Ton de Leeuw was born on November 16, 1926 in Rotterdam. He died on May 31, 1996 in Paris (France).
In 1949, after some years of composition lessons with Henk Badings, he went to Paris to study with Olivier Messiaen (analysis) and Thomas de Hartmann (orchestration). His early interest for non-Western music brought him to Jaap Kunst and the ethnomusicology department at the Amsterdam University (1950-1954).
From 1954 to 1959, Ton was music director at the Dutch Radio Union. From 1959 to 1986, he was engaged with the Sweelinck Conservatory in Amsterdam, first as composition teacher and head of the electronic studio, later serving as managing director. Additionally, Ton de Leeuw was a scholar on 20th century music at the University of Amsterdam.
From 1958 to 1976, he gave hundreds of radio readings relating to contemporary and non-western music. In 1961, Ton de Leeuw was commissioned by the government to travel to India to study art music. From that moment, he gave many readings, concerts and workshops on the East-West relationship in music, contemporary music and his own compositions all over the world.
Many of his papers on contemporary music and the relationship of East and West in music were published in international magazines and journals. The standard work “Muziek van de twintigste eeuw” (“Music of the 20th Century”) was published in 1964 and translated in English, Swedish and German.
Altogether Ton de Leeuw wrote about 150 compositions. Important works are the radiophonic oratorio ‘Job’ (1956), ‘Mouvements rétrogrades’ (1957) for orchestra, ‘Strijkkwartet nr. 1’ (1958), ‘Symphonies of winds’ (1963), the opera ‘De droom’ (1963), ‘Haiku II’ (1968) for mezzo-soprano and large ensemble, ‘Music’ for strings (1970), ‘Gending’ for gamelan ensemble (1975), ‘Mountains’ (1977) for bass clarinet and tape, the electronic composition ‘Clair obscur’ (1982), and a trilogy with: ‘Car nos vignes sont en fleur’ for choir, ‘And they shall reign for ever’ for mezzo-soprano and ensemble, and ‘Invocations’ for mezzo-soprano, choir and ensemble (1981-1983).
At the occasion of the centenary of the Amsterdam Concertgebouw Orchestra De Leeuw wrote ‘Résonances’ (1985) for orchestra.
Among his later works are: ‘Les adieux’ (1988) for piano, ‘Danses sacrées’ (1990) for piano and orchestra, the opera ‘Antigone’ (1991) and at last ‘Three Shakespeare Songs’ (1994) for mezzo-soprano and ensemble.
In 1956, Ton de Leeuw was awarded the Prix Italia for ‘Job’, in 1958 the Prix des Jeunesses Musicales for ‘Strijkkwartet’ and in 1982 the Matthijs Vermeulenprijs for ‘Car nos vignes sont en fleur’.
Posthumous, he was awarded the Matthijs Vermeulenprijs 1997 for ‘Three Shakespeare songs’.