Surviving the oppression of the Nazis
In the 19th century the Netherlands 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. Directly prior to the Second World War the affinity with French music even became a political statement, a declaration of opposition to the rising Nazi regime.
During WW2 that regime dictated new rules for the arts and for cultural life. 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 and many 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 and most of the Dutch music from the first half of the century was neglected.
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 at the beginning of the 21st 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.
More than one hundred concerts have taken place in the Netherlands since the mid-1990s. As many concerts are broadcast on national radio as 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 and musicians.
The romantic music of Andries de Rosa (1869-1943) and Samuel Schuijer was firmly rooted in the 19th century. De Rosa had to resort to his old trade of diamond cutting to support his family in the times of crisis and Schuijer formed his own orchestra to play light music in difficult years.
- 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 composed in a style that followed the line of Brahms and Mahler. This is not surprising, given that he studied and worked in Germany for many years during the first decades of the twentieth century.
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.
Sem Dresden 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 and 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. Although well-remembered as a person, his compositions have largely been forgotten.
Rosy Wertheim 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. Her home became a haven for Dutch artists and composers and a veritable salon for such leading French composers. 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. Her music manuscripts are stored in the archives of the Netherlands Music Institute in The Hague, but they remain unpublished.
Martin Spanjaard 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 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 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 who developed a method for teaching singing and declamation to children and composed many songs.
In 1940 Belinfante 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 and 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 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, 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 wrote concert music.
Simon Gokkes 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. 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 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 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 - the last composition he completed - has both a lyrical side reminiscent of Ravel and a motoric, rhythmical side that is more Stravinskian. 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 pianist, composer and musicologist, studied piano with Dirk Schäfer and composition with Sem Dresden. He 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.
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, 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.
- Suppressed Music in The Netherlands: Discovering Hidden Treasures
- 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.
From an article by Eleonore Pameijer and Carine Alders
Other Dutch Jewish composers:
- Walter Braunfels
- Hanns Eisler
- Veniamin Fleishman
- Hans Gal
- Berthold Goldschmidt
- Pavel Haas
- Karl Amadeus Hartmann
- aroslav Jezek
- Vitezslava Kapralova
- Gideon Klein
- Erich Wolfgang Korngold
- Hans Krasa
- Ernst Krenek
- Bohuslav Martinu
- Franz Reizenstein
- Franz Schreker
- Erwin Schulhoff
- Marcel Tyberg
- Viktor Ullmann
- Kurt Weill
- Mieczyslaw Weinberg
- Jaromir Weinberger
- Alexander Zemlinsky
Dick Kattenburg (1919 - 1944) - Pièce for flute and piano (1939) Sonata (1937)
Rosy Wertheim (1888-1949) -Three Pieces for flute and piano (1939)
Nico Richter (1915-1945) - Two pieces for flute and piano (1942)
Daniël Belinfante (1893 - 1945)- Third Sonatina for piano
Marius Flothuis (1914-2001) - Aubade for flute solo (1944) Sonata da Camera op. 17 (1943)
Leo Smit (1900 - 1943) -Sonata for flute and piano (1943)