Bernard Hélène Joseph van Dieren (27 December 1887 – 24 April 1936) was a Dutch composer, critic, author, and writer on music, much of whose working life was spent in England.
Van Dieren was born and educated in Rotterdam. In company with a fellow musician from Rotterdam, Frida Kindler (1879-1964) he moved to London in 1909 and they married on New Year’s Day 1910. Frida was a superb pianist, a pupil of Busoni; and the Italian master in turn was to have a profound influence on the young Bernard.
Details of his education are unknown but it seems that his early training was as a scientist, as a research assistant in a laboratory. Gifted in science, extremely intelligent and with a phenomenal memory, he was also well-versed in literature as well as an able violinist and amateur artist.
During the First World War he was for a short time involved in secret service in the Netherlands, as a cypher expert in the Intelligence Department.
In 1925, Van Dieren worked for the Philips electrical company but recurring illness forced him to resign the following year.
He also wrote a book on “Epstein” (1920) and published a collection of controversial essays entitled “Down Among the Dead Men” (1935).
Van Dieren was influenced by the early 20th century atonal composers. His writing is characterised by extremely complex contrapuntal elements. Bernard’s compositions include a wide variety of works which have yet to be rediscovered.
In 1912, he began to suffer from a progressive and incurable infection of the kidneys, involving recurrent attacks of renal stone, so painful as to require morphia for their relief. Coincidentally, his musical style became much less radical, and more tonally based, though the writing was still largely polyphonic.
Bernard’s younger English friends, including Warlock, Cecil Gray, the Sitwells and Epstein helped to promote his music. In the 1920’s and 1930’s many of the smaller pieces were published and some of the larger works were performed in the composer’s last years. In 1927, his fourth string quartet was performed at the Frankfurt Festival. In 1930, he completed his opera ‘The Tailor’ (begun in 1916 at Heseltine and Gray’s request).
Just before Bernard’s death, two of his more important works were broadcast by the BBC: ‘Diaphony’ in 1934 and the ‘Chinese Symphony‘ in 1935.
With the onset of World War II and the early deaths of a number of his active disciples (Gray and Lambert in 1951: baritone John Goss in 1953) his music slipped out of the performing repertoire. By the 1960’s his work had sunk into that oblivion from which it is only now emerging.
Recently, in October 2016, Lyrita Recorded Edition has recorded Bernard’s ‘Chinese Symphony‘ for release on CD, along with several other shorter works by the composer.