. The story continues that Juno saw through Jupiter's ruse, even though he changed Io into a beautiful white heifer. Juno demanded the heifer as a present, and Jupiter could not refuse her without arousing suspicion. As a punishment, Juno caused Io to restlessly wander the earth in her bovine shape. Finally, Io managed to escape to Egypt, where she was restored to human form by Jupiter and gave birth to his son and daughter - and married an Egyptian king. All's well that ends well.
  • Correggio has managed to convey the love scene of Jupiter and Io with full discretion and much subtlety, but without obfuscating its meaning. While Jupiter is just a caressing cloud, almost invisible, Io with her arms spread and head leaning back, evinces rapturous acceptance. Her left arm even seems to pull Jupiter's smoky hand towards her and her right foot, sticking up, betrays her true feelings. Io's lavish body prefigures the nudes of Rubens, and is in pleasant contrast to the beauty ideal of our own dreary age. 
  • It is difficult to see, but in the lower right a stag is painted, drinking from a brook, providing a Christian explanation ("As the deer pants after the water brook, so my soul thirsts for Thee"), a rather cheap excuse loosely tagged on to this mythological painting.  
  • Here is one of the other Jupiter paintings by Correggio, Leda with the Swan, which is just as suggestive as Jupiter and Io. Interestingly, it was attacked with a knife in the 18th c. by a former French aristocratic owner during what has been described as a crisis of conscience!

[Written with some factual input from Wikipedia]

    February 15, 2014

    Classical Music in The Netherlands (2) - The 19th Century

    The French Revolution crushed the power of the aristocracy and put an end to patronage as the main pillar under the music world. The 19th century would be the age of the bourgeoisie: wealthy burghers sponsored orchestras and concert halls (via musical societies), governments set up music schools, every well-to-do family had a piano for which music had to be written. Composers could be freelancers, work as conductor of an orchestra, as pianist, or as teacher.

    Generally speaking, as regards Dutch classical music, the 19th century was a lot better than the previous centuries. Although the age starts and ends with German-born composers, the large number of "home grown" composers and conductors points at the strong growth of a national musical tradition. Happily, the power of the Protestant church to meddle in private life also diminished.

    Like other major European cities, Amsterdam had received its first public concert hall. This was "Felix Meritis." which opened its doors in 1788. It was run by a general society for the promotion of arts and sciences (similar societies were established in other Dutch cities as The Hague and Rotterdam). Felix Meritis' oval concert hall was the main music hall in Amsterdam until late into the 19th century and enjoyed a great international reputation. Many famous musicians performed there, including Schumann, Saint-Saëns and Brahms. The orchestra of Felix Meritis was regarded as the best of the Netherlands and played at many Dutch premieres. The society which ran Felix Meritis was abolished in 1888, the same year that its function was taken over by the Concertgebouw and its orchestra. Four years earlier, another landmark had been reached in the foundation of the Amsterdam Conservatory. Here Julius Röntgen, the German composer who had settled in Amsterdam, played a crucial role, as he did in the establishment of the Concertgebouw (the design of the main concert hall was based on that of the Gewandhaus in Röntgen's native city of Leipzig).

    Who were the composers who wrote for these new venues?

    [Felix Meritis in Amsterdam]
    • Carl Anton Fodor (1768-1846). Fodor was born in Venlo (at that time still in Austrian hands and not part of the Dutch Republic) and made name as a pianistic virtuoso and composer. In 1801 he became conductor of the orchestra of Felix Meritis, a position he would keep for 25 years. In 1808, the first king of the Netherlands, the Frenchman Louis Bonaparte, appointed him to the precursor of the Dutch Academy of Arts and Sciences. In 1811 Fodor started a well-known series of Tuesday Concerts together with Johann Wilhelm Wilms. Fodor wrote three symphonies, eight piano concertos, and various chamber works with piano. Fodor composed in the manner of Haydn and is considered as the foremost composer of his generation in the Netherlands.
      [Piano concerto included in Dutch Piano Concertos by Arthur Schoonderwoerd and Christofori on Alpha; piano sonatas in Fortepiano Music from The Netherlands by Arthur Schoonderwoerd on NM Classics]
    • Johann Wilhelm Wilms (1872-1847). Wilms was a Dutch composer of German origin - I have also included him in my post on Unique Symphonies from the 19th Century. Born near Solingen, he came in 1791 to Amsterdam and spent his whole creative life in that city. He played the flute in two orchestras, acted as soloist in piano concertos by Mozart and Beethoven, was organ player of the United Baptist Church, taught piano at the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences, and wrote articles about Dutch music life for the Allgemeine musikalische Zeitung. In 1796, he helped found the first professional orchestra of Amsterdam, Eruditio Musica. In 1816 he won the open competition for the new Dutch anthem "Wien Neêrlandsch bloed," which remained in function until 1932. Wilms wrote seven symphonies (one has been lost), piano concertos, a flute concerto, violin and flute sonatas, string quartets, piano music, etc. His well-crafted music is characterized by skilful melodies.
      [Symphonies 14, 23, 52, 58 plus Wilhelmus Variations by Netherlands Chamber Orchestra conducted by Anthony Halstead on Challenge Classics; piano concerto in Dutch Piano Concertos by Arthur Schoonderwoerd and Christofori on Alpha]
    • Johannes Bernardus van Bree (1801-1857). Composer and conductor. Van Bree directed the Felix Meritis Society from 1829 to the year of his death. He was also director of the Music School of the Society of the Promotion of Music in Amsterdam. His works includes several masses, a violin concerto, overtures, string quartets, and most famously, his characteristic (and very Mendelssohnian) Allegro for Four String Quartets in D minor, dating from about 1845. There is currently no CD available but the Dutch broadcasting organization VPRO has put this video played by the New Amsterdam Sinfonietta on its Youtube channel.
    • Johannes Verhulst (1816-1891). Dutch composer and conductor born in The Hague. As a music administrator his influence on musical life was very large. At a young age, Verhulst became first violinist in the court chapel of King Willem I, and at that time (in 1836) he also met Mendelssohn who was vacationing in Scheveningen. After showing Mendelssohn one of his overtures, Verhulst was invited to come to Leipzig and become Mendelssohn's pupil (from 1838). In Leipzig, Verhulst also directed the Euterpe Orchestra for which he wrote his Symphony in E. In 1842, Verhulst returned to The Hague at the urging of King Willem II. In 1848, he became the chief conductor of the Rotterdam Music Society; in 1860, he also started work as conductor of concerts at the scientific society Diligentia in The Hague, and 1864 at both the orchestral society Caecilia and the Felix Meritis Society in Amsterdam. In other words, he had central control of Dutch music life! In the 1880s, his conservative taste (Schumann was his idol) became a liability and he was gradually pensioned off. Besides the above mentioned orchestral music, Verhulst wrote also three Masses and three string quartets, but his major compositional efforts were in the field of the song, where he was deeply influenced by Schubert and Schumann. He wrote most of his music before becoming busy as a conductor.
      [Symphony in E plus Overtures by Residentie Orchestra The Hague conducted by Mathias Bamert; Mass Op 20 by Netherlands Concert Choir, Residentie Orchestra and Bamert; both on Chandos]
    • Richard Hol (1825-1904) is another Dutch composer I have introduced in my post on Unique Symphonies from the 19th Century. Born in Amsterdam, Hol was based for most of his career at Utrecht where from 1875 he served as director of the Stedelijke Muziekschool (Municipal Music Academy). He was influenced by the Leipzig School of Mendelssohn and Schumann (like so many other 19th c. composers all over Europe and in the U.S.). Hol also wrote extensively about music and he served as the first director of the Dutch Composers Association (Nederlandsche Toonkunstenaars Vereeniging, founded in 1875). Hol composed four symphonies which in recent years have been recorded on CD; two operas; liturgical music; song cycles and piano and organ music.
      [Symphonies 1 & 3, and symphonies 2 & 4, both by Residentie Orchestra The Hague conducted by Mathias Bamert on Chandos]
    • Samuel and Daniel de Lange (1840-1911 / 1841-1918) were brothers from a musical family - they were so close that the women they married were sisters of each other. Both were active as composer, conductor, teacher and they both played the organ and the piano. After studying with Johannes Verhulst, Samuel de Lange toured Europe as a pianist, from eastern Europe to France and Germany, before settling in Stuttgart as director of its musical academy. Samuel counted Brahms (whose first piano concerto he premiered in the Netherlands), Bruch and Reger among his friends.  His large oeuvre contains several concertos for cello, violin, alto and piano, thirteen string quartets, five piano trios, sonatas for violin, cello and piano solo and many compositions for organ. Unfortunately, it remains largely unknown, even in the Netherlands. His brother Daniel de Lange is a little bit better known. Daniel was in the first place active as cellist. Concert tours through Europe brought him to Paris, where he lived until 1870. After returning to the Netherlands, he was active as educator, conductor and musical journalist. With amongst others Julius Röntgen he set up the Amsterdam Conservatorium (Amsterdam Music Academy) in 1884; eleven years later he became its director. He also established a Dutch A Capella Choir and was interested in Renaissance music. As a composer he was much less active than his brother Samuel - he wrote songs and works for choir, as well as a symphony and requiem, two works which have recently been recorded on CD. His idiom was more modern than that of his brother.
      [Daniel de Lange, Symphony No 1 by Netherlands Radio Chamber Orchestra on Sterling; Requiem by Netherlands Chamber Choir on NM Classics]
    • Bernard Zweers (1854-1924) was the son of the owner of a music shop, but as his father disapproved of a musical career, he was initially self-taught. Later Zweers studied with Salomon Jadassohn in Leipzig (a German composer and educator who is unjustly forgotten). In 1895 Zweers became head of teaching and composition at the Amsterdam Conservatory, a position he would hold until 1922. Zweers strove to create music with a Dutch national character - he wrote many songs for which he used only Dutch texts, and he also composed music for a famous 17th c. Dutch play (Gijsbrecht van Amstel by Vondel). But in fact, the German influences in his music were very strong. He left three symphonies (the third one typically named "To my Fatherland"), incidental music, a mass and several cantatas and numerous songs. His three symphonies are all available on CD.
      [Symphony No 1 (with symphony by Daniel de Lange), Symphony No 2 & Symphony No 3 on Sterling]
    • Julius Röntgen (1855-1932) was a Dutch composer, conductor and pianist of German origin. Röntgen was born into a Leipzig family of musicians - his father was cellist in the Gewandhaus Orchestra, his mother, a pianist, was family of the renowned cellist Julius Klengel (see my post about cello concertos; Röntgen himself appears in my post on cello sonatas). A very gifted child, Röntgen was educated in music by his parents and other family members, as well as Carl Reinecke and Franz Lachner. In 1877, Röntgen moved to Amsterdam, where he became piano teacher at the music school. He would stay his whole life in the Netherlands and eventually also obtain Dutch citizenship. Röntgen played an important part in helping to establish institutions for classical music in Amsterdam: in 1883 the Amsterdam Conservatory, and in 1884 the Concertgebouw Orchestra. He conducted at Felix Meritis and was also leader of the Excelsior Choir. As an accompanying pianist he played in concerts with the great violinist Carl Flesch, the singer Johannes Messchaert, and the cello player Pablo Casals. He also was a friend of Johannes Brahms, who often visited Amsterdam in the years 1878-1885. Röntgen also knew Edvard Grieg, who had studied in Leipzig, and after 1883 became close friends with the Norwegian composer, often spending his summer holidays in Norway where he enjoyed hiking in the mountains. Grieg also visited Amsterdam and after Grieg's death, Röntgen wrote his biography. Frequent visits to another Scandinavian country, Denmark, led to close contacts with Carl Nielsen. Röntgen was married twice and most of his children became professional musicians - he, for example, formed the Röntgen Piano Trio with two of his sons. In 1924, Röntgen retired from public life and settled in Bilthoven, where another of his sons, who was an architect, designed a country house (the villa Gaudeamus) with an unusual round music room. Here many famous musicians and composers gathered, such as Pablo Casals and Percy Grainger. The last eight years of his life, Röntgen continued composing at a frenetic pace. In 1930 he received an Honorary Doctorate from the University of Edinburgh. Röntgen left an immense amount of music, about 800 works, often in unpublished form - he regularly wrote chamber music for performance in the family, or for visiting musicians. There are 25 symphonies, 7 piano concertos, 3 violin concertos, 3 cello concertos, as well as numerous chamber, piano and vocal works. In some of his compositions, Röntgen used old Dutch melodies, other works were based on Norwegian folk songs. Although he remained based in the tradition of the Leipzig School, over the years Röntgen developed musically and in the 1930s he even wrote a bitonal symphony. There has been a modest (still insufficient) Röntgen-revival in recent years and several of his works have been performed for CD.
      P.S. Conrad Röntgen (1845-1923), the discoverer of X-Rays, and 1901 Noble Prize winner, was a cousin of Julius Röntgen.
      [The German CPO label has brought out numerous CDs with works by Röntgen, such as his symphonies nos 3, 5, 6, 8, 10, 15, 18, 19 (also containing other orchestral works, for example inspired by Dutch or Norwegian folk songs); his 3 cello concertos, 2 piano concertos; 2 violin concertos; incidental music for Goethes Faust; and music for wind ensemble. Several volumes of his cello sonatas and piano trios have appeared on Ars Produktion; four string trios on Chaps Hill Records; etc.]
    [Julius Röntgen]

    [Written with some input from Wikipedia and CD text books]

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    February 10, 2014

    Classical Music in The Netherlands (1) - 17th & 18th centuries

    The 17th century was the Golden Age of Dutch culture. Painting and literature flourished. But where was the music?

    The answer is: psalms, psalms, psalms... There is no Dutch Bach; in fact, most composers active in the Netherlands in this period were immigrants from Germany. There was only one native-born composer of international standing in these two centuries: Sweelinck. What caused this musical desert?

    In order to flourish in the pre-modern age, music needed to be sponsored. In most other European countries that is what happened, either by the church or by the court. But in the Netherlands, these two were both negative factors.

    In the first place, the court - this was absent: for in an age of monarchies, the Netherlands was a republic (the Republic of the Seven United Provinces, 1581-1795). It was in fact a confederation governed by a federal government, the States-General. The appointed head of state was the "Stadtholder," who also commanded the army. In practice, for this function the princes of Orange of the House of Orange-Nassau were chosen. This led confusingly to a sort of de facto hereditary head of state (in 1747, the position became also officially a hereditary one), but the Princes of Orange remained subservient to the States-General (who could anytime fire them, or refuse an appointment). It will be clear from the above that this was not a situation where a large court culture with its own composers and orchestra as in Paris, Vienna or even Stockholm could develop. This only changed somewhat at the marriage of Stadtholder Willem IV with Princess Anne (1709-59) from the English House of Hanover in 1734 - Princess Anne was musically gifted and had been a pupil of Handel. The music she introduced to the House of Orange was institutionalized by her son Willem V who employed the first official Dutch court composer. As there was no vital Dutch musical tradition, this was the German Christian Ernst Graf. He was in function when the family Mozart visited The Hague in 1765. (This visit itself demonstrates that the musical situation had improved somewhat, as the Mozarts apparently considered The Hague important enough to include in their itinerary).

    [Princess Anne of Hanover]

    Compared to the meagre situation at the "court," it was even worse with the church. The dominant Calvinist religion frowned on all music during church services except unaccompanied communal singing - even the organ was not welcome (it only came back to the church after a prolonged "organ struggle")! Thus when the Dutch cities converted en masse to Calvinism in 1570, the rich musical tradition of the Catholic church was lost - in northern Germany, Lutheranism at least sponsored music during church services and thus made the success of Bach possible. Dutch churches contained magnificent organs, but these were played only before and after services, or for public concerts on weekdays. Organ players were in the service of the municipality, as was also the case with Sweelinck who worked for the city of Amsterdam. Thus the two classical forms of musical patronage, court and church, were lacking in the Netherlands. The possibilities for professional musicians were severely limited and Holland knew no flourishing musical life. The music that was played was "home music," songs or short instrumental pieces, and this music mainly came from abroad.

    Who were the composers in this musically difficult period?

    [Jan Pieterszoon Sweelinck]
    • Jan Pieterszoon Sweelinck (1562 – 1621). This Amsterdam organist and composer straddled the end of the Renaissance and beginning of the Baroque. He was one of the first major keyboard composers of Europe, and his work as a teacher helped establish the north German organ tradition. Sweelinck was the last great polyphonist and known as "the Orpheus of Amsterdam." His pupils include  B. J. Praetorius jr., S. Scheidt and H. Scheidemann. But Sweelinck did not manage to establish his own "school" in the anti-musical Netherlands. Sweelinck wrote about 70 keyboard pieces and 250 vocal works. Sweelinck was his whole life employed as organist in Amsterdam; he was also famous as an improvisor. His complete works are available on CD – the keyboard works for example played by Ton Koopman.
      [Sweelinck, Keyboard Music, played by Ton Koopman on Philips]
    • Jacob van Eyck (ca. 1590-1657) was a carillon player, organist, recorder virtuoso and composer. His most important work was Der Fluyten Lust-hof (The Flute's Garden of Delights, 1644-1656), a collection of 140 melodies, each with a number of variations, for solo soprano recorder. There are folk songs, dance tunes and church works. As carillon player, Van Eyck worked with the brothers François & Pierre Hemony, immigrants from France, who were internationally renowned bell founders based in Amsterdam.
      [Jacob van Eyck, Der Fluyten Lust-hof, played by Erik Bosgraaf, Brilliant Classics]
    • Constantijn Huygens (1596-1687) was scientist, writer, composer and diplomat. He was secretary to the Stadtholders of Orange and knew the great thinkers and artists of his time, such as René Descartes and John Donne. As composer he wrote small, intimate pieces (mainly songs); he is also known for a treatise on the organ. He played the lute, theorbo, viola da gamba and the harpsichord and left about 800 compositions. He was the father of the natural scientist and mathematician Christiaan Huygens.
    • Anthoni van Noordt (ca. 1619 – 1675) was a Dutch composer and organist, a disciple of Sweelinck. His Tabulatuur-boeck van psalmen en fantasyen (Amsterdam, 1659) contains ten psalms with variations and six fugal fantasies. His work displays great contrapuntal mastery.
    • David Petersen (ca. 1650-1737) was a violinist and composer of north German origin active in the Netherlands. Around 1680, he moved to Amsterdam, where he worked for the rest of his life. Besides a great number of songs in Dutch composed between 1694 and 1715, he is in the first place known for his collection of twelve sonatas for violin and basso continuo published in 1683 entitled "Speelstukken." It is the only Dutch publication of its type in this period. Inspiration came probably from north German composers as Johann Jakob Walther.
      [David petersen, Speelstukken, played by Manfredo Kraemer and The Rare Fruits Council on Astree]
    • Johannes Schenck (1660 - after 1720) was born in Amsterdam from German parents and became an internationally famous virtuoso viola da gamba player. Except compositions for his own instrument, he also wrote the first Dutch opera (1686, on a text in Dutch): Venus, Ceres and Bacchus - when the gods quarrel and Ceres (deity of food) and Bacchus (deity of wine) refuse to cooperate with Venus, humans decide to engage in a "sex strike" for "love cannot exist without food or wine." In 1696 Schenck moves to the court of Düsseldorf, where he remained until his death. He continued publishing his music in Amsterdam with the famous publisher Estienne Roger - we have several opus numbers with gamba music, music for violin and trio sonatas.
      [Scherzi Musicali Op 6 for Viola da gamba played by Bettina Hoffmann on Dynamic]
    • Willem de Fesch (1687 - 1761) was a virtuoso Dutch violone player and composer. He studied with Karl Rosier in Germany, and after working in Amsterdam between 1710 and 1725, pursued his career in Antwerp and London. He played the violone in Handel's orchestra and also conducted at Marylebone Gardens. He wrote solo and trio sonatas, concertos, and also two oratorios. His style was influenced by Vivaldi and Handel.
    • [Concerto Op 10 included in Baroque Concerto from The Netherlands by Musica Ad Rhenum on NM Classics; and Solo & Trio Sonatas by Ensemble d'Auvergne on Globe]
    • Count Unico Willem van Wassenaer (1692 - 1766) was a Dutch diplomat and composer. His most important surviving compositions are the "Concerti Armonici," which until 1980 had been misattributed to the Italian composer Giovanni Battista Pergolesi. As the scion of a wealthy and distinguished family, the count did not publish the concertos under his own name. The style is Italian and close to that of Locatelli (who, by the way, spent the last years of his life in Amsterdam). These concertos formed the basis for Pulcinella by Stravinsky, who still considered them as composed by Pergolesi. Count Unico Willem van Wassenaer also composed three recorder sonatas.
      [Van Wassenaer, 6 Concerti Armonici by Ton Koopman and the Amsterdam Baroque Ensemble on Apex]
    • Johan Nicolaas Lentz (ca. 1719 - 1782) was another Dutch composer of German origin. He was active in Rotterdam, where he also married the daughter of a local wine seller. He himself seems to have been active in the wine business as well. Just a few works have come down to us, among them two harpsichord concertos.
      [Lentz, Two Harpsichord Concertos  (with Six Symphonies by Heinsius) played by the Orchestra Van Wassenaer on BIS]
    • Pieter Hellendaal (1721 – 1799) was an Anglo-Dutch composer and violinist. At age 30, he migrated to England where he stayed the rest of his life. He is the best composer of Dutch origin of the 18th century. Typically, he had trouble finding a good position in music-barren Holland. Among his freelance assignments was a concert for Stadtholder Willem IV and his musically-minded English wife Anne, and it may have been the Princess who gave him the idea that England offered better career chances for an ambitious musician. He first established himself as a successful composer and violinist in London, where he also worked with Handel. In 1862 he moved to Cambridge where he settled down for the rest of his life. Besides violin and cello sonatas as well as solo works for harpsichord, his most important compositions are the six Concerto Grossi of 1758. Hellendaal wrote in the late Italian Baroque style.
      [Hellendael, 6 Concerti Grossi by European Community Baroque on Channel Classics]
    • Christian Ernst Graf (1723-1804) was a German Kapellmeister and composer. From 1762, he worked as official court composer for William V, Prince of Orange, in The Hague. Graf has left us several symphonies, violin sonatas, string quartets, trio sonatas and quintets for flute and strings, as well as piano works. One of his last and major works was the Easter cantata "Der Tod Jesu," dating from 1802. He also wrote a musical text book on harmony. His song "Laat ons juichen Batavieren" was used by Mozart for his variations KV 24.
      [Graf, Symphony in D Op 14.1 included in Crowning Glory - Symphonies from the 18th Century Court of Orange in The Hague, played by The New Dutch Academy conducted by Simon Murphy on Pentatone Classics]
    • Joseph Schmitt (1734-1791) was a Dutch composer, director and music pedagogue of German origin. After studying with Carl Friedrich Abel, he entered the clergy as a musical priest. In the early 1770s, Schmitt moved to Amsterdam. He quickly established himself in the city, becoming music director at the Felix Meritis society, where he worked for the next two decades. He also set up his own music publishing firm. Schmitt was the most important figure in Dutch musical life in the second half of the 18th century. His compositions are influenced by his teacher Abel, the Bach sons and the Mannheim school; they are sparkling and full of energy. Not for nothing has he been called the "Dutch Haydn." Schmitt played a pioneering role in the realisation of the Holland's first purpose built concert hall, the Felix Meritis. The hall opened in 1788 with Schmitt conducting the inaugural performance. In the 19th century, the hall became the central point of Dutch music life. Unfortunately, Schmitt has been largely forgotten in the Netherlands, although some of his music has been revived on a recent CD.
      [Schmitt, Early Symphonies and Chamber Music, played by The New Dutch Academy conducted by Simon Murphy on Pentatone Classics]

      [Written with some input from Wikipedia and CD text books]
    Posts about classical music include: