The Art of Dutch Keyboard Music – Jacob Bogaart

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Donemus is excited to bring the digital release of this wonderful anthology of Dutch keyboard works. This 8-CD box, produced in 2015, soon went out of stock and wasn’t available any longer. The box is now re-released at the label ‘Donemus Musicians’ Voice’. At certain platforms such as Primephonic, the listeners can read the booklet as well. Displayed on 138 pages in Dutch and English, the booklet gives a rich overview on Dutch keyboard music spanning over the last four centuries…   

An excerpt from the booklet: 

The typical, yet regrettable responses when high-quality Dutch compositions, whether from the near or distant past, are rescued from oblivion are ‘not bad’, or, the epitome of sarcasm: ‘untypically Dutch good’. Such qualifications are a clear indication of the popular belief that this country was musically of little consequence. The absurdity of it is that, in spite of the most wonderful record and CD productions, we still have insufficient knowledge of what we represent, and not just since the last century. 

The CD editions with works by Diepenbrock, Keuris, and Schat, the Residentie Orchestra’s record box with 400 years of Dutch music; or the rich catalogues of both Donemus and Attacca, have made unmistakably and ostensibly clear how frequently that so-called un-Dutch level is as Dutch as tulips and windmills. Nonetheless, there are still considerable gaps in the proffered repertoire of records, CDs and the like, as well as in the concert hall. The present edition of 400 years of Dutch keyboard music is, in a veritable relay race of recording premieres, a vast journey of discovery.

The structural neglect of Dutch music has imprinted on the populace a particularly one-dimensional image of its native music history. The holes in the cheese are nearly larger than the cheese that holds them! After Jan Pieterszoon Sweelinck, whose name is taught by the better schools as the ‘First Great Dutch Composer’ there was a lull of nearly three centuries. Then around 1890, the introverted classicist Alphons Diepenbrock emerged as the Second Grandmaster, praised to high heaven throughout his difficult life with accolades that could never sustain a great man. In the 20th century, the composer’s genealogy hopscotched from Willem Pijper and a bit of Henk Badings to Matthijs Vermeulen, past the Second World War to Rudolf Escher, Ton de Leeuw, Hans Kox, Peter Schat, Jan van Vlijmen, Tristan Keuris, Louis Andriessen, Theo Loevendie, and a handful more of Dutch Masters whose significance only vaguely sinks in. 

There is no national family tree, no linear evolution in the Austro-German tradition constructing a line from Bach to Beethoven via Schumann, to Brahms and Schönberg, or by way of a second developmental line from Bach to Beethoven and Wagner to that same Schönberg, channeling the two currents to that one riverbed in which the arts can flow orderly from A to B. Our awareness of historic and stylistic connections between composers and their oeuvres is rudimentary, and composers’ knowledge of their hinterland is so fragmentary, with their orientation to the foreign often so strong, that it has been impossible for a national tradition ever to emerge – one Willem Pijper clone or ‘Haagse school’ does not fill the bill. Dutch orchestras and ensembles seldom perform Pijper, Vermeulen, Schat, or Loevendie, let alone Verhulst, Zweers, or Diepenbrock. In general, a Dutch composer exists only until he breathes his last: of the masters and journeymen who reared their heads in the no-man’s land presumed between Sweelinck and Diepenbrock, we no longer have any inkling. The most auspicious examples have simply become street names near the Concertgebouw: Van Breestraat and Verhulststraat. 

It is not surprising that Dutch composers, even the best, are angry: angry at their country and often at each other. In 1911, Matthijs Vermeulen declared, “Dutch composers, thou art worth no more than simple organ-grinders – thou art the puppets in a Punch and Judy show, old trumpets, dilapidated timpanies.” In 1949, Henriëtte Bosmans writes to that same Vermeulen that ‘the best a Dutch artist has to offer perishes if he stays in Holland, where he is denied possibilities, where he is renounced, where others try to convince the audience to deny his existence.’ That is the disadvantage of being a ‘village’. Everyone is mad at everyone else, and it’s always the neighbor’s fault. After all, how could your next door neighbor possibly be so great? 

If this is the situation regarding concert music, how difficult must it be for the keyboard department? The organ repertoire can still rely on the church, but the fate of Dutch harpsichord and piano music is lamentable. Up and until the 18th century, it functioned as salon music but once concert hall music comes into existence in the 19th century, Dutch solo repertoire became second choice. In piano recitals both before and after the Liszt era, the master pianists played Beethoven, Schumann, Brahms, and their own compositions, but no obscure Dutch fare, unless they themselves happen to be composers. Rival concert pianists such as Leander Schlegel and the virtuoso Dirk Schäfer could prove their own composing talents in the concert hall, but after their deaths, their names sunk into oblivion even though they should be household words today. 

Illustrative for the situation is that for pianist Jacob Bogaart, the initiator of this edition of four centuries of Dutch keyboard music, collecting the repertoire was an archeological exercise that, notwithstanding a number of lengthy intervals, kept him out of mischief for three decades. The bulk of the material that he wrested from the claws of obscurity lay blanketed with dust, but what he excavated from libraries and archives is the concealed history of a music culture with no significant evolutionary gaps. There was indeed life after Sweelinck; there was Dutch baroque music for keyboard instruments, classicists who composed sonatas, and romanticism of a certain specific gravity. These outweigh the endless parade of followers whom Eduard Reeser in his book Een eeuw Nederlandse muziek (A century of Dutch music, ed.) spurns with a disparaging shake of the head, bestowing restrained clemency on the one rare bird that dared soar above the rest. 

But how important exactly is this insight? Well actually, as important as the music itself of course, which in many cases is of a decent caliber. But even a repertoire of a less exalted quality can have a specific charm. Van Bree’s competently created salon compositions reveal an upright citizen’s contentment which is as sociologically interesting as an audible complement to Hildebrand’s Camera Obscura. This was art from the Dutch middle class of 1830: contented, slightly fawning, not too complex. His Fantaisie is a Dutch image of the era, making it fascinating material by mere dint of its existence. 

The relatively low threshold character of a keyboard instrument as a means for expressing oneself makes the keyboard literature an interesting hunting ground for any anthologist searching for hidden treasures. The road from dream to reality is an obvious one. Those keys lie there waiting, unhampered by any instrumental technique required to make them resonate if one were so inclined, and without the length of a symphony which exceeds the arm’s-length of inspiration. It is practically an identical conversion from resonance to structure. In this domain, even the lesser master has a great chance of shaking off his shackles. Listen to the wondrously feathery fugue from Reincken, a brief miracle, a stone age Mendelssohn. Bogaart says, “I’ve seen other works of his….they don’t even come close.” But the greatest treasures in this edition are more than a single highlight; there is nothing diminutive about Leander Schlegel’s Der arme Peter or the glowing Sonate Inaugurale from Dirk Schäfer, who effortlessly maintains the same high level in his Acht klavierstukken and in his Interludes. These were men with literally, an enormous grasp. 

This unique keyboard project of Jacob Bogaart’s had its origin in 1980, when he was approached by Sieuwert Verster, for an exposition of art from circa 1900. Sieuwert Verster is a programmer and arts entrepreneur and the founder of Attacca Records and also managing and artistic director of the Orchestra of the 18th Century. “The question was whether I knew of any suitable music for that program.” Joint research in ‘Het Gemeentemuseum’ (the Municipal Museum, ed.) in The Hague revealed stacks of photocopies of unusual discoveries and led to a record with works by Dirk Schäfer, Leander Schlegel, Alphons Diepenbrock, and Jan Brandts Buys. Edu Verhulst, head of the classical music department of the Dutch Broadcasting Company at the time, subsequently asked whether Bogaart would like to record Henriëtte Bosmans’ Concertino, after which Schäfer’s Klavier Quintet was also recorded in the Dutch broadcasting capital, Hilversum. 

At the beginning of the 90’s, the NCRV radio network finally suggested a series of programs dedicated to Dutch music. Together with musicologist Leo Samama and a number of piano colleagues, Bogaart compiled and recorded a series of broadcasts of Dutch keyboard music from the early 19th century up through the present time. 

After that, he was more or less forced to continue his quest on his own. After more than thirty years, at the end of the odyssey, there are more than hundred twelve compositions from fifty composers, from Sweelinck to Hamburger, slightly more than had been foreseen, immortalized on eight CDs. Originally, Bogaart could only resort to his recordings and those of the NCRV radio. “The rest”, as he calls it with cardinal understatement, “I’ve been collecting over a period of about eight years”, and on his conditions. “I wanted to compile my own anthology of music from all the eras in which the keyboard – harpsichord, organ or piano – played a role.” He had no specific objective insight as the final goal, having not even considered a CD-edition at first. “But it kept taking on more serious form and finally someone said, ‘this is turning into something extremely interesting.’” At that point in time, there was enough material for five CDs. “But then there was too much missing from the 18th century, and I felt I should reserve an entire CD just for the harpsichord and organ music from the 16th and 17th centuries, even though I had no idea what was still to be discovered in that area. After a lengthy search with the help of Frits Zwart from the Dutch Music Institute, the Music Library of the Broadcasting Company, and two organist friends, we indeed found music that had never been recorded, among others, pieces by Georg Berff and Gisbert Steenwick.” 

At the outset, a complete edition was not the goal. Criteria of quality, taking into account all the whims of personal taste, weighed heavier than historiographic motives. Bogaart does not wish to be the champion of the untenable. For example, he recorded only the excellent first movement of Gerrit Jan van Eijken’s Sonata, as he felt the other movements were so inferior to the level attained in the first movement, that the memory of van Eijken would be tainted. “I certainly don’t prefer it, but I feel it’s justified.” Diepenbrock’s short, but an only piece for piano, his character piece Avondschemer (Twilight, ed.) is not on an even par with his songs, but it is still a Diepenbrock, “so it deserves to have relatively more attention paid to it.” 

Bogaart did not wish to lay a cordon sanitaire around the German immigrants who began to take the national stage starting in the 18th century. Excluding someone like Wilms would in fact be a historical blunder, considering that the composer from Witshelden wrote Wien Neêrlands Bloed, Holland’s national anthem from 1817 to 1932. 

Moreover, he performs all the pieces, including the earliest ones on piano, although in a number of instances in which no instrument is indicated, he could have had recourse to the organ or harpsichord, instruments on which he is equally accomplished. Though opinions may differ as to the legitimacy thereof, he allows himself the freedom of choice. 

Bogaart emphasizes that it is not a scientifically-supported anthology. He navigated through the centuries on intuition, ‘his own parameters’, judging his discoveries by their particular added value, his affinity to the piece, and a certain sense of justice. “Does it do anything to me, can this be of any use to me? Do I have anything to add to it? Has it been played before? Then I probably will not play it, although I have not always been completely consistent.” In addition, Bogaart has obtained diversity by alternating larger and smaller forms, with shorter pieces next to longer ones, Nocturnes and Mazurkas next to Sonatas. Thus we have as a result a grand cultural deed of personal merit, a battle-cry to combat the culture of forgetting.

Download the Booklet here