Articles & Essays

Suppressed Music in The Netherlands:  Discovering Hidden Treasures

By Eleonore Pameijer and Carine Alders

Dutch painting is world famous. Every year, thousands of tourists flock to the Netherlands to admire paintings by Rembrandt, Vermeer, Frans Hals, Van Gogh and Mondriaan.

How different is the fame of Dutch music! Holland was always susceptible to the powerful cultural influences of its larger neighbors, France and Germany. This was certainly true in the 19th century when Holland was under the sway of German musical traditions, but the situation began to change toward the beginning of the 20th century, when French music became more influential. Although this was partly a result of the strength of a new school of French composers, the political and cultural climate in the Netherlands was also changing. Directly prior to the Second World War, affinity with French music even became a political statement, a declaration of opposition to the rising Nazi regime. During the war, that regime dictated new rules for the arts and for cultural life. Affiliation with French music was not sufficient cause for suppression of music by Dutch composers. There was no ‘Entartete Kunst’ as such. Music was forbidden simply because a composer either had a Jewish background or refused to comply with Nazi rules. Such composers had to give up their social positions, and their music was banned from all public performances. Most Jewish composers were deported, their personal belongings plundered. Many of them lost their lives. Their personal archives as well as their musical heritage were eradicated.

After the Second World War, a radically new musical aesthetic began to dominate Dutch musical life. This was partly because a large group of composers, many of them Jewish, had perished. The younger generation quickly filled the vacuum, claiming modernism as the watchword of the day. Next to this new avant-garde music, the music of the pre-war generation seemed hopelessly outdated. Most of the Dutch music from the first half of the century was neglected and looked down upon. Those compositions that had survived the war did not survive the scrutiny of post-war musical taste.

Yet the sieve of time is an effective mechanism in music. If good music disappears as a result of changing aesthetics and styles, it will sooner or later reappear thanks to its intrinsic quality. Only now, at the beginning of the twenty-first century, is this music taking its rightful place in the stream of music history. In 1996, flutist Eleonore Pameijer and pianist Frans van Ruth established the Leo Smit Foundation, named after the Dutch composer Leo Smit (1900-1943). Their purpose was to offer a platform for this forgotten music, because they believed in the high quality of the pre-war generation of Dutch composers. In recent years, painstaking research by committed individuals – facilitated by the Leo Smit Foundation – has brought back the music of suppressed composers in the Netherlands. Jurjen Vis aptly named his biography of Leo Smit Silhouettes: he reconstructed the composer’s life from the bits and pieces of information that had survived the war. Other composers’ lives were reconstructed with the help of city archives, information from the Red Cross and newspaper clippings.

The Leo Smit Foundation started an annual series of ‘Uilenburger Concerts’ in the restored Uilenburger Synagogue in Amsterdam. More than one hundred concerts have taken place since the mid-1990s. Rediscovered compositions are programmed alongside well-known music from the same period as well as contemporary music. Since many concerts are broadcast on national radio, surviving relatives, friends and pupils were reminded of these forgotten composers and began searching for manuscripts that were thought to be lost. Even today, treasures are still being rediscovered in archives, attics and sheds. In 2009, with the support of a grant from the Dutch government, an inventory was made of the works and lives of more than twenty suppressed composers. This article presents an overview of the findings of the last two decades.

The romantic music of Andries de Rosa (1869-1943) and Samuel Schuijer (1873-1942) was firmly rooted in the 19th century. De Rosa had to resort to his old trade of diamond cutter to support his family in times of crisis, and Schuijer formed his own orchestra to play light music in difficult years. Schuijer’s compositions met with some success: He won several international prizes and his Preludium for orchestra was premiered in Stuttgart. Because of their Jewish background, both men and their families were deported and killed in concentration camps. Several works of Samuel Schuijer were recently found by children on the street near a garbage can. The works of Andries de Rosa are archived in the Jewish Historical Museum in Amsterdam. Works of both composers were premiered at the 100th Uilenburger Concert in January 2009.

Among composers of the older generation, Jan van Gilse (1881-1944) composed in a style that followed the line of Brahms and Mahler, which is not surprising, given that he studied and worked in Germany for many years during the first decades of the twentieth century. It was not his music that caused trouble: his persistent and active resistance against Nazi occupation meant the end of his career. His music was banned and he was forced to go into hiding. After his two sons were killed in retribution for their resistance activities, Jan van Gilse fell ill at one of the addresses where he was being hidden–the house of his colleague composer Rudolf Escher. He was taken to hospital, died and was buried under a false name. Because Jan van Gilse played an immensely important role in founding the Dutch Composers Association (GeNeCo) and improving social circumstances for composers, his life is well documented. A biography - Jan van Gilse; Warrior and Idealist - has been published by Hans van Dijk. After the war, van Gilse’s music was considered old-fashioned because the German-oriented romantic style was no longer appreciated. Only recently, conductor David Porcelijn rediscovered this music’s high qualities and has started to record van Gilse’s symphonic works for the German label CPO.

Sem Dresden (1881-1957) also played an important role in musical life in the Netherlands in the early years of the twentieth century. Dresden studied composition with Hans Pfitzner at the Stern Conservatory in Berlin. Drawn to the new developments in French music, he was considered a modernist in his time. As a composition teacher in both Amsterdam and The Hague, he encouraged many young composers. Together with his colleague Willem Pijper, he established the Dutch chapter of the International Society of Contemporary Music (ISCM). Because of his Jewish background, he was forced to withdraw from his position as director of the conservatory in The Hague. He was cut off from public life but continued to compose. One of the works he wrote then is Chorus symphonicus. Based on Psalm texts referring to the hardships of daily life, the work can be considered a form of ‘passive resistance’. Dresden survived the war, resumed his position in The Hague and retired in 1949. Like Jan van Gilse, Dresden served on many boards and committees. Although well-remembered as a person, his compositions have largely been forgotten.

Rosy Wertheim (1888-1949) was one of Dresden’s pupils. She was born into a wealthy Amsterdam Jewish banking family. After having received a piano diploma from the Dutch Musicians' Society, she studied harmony and counterpoint with Bernard Zweers and Sem Dresden at the Amsterdam Music Lyceum. In the 1920s, she taught solfège and piano there. She was also conductor of a number of children’s and women’s choirs. In 1929 she left for Paris, where she took lessons in composition from Louis Aubert. Her home became a haven for Dutch artists and composers and a veritable salon for such leading French composers as Milhaud, Honegger, Messiaen, Jolivet, Ibert, and Elsa Barraine. Like many of her Dutch contemporaries, Wertheim was strongly influenced by French music and greatly admired the Impressionist works of Debussy and Ravel as well as the music of Stravinsky. She wrote a cello sonata, a string quartet, a piano concerto and many vocal works. Later, she travelled to Vienna and to the USA but returned home as tensions grew in Europe. At this point, it is not clear what happened. Her obituary describes her as an incredible source of comfort and support to others during the war years. Many who knew her were especially grateful for the covert concerts she gave in the basement of her home, where she frequently presented works by Jewish composers whose music had been outlawed. She survived the war but lost most of her family. After the war, she fell ill and never resumed composing. Despite a sizeable oeuvre of high quality, Rosy Wertheim was largely forgotten and even now is not included in anthologies of twentieth-century Dutch music. Her music manuscripts are stored in the archives of the Netherlands Music Institute in The Hague, but they remain unpublished. A CD with an overview of her most important chamber music is presently (2010) being recorded for the Dutch label FutureClassics. Most of Wertheim’s works are not dated, and very little written documentation of her life remains, which makes it difficult to construct a biography.

Martin Spanjaard (1892-1942) was best known as a conductor. He conducted the world’s most famous orchestras, including the Vienna and Berlin philharmonics and the Amsterdam Concertgebouw Orchestra. In 1997, his grandson discovered several of Spanjaard’s compositions in some boxes of personal belongings that had survived the war. Spanjaard studied piano with Willem Andriessen and composition with Cornelis Dopper before he moved to Berlin in 1915 to continue his musical education. In Berlin he wrote songs on texts of Li Tai Po as well as a Scherzo for orchestra. In later years, his career as conductor was so successful that he had no time for composing. In 1942, Martin Spanjaard and his wife Elly Okladek, a Hungarian harpist, both Jewish, were deported and killed in Auschwitz.

Bob Hanf (1894-1944) was endowed with many talents: he wrote novels and plays, painted, played the violin and composed. His mother, Laura Romberg, was an excellent pianist. She gave Bob his first music lessons. His parents sent him to Delft University to pursue a technical career, but Hanf preferred a career in music and studied the violin with Louis Zimmerman and composition with Cornelis Dopper. His compositions, which include songs on texts by Rilke, Kafka and Goethe, are closer to the German-Austrian tradition than to the French school. While studying chemistry in Delft, Hanf gave lectures on modern art and organized several expositions dedicated to such important painters as Vassily Kandinsky. Around 1920, he produced a number of drawings in a German Expressionistic style similar to that of Max Beckman - a style later referred to by the Nazis as degenerate. As a composer, Hanf produced a small but elegant oeuvre consisting of songs and chamber music. Owing to his Jewish background, Hanf had to go into hiding, where he continued his writings under a false name. He was arrested in April 1944 and deported to Auschwitz, where he was killed in September of the same year. The Bob Hanf Foundation has published a biography with reproductions of his paintings and a CD with some of his chamber music, but his compositions remain unpublished.

The eradication of the memory of Daniël Belinfante (1893-1945) seemed complete until the Italian pianist Francesco Lotoro contacted the Dutch pianist Marcel Worms, who is associated with the Leo Smit Foundation. In the early years of the twenty-first century, research by Worms and the musicologist Wim de Vries uncovered the outlines of Belinfante’s musical career as pianist, composer and director of a music school in Amsterdam, where members of the Concertgebouw Orchestra taught both classical music and jazz. Belinfante married his pupil Martha Dekker (1900-1989), who developed a method for teaching singing and declamation to children and composed many songs. Belinfante was an interesting composer who experimented with polytonality and polyrhythm- and who left a considerable oeuvre. In 1940, he was forced by the occupying forces to close his music school. He was active in the Resistance, helping others to hide, and was arrested for these activities; he died in a fire in the hospital of the Fürstengrube camp in January 1945. Martha survived the war, continued the music school but did not compose again. In his wife's archives there is no record of any of Belinfante’s music having been performed after the war. In 1955, she donated his manuscripts to the Netherlands Music Institute.

Franz (Ferenc) Weisz (1893-1944) was born in Budapest, where he studied piano and composition. He remained in the Netherlands after a concert tour around 1920, married and obtained Dutch nationality in 1932. He taught piano, composed for this instrument and performed in many concerts. In 1943, Weisz’s Jewish background caused him to be taken first to Westerbork, then to Theresienstadt and finally to Auschwitz, where he died in 1944. Niek Verkruisen, a pupil of Weisz, possessed five compositions for piano solo that had been published by Roszavolgyi & Co in 1929. One of these virtuoso pieces, a Chopinesque suite, was performed at the hundredth Uilenburger Concert in January 2009. Since then, more of Weisz’s compositions have surfaced.

Ignace Lilien (1897-1964) was born in the Polish city of Lemberg (Lwów; now Lviv in the Ukraine). At the age of seventeen, he toured Europe on a bicycle in order to visit museums. While in the Netherlands, the First World War broke out, and Lilien decided to stay in Holland. He studied chemical engineering at Delft University but also piano with Theodor Pollak, harmony with H. Ehrlich and instrumentation with Josef Suk. Although Lilien earned his living as a chemical engineer, he was a versatile composer and pianist. During the 1930s, he lived in the Bohemian city of Reichenberg (Liberec), where he composed the ‘Modern Times Sonata’ for violin and piano. In 1939, Lilien returned to the Netherlands. As a non-native, he was not registered as a Jew, thus he survived the German occupation thanks to forged documents. Between 1939 and 1943 he composed a great number of songs on Dutch texts. In his song cycle Maria Lecina’ Lilien demonstrates his love of Spanish rhythms and passionate singing. The Ballade van Westerbork is a sober, realistic setting of his own poems, which depict the deportation of Jewish children from Westerbork to the concentration camps of Eastern Europe. After the war, Lilien went to South America as a concert pianist. His music was performed regularly, and George Bernard Shaw wrote the libretto for Lilien’s opera, Great Catherine (premiered in Wiesbaden in 1932).

Most of the Jewish composers mentioned in this article wrote concert music. Simon Gokkes (1897-1943), however, wrote many works for use in the synagogue. He studied piano with Sem Dresden at the Amsterdam Conservatory, became a well-known conductor and worked for the Netherlands Opera. Some of his songs were performed at the Salle Pleyel in Paris. Gokkes and his family were deported and their belongings plundered, which is why most of his compositions were lost. What little has survived is of high quality and of a surprisingly modern character. In 1943 Simon Gokkes, his wife Rebecca Winnik and their two children were killed at Auschwitz. Only recently, interest in his concert music has revived. His work Kinah (1928), for solo voices, wind quintet and piano, has been published by the Netherlands Music Institute.

Henriëtte Bosmans (1895-1952), a well-known concert pianist, studied composition with Cornelis Dopper. In order to develop her style from a romantic idiom into a more modern one, she decided to take lessons from the composer Willem Pijper. She wrote an impressive number of pieces, including symphonic and chamber works. After 1942 she was no longer allowed to perform in public because she was half Jewish; instead, she performed at illegal concerts in private homes. She resumed her career after the war, and the many songs that she composed for her muse, the French singer Noémie Perugia, are considered among the finest music composed in the Netherlands. Despite the high quality of her work, Bosmans has yet to receive the international attention that she deserves. In 2002, a biography of Bosmans by musiclogist Helen Metzelaar was published.

Johanna Bordewijk-Roepman (1892-1971) began composing relatively late in life. In 1936-37, she took lessons with composer-conductor Eduard Flipse, and her first orchestral works were performed in 1940. Because she refused to become a member of the Kultuur Kamer as required by the Nazis, her works could not be performed or published. In March 1945, she and her family barely escaped death during the bombing of The Hague. After the war she became a member of the ‘Ereraad voor de Muziek’, an institution that judged musicians who had collaborated. She felt that this cast a shadow over her career, although her works were performed regularly until the 1950s.

As the most gifted pupil of Sem Dresden, Leo Smit (1900-43) was at the forefront of a new generation of Dutch composers. He came from a musical Portuguese Jewish family, and in 1924 he became the first student at the Amsterdam Conservatory to receive a composition diploma cum laude. Like many other Dutch composers, he was attracted to new French music and left Holland for Paris, where he remained for the following nine years. There, he threw himself into the musical life of both the concert hall and the café. He had no need to seek out the limelight, because his parent’s support made him financially independent and gave him time to compose. Some of his compositions were published and performed, but his thoughts were still directed towards Holland, which he often visited. His ballet “Shemselnihar” and his Harp Concertino, written for the harpist Rosa Spier, were premiered at the Concertgebouw in 1929 and 1934, respectively. In Paris Smit developed his own style, which was initially very French in orientation but later became more intellectual and austere. In his thirties he wrote a great many pieces: Sextuor (1932), Symphony in C (1936), Piano Concerto (1937) and Viola Concerto (1940). His name was well established in Holland, and his music was often heard on the radio. When the war broke out, Leo Smit did not to go into hiding. Together with his wife, he was transported to Sobibor via Westerbork, where they were killed on April 30, 1943. The Flute Sonata (1943) – the last composition he completed - has both a lyrical side reminiscent of Ravel and a motoric, rhythmical side that is more Stravinskian. The touching second movement was written shortly before Smit was deported and contains the last notes that he composed. Smit gave most of his compositions to his pupil Frits Zuiderweg for safekeeping; after the war, Zuiderweg returned them to Smit’s sister, Nora, but despite her efforts she could not rekindle interest in his music. Only in the early 1990s, when pianist Frans van Ruth and flutist Eleonore Pameijer discovered the beauty of Smit’s Flute Sonata, the quality of his oeuvre was recognized. Van Ruth and Pameijer founded the Leo Smit Foundation, which resulted in the recording and publication of his complete works and more than a hundred concerts focusing on suppressed composers.

Julius Hijman (1901-1967), pianist, composer and musicologist, studied piano with Dirk Schäfer and composition with Sem Dresden and played an important role in promoting contemporary music in the Netherlands. During a stay in Vienna, he became acquainted with the music of Schoenberg, Berg and Webern, and in 1937 he published an article on the subject in the Dutch magazine Caecilia. He was one of the few Dutch-Jewish composers who managed to leave the Netherlands just before the war broke out. By immigrating to the USA, he managed to save his family, although this meant giving up his position in Dutch musical life. He taught at music academies in Houston, Kansas City, Philadelphia and New York, where he was an avid promoter of Dutch music. Although he regularly went back to his native country, his music, which consisted primarily of chamber and choral works, was hardly recognized in Holland.

Hans Lachman (1906-1990) was born in Berlin as Heinz Lachmann. As a Jew, he fled his native country in 1933 soon after Hitler came to power. Having been a member of Sid Kay’s Fellows - Berlin’s first jazz band - he later joined the Tuschinski film orchestra of Max Tak in Amsterdam as an arranger and trombonist. He wrote and arranged music for many films. He, his wife and young son, survived the war hidden in a forest by a Roman Catholic priest in the south of the Netherlands; the priest was betrayed and executed. After the war, Lachman turned to classical music. One of his first compositions was a Requiem for the priest, performed and recorded for Dutch radio. Lachman formed his own ensemble with musicians from the Concertgebouw Orchestra, and his music was regularly performed and broadcast on national radio. He left an extended repertoire in every genre.

Bertus van Lier (1906-1962) studied cello with Max Orobio da Castro, composition with Willem Pijper and conducting with Hermann Scherchen. He taught at several conservatories and wrote about music for various newspapers. He was a well-known conductor who performed at Benjamin Britten’s Aldeburgh Festival, among other venues. He wrote orchestral, chamber and vocal works, and his best-known compositions were Het Hooglied (The Song of Songs, 1949) and A Tfile fun a Ghettojid (Prayer of a Ghetto Jew, 1951), on a text by Kwiattkowska . During the war, he worked for a bank in order not to have to join the Kultuur Kamer. Because he was half Jewish, he eventually had to go into hiding and barely escaped arrest. After the war, Van Lier, like Johanna Bordewijk-Roepman, became a member of the 'Ereraad'. His membership on this board, which required him to condemn collaborationist colleagues, created such negative reactions that he gave up most of his musical career and moved north, where he became a lecturer at the University of Groningen.

Lex van Delden (born Alexander Zwaap, 1919-1988) started composing at the age of eleven and remained self-taught as a composer. Despite his artistic promise and interests, he enrolled at the University of Amsterdam in 1938 to study medicine. In 1940, however, the Germans invaded the Netherlands and, as a Jew, he was forced to interrupt his studies. Irrevocably, as it turned out: his hopes of becoming a neurosurgeon were dashed during World War II, because while he was in hiding an exploding carbide lamp left him virtually blind in his left eye. He joined the underground students' resistance movement, and after the war he was commended for his bravery. In 1953 the name he had assumed since the Liberation in 1945 (Lex van Delden – derived from the name he used in the resistance) was legally approved. During the postwar period Van Delden made his way in Dutch cultural life. From 1947 to 1982 he was music editor of the daily , newspaper Het Parool - originally an underground publication. Throughout the 1950s and ’60s he was one of the most widely-performed Dutch composers of his generation. He created a large body of works written in an accessible, moderately modern style, firmly rooted in the classical tradition. Most of his postwar works were published and are still part of the repertoire.

Marius Flothuis (1914-2001), an Amsterdam-born composer, musicologist, critic and writer, He studied piano, music theory and musicology and received his doctorate in 1969 with a thesis about Mozart's arrangements of his own compositions. In 1937, Flothuis became the assistant artistic director of the Concertgebouw Orchestra. In 1942, he was forced out of this position because he refused to collaborate with the German occupying forces; his refusal to collaborate stemmed from his many friendships with members of the Jewish community, among other reasons. He was captured and imprisoned in Camp Vught because of his activities in the resistance, helping Jews. While incarcerated, he composed both the Aubade and the Sonata da Camera for flute. After the war, he rejoined the Concertgebouw Orchestra and became its artistic director. As a composer he was initially influenced by his friend and colleague Bertus van Lier but later developed his own style. He considered the words of conductor Bernard Haitink, after a performance of one of Flothuis's compositions, to be the highest compliment he ever received: “Not one note of this entire piece is superfluous.” To the end of his life, Flothuis played an important role in Dutch musical life.

Nico Richter (1915-1945) was born into a secular Jewish family in Amsterdam. He received violin lessons from an early age, and his compositional talent emerged at around the age of thirteen. At fifteen he was studying violin with Sepha Tromp, wife of the conductor Eduard van Beinum. Richter studied medicine in Amsterdam at the same time as Lex van Delden. Van Delden composed a work for the student orchestra MUSA led by Richter, and the two became close friends. Inspired by a concert performance of Willem Pijper, Richter started composing at a young age. He studied composition with Ernest Mulder in Amsterdam and conducting with Hermann Scherchen in Brussels, where he won a prize for his Concertino for cello and five instruments.

When the war broke out, he married Hetta Scheffer, continued his medical studies, took part in student anti-war protests and remained active as conductor of the MUSA orchestra. Although Jewish students were no longer allowed to apply to the University, he was allowed to finish his medical studies and completed them on November 18, 1941. Richter took part in the resistance but was betrayed in April 1942 and sent to prison, first in Amsterdam, then at Scheveningen, and from Camp Amersfoort in November to Camp Vught in January of 1943. On November 15, 1943, he was transported to Auschwitz. He was later transferred to Dachau and survived to return to the Netherlands in July 1945. He was so weakened, however, that he died on August 16, 1945, after having managed to complete his Serenade for flute, violin and viola while on his deathbed. His output, modest in size, was performed only sporadically until the Leo Smit Ensemble released a CD of his chamber music on the Tatlin label. The Two Pieces for flute and piano were originally written for violin and piano. Richter's music is close to the Second Viennese School. His compositions are often only vaguely tonal, and his succinct musical language reminds one of Webern.

Dick Kattenburg (1919-1944) was still a student when the war broke out. Little is known about Kattenburg and his musical activities, as there are few surviving documents. He must have had a solid musical education at an early age, because by the time he was seventeen he had received a diploma “Théorie et Violon” at the Collège Musical Belge in Brussels, where his teacher was Hugo Godron. In 1941, he passed his state examination in music at The Hague under the direction of Willem Pijper. During his short life, Dick Kattenburg wrote about thirty compositions: solo pieces, chamber music and works for orchestra. His compositions show the influence of French music, but they are often somewhat Romantic, too, with charming melodic lines and harmonies and sometimes even a jazzy feel. At the age of eighteen, he wrote a piece for piano four-hands and a tap dance. During the war, he received lessons in composition from Leo Smit while in hiding. It was only then that his Jewish background started to appear as an inspiration in his music. He started to write songs on Hebrew texts, calling them Palestinian, Mexican or Rumanian in the hope that this would increase the manuscripts' chances of surviving the war. Dick Kattenburg was arrested and transported to Auschwitz, where he was killed in the summer of 1944 at the age of 24. After Eleonore Pameijer performed what was thought to be his sole surviving composition, the Flute Sonata, Kattenburg's niece, Joyce Bergman-van Hessen, decided to go through the family effects that she had inherited; she found a considerable number of compositions and gave them to the conductor Ed Spanjaard. Most of these works turned out to be of high quality, often joyful and light-hearted, with many polytonal passages reminiscent of the music of Kattenburg's contemporary, Darius Milhaud. His chamber music was released on CD by FutureClassics in December 2009, and three of his works were recently published by MCN (Music Center of the Netherlands).

In conclusion: Extensive research has shown that the Second World War wiped out an important part of Dutch musical life. Seventy years later, our perception of our country’s musical history has changed, thanks in part to this research. Gaps in our collective memory are being filled in, although we can only guess what would have happened if talents like Leo Smit, Nico Richter, Simon Gokkes and Dick Kattenburg had had a chance to continue their careers after the war. Would their music have changed had they had a chance to hear it performed more often? How would they have influenced the following generation? What would the Dutch musical scene have been like had these composers survived? These questions will never be answered. The composers cannot be brought back, but we can dedicate ourselves to their music. Future plans include research into the lives and works of Fania Chapiro, Israel Olman, Robert de Roos, Andrée Bonhomme, Sedje Hémon, Paul Hermann and Leo Kok as well as others, perhaps, who not yet known to us. The Leo Smit Foundation remains dedicated to this task.

Posted March 1, 2010