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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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