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:
- Best Cello Concertos
- Best Cello Sonatas
- Best Works for Oboe
- Best Works for Viola
- Best Flute Concertos
- Unique Symphonies from the 19th Century
- Eccentric Symphonies by 20th Century Cult Composers (1) - Scriabin, Ives & Langaard
- Eccentric Symphonies from 20th Century Cult Composers (2) - Havergal Brian & Matthijs Vermeulen