David Munrow (of the Early Music Consort) and Folk Music

The original line-up of the Early Music Consort, FLTR: Christopher Hogwood, David Munrow, James Tyler, Oliver Brookes and James Bowman.

Guest blogger: Edward Breen (London-based musicologist, writer and lecturer whose 2014 PhD dissertation was entitled The Performance Practice of David Munrow and the Early Music Consort of London. See here for more of his work.)

David Munrow (1942-1976) was one of the most widely-known early music ‘personalities’ of the 1960s and 70s. He was a woodwind specialist and director of the Early Music Consort of London and also a prolific broadcaster. As a regular BBC presenter many knew him through his long-running radio series Pied Piper which was aimed at a younger audience but enjoyed by listeners of all ages. Over the course of five years and 655 programmes he discussed a huge range of music themed in four weekly installments that ranged from folk dances to the works of Berlioz.

Having studied Munrow’s recordings, broadcasts and writings over the past few years I have become interested in what first sparked his interest in folk music and folk instruments, and how, in turn, this influenced his performances of medieval music. The following blog-post is offered as an overview of his activities and connections in this area.

Munrow was a chorister at Birmingham Cathedral and attended King Edward VI School. As a schoolboy he was both a talented bassoonist and recorder player winning his school music competition in 1957 for which he was presented with a copy of Anthony Baines’ book Woodwind Instruments and their History. Whether or not this was chosen in recognition of his developing interest in organology or if it was a catalyst in itself remains unknown, but certainly Munrow had begun collecting woodwind instruments before going to university.

In 1960, having secured a place to read English Literature at Cambridge, Munrow took a gap-year post at Markham College in Peru as part of the British Council’s voluntary overseas programme. He arrived in Peru via the slow-train from São Paulo, which allowed him to experience a great swath of Brazil, Bolivia and Peru in the process. This journey clearly fed his appetite for adventure because during his Christmas vacation a few months later he made another, long overland journey by train, this time heading south through Chile almost as far as the Tierra del Fuego, and along the way he immersed himself in traditional music by collecting folk instruments.

Munrow playing the recorder in the very florid anonymous Istampitta Ghaetta

At Cambridge University the following year he forged his reputation by playing many of these instruments at an autumn term concert organised by Christopher Hogwood, and was subsequently encouraged by Thurston Dart to explore links between the folk instruments he had acquired and early European instruments. Dart was therefore a key influence and many years later in an interview for Gramophone magazine, Munrow recalled the moment he first saw a crumhorn hanging on the wall of Dart’s study in Cambridge and was invited to borrow it.

Reading Dart’s The Interpretation of Music (1954) one will find clearly articulated ideas about folk music and early music that must have influenced many performers at the time:

Other evidence may be found in the music of the remoter regions of Europe and the Near East. The music and musical instruments heard in the mountains of Sardinia and Sicily, and the bands still used for Catalan dance music are medieval in flavour. The Arabian lute, rebec and shawm are still much the same as they were when they were first introduced into Europe by the Moors. The singing of Spanish cante jondo and flamenco singers will give us some idea of how the long vocal roulades found in so much medieval music were probably sung originally … (Chapter VIII ‘The Middle Ages’).

The connection between Dart’s line of argument and Munrow’s own reasoning twenty years later in his book Instruments of the Middle Ages and Renaissance (1976) is striking. By the time Munrow graduated from Cambridge his appetite was fully engaged in early instruments and their repertoire, and his collection—which now also included copies of early western instruments—expanded rapidly throughout the 60s.

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Unexpectedly, perhaps, Munrow then spent a postgraduate year in Birmingham working on 17th century songs: Thomas D’Urfey’s Pills to Purge Melancholy and these fueled his enthusiasm further, so much so that by the mid sixties he had been appointed to the wind band of the Royal Shakespeare Company where the visionary director, Guy Woolfenden, wrote special parts for his early instruments. Around this time Munrow also toured with Christopher Hogwood and Gillian Ried (whom he married in 1966) giving lectures and recitals for music clubs and societies across the country and established himself as a musician and public speaker of great popularity.

It comes as no surprise that during the late 60s and early 70s Munrow appears as an instrumentalist on several albums by Michael Morrow’s Musica Reservata, an ensemble famous for strident, minimal vibrato performances of medieval and renaissance music and spearheaded by the mezzo-soprano Jantina Noorman whose striking use of chest-voice frequently divided critics. Like Thurston Dart, and perhaps because of him, Morrow also looked to folk cultures across Europe for echoes of older performance practices and thanks to the growing selection of folk records available at that time, developed a particular interest in Bulgarian voices as models for medieval singing.

Morrow felt that since drones often accompanied medieval monody it would need to be performed with both exact intonation and a clear, precise vocal technique. The same was true for instrumental music. This he found in the folk traditions of the Balkan countries and he discussed his hypothesis at length with the folklorist and historian A. L. Lloyd before encouraging Noorman to base her singing on techniques gleaned from Lloyd’s field recordings and before engaging Munrow’s impressively clear and defined instrumental technique to bear on medieval dances.

Delving further back through historical musicology, we find that such ideas were neither new to Dart nor to Morrow. Daniel Leech-Wilkinson in his book The Modern Invention of Medieval Music (2002) has traced ‘The Oriental Hypothesis’ back as far as the German musicologist, Arnold Schering. Schering’s Aufführungspraxis alter Musik (1931) suggests that medieval singing might have contained ‘Oriental elements’ such as nasal and guttural sounds.

Only fifteen years after its publication Dart studied in Belgium with the musicologist Charles van den Borren who may have pointed him in the direction of this text. Certainly, Dart, Morrow and Munrow were not the only people to explore this theory in performance: Thomas Binkley’s Studio der Frühen Musik also made many superb recordings of medieval music influenced by Arabian and Andalusian folk practices (amongst other elements) in the 1960s.

During 1968 Munrow founded his own group, the Early Music Consort (later called The Early Music Consort of London) with James Bowman (countertenor), Oliver Brookes (viol), Christopher Hogwood (keyboard and percussion) and James Tyler (lute). Their repertoire was to span from Leonin to Handel with Munrow himself playing a great number of different instruments. One of the consort’s great achievements was to bring to early music a professionalism and flair that suited the concert platform. Gone were long pauses for tuning, jargon-laden introductions and applause between each short piece. Munrow planned his concerts to include both a pleasing contrast of music and a trajectory for the evening as a whole. As Howard Mayer Brown put it so well in an obituary:

The special quality that set David Munrow apart, or so it seems to me, was […] an uncanny ability, given only to a few great teachers, to convince large numbers of people that what was important and attractive to him should also be attractive and important to them. (Early Music 4, no. 3, 1976).

One of Munrow’s (many) important achievements with the Early Music Consort of London was to build on and further develop ideas of folk-influenced performance with panache and showmanship, particularly in medieval dance repertoire. In fact, Munrow often played medieval dances as concert encores and audiences loved his quick-fire shawm technique and his audacious recorder trills as he skilfully decorated the melodic lines whilst other members of the consort provided percussion and drone accompaniment.

Screen shot 2015-05-20 at 23.21.36

Video of Munrow showing off his impressive shawm technique, in a 14th-century Italian Saltarello

Often such performances were so elaborate that James Bowman has remembered they were fondly referred to amongst the consort as ‘Turkish night-club music’ (BBC Radio 3, Mr Munrow, His Study, 2006). Even this little joke might contain important information because one of the many performers Munrow admired was Mustafa Kandirali, the Turkish folk clarinettist whose records he collected.

Early music, and medieval music in particular, has a long association with using folk music-models as templates for performance. The results are often fascinating, beautiful and striking, and despite current theories promoting predominantly vocal performance in medieval motets and chansons, the bright array of medieval instruments, with all their folk-resonances, remain a source of fascination and preoccupation for many musicians and audiences in the medieval dance repertoire.

Certainly David Munrow was a performer in which dazzling technical ability met with both an active historical imagination and a keen musicianship enabling him to explore this area of medieval music in both performance and theory. Added to his abilities as a public speaker and broadcaster he brought such orientalisms and medievalisms into the mainstream during the 1970s and, even though the shifting sands of musicology have outdated some of his ideas, his performances are still treasured today for their vitality and conviction.

© Edward Breen 2015 – All rights reserved

Thanks are due to David Griffith for the photo of the EMC, which came from his excellent David Munrow website.

Also of interest

The forgotten harpsichord teacher of Christopher Hogwood & Colin Tilney (in whose living room the Early Music Consort rehearsed).

Contemporaries of David Munrow Remember

The Leonhardt Consort – The second phase 1955 – 1972, Part 2

The Leonhardt Consort, c. 1969, with Gustav Leonhardt playing the gamba


For details of the instruments, the players, and their comments about rehearsing with Leonhardt, in the early days of the Consort, see the first post about the second phase.

The concerts

Wim ten Have estimated that the Consort gave around 75 concerts in Holland, in museums, churches, town halls and old houses. Sadly, there’s scarcely any remaining documentation.

Dijck Koster:

Leonhardt prepared everything very well, including non-musical matters. When we had a concert, on each music stand there was a sheet of paper for each of us with our name on, the order of the pieces to be played and, at the bottom, the dates of the next concerts, and what time we needed to be at the railway station. I always thought that this was very considerate of him.

Lodewijk de Boer:

Leonhardt always played a couple of harpsichord solos at concerts, and I turned the pages for him. So I saw, from close by, how much mental and physical energy he put into his playing. He often sat there, snorting like an animal, but when it was finished he once again hid behind his façade of impassivity … [He was] a brilliant man, a great master, and I learned a great deal from him.

Foreign tours

The Consort played in Denmark, a tour which included, at least, concerts in Copenhagen and radio broadcasts, and Antoinette van den Hombergh mentioned playing in Hamlet’s castle, Kronborg. They also played in the Stockholm Music Museum (in March 1963), and in Brussels and Heidelberg. Wim ten Have joked that playing in Basel was like being in the “lion’s den”, as they performed there at the invitation of August Wenzinger, head of the Schola Cantorum Basiliensis, where Leonhardt had studied.



According to the viola player Wim ten Have, there were some Dutch radio broadcasts from 1958, but I’ve been unable to find any information and the tapes have, of course, all been destroyed. I have, though, found some details of their broadcasts for Swedish radio.

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Audience response

Wim ten Have also told me that they received a good deal of negative feedback on their radio broadcasts and at live performances. And they were mercilessly teased by orchestral colleagues, after a concert they gave in the Amsterdam Concertgebouw during “Bach Week”, when they were repeatedly asked if they had had cold hands, as they played with almost no vibrato.

Dutch critics at the time also complained about the small squeaky sound of the baroque violins and the professorial atmosphere at concerts, which consisted mostly of completely unknown music, about which they could find nothing to say.

Nevertheless, the popularity of the Consort, albeit from a small audience (as Leonhardt himself often said), increased steadily throughout the late 1950s and early sixties. It ran parallel, of course, with Leonhardt’s growing international reputation as a harpsichordist and organist – his first American tour was in 1960 – and was consolidated not only by the record deal in 1961 (see below) but also, later, by the Consort’s much-anticipated performance at the 1965 Holland Festival.

The recordings

According to an interview with the record producer, Wolf Erichson, Leonhardt signed with Telefunken in 1961, and their first record came out as part of the series Das Alte Werk.

I’ve not been able to find any pre-Telefunken commercial recordings of the Consort, despite the fact that Leonhardt had been making records since 1950 for Oceanic, Philips, Vanguard (see here) and the small Dutch label CNR (C.N. Rood).

In fact, the Leonhardt Consort only made around 25 records, excluding versions and not counting the Bach Cantata series, which involved an expanded group that wasn’t formed until 1968.

Here’s Leonhardt, speaking about his repertoire choice:

It included things like Biber’s Fidicinium sacro-profanum, which at that time was not published, like most of the music we played.

But it was all a revelation to us, and if I listen now to the records we made then it surprises me that although I can find things to criticize, I find nothing to be ashamed of.

Although the instrumentation of the Consort (on record) varied over the years, depending on the repertoire, and included one or more of the Kuijken brothers and the gamba player Veronika Hampe, the core members of the group were almost always involved.

To all good things … an end must come

Apparently Leonhardt suffered a burnout in 1967 after filming The Chronicle of Anna Magdalena Bach  (see this interesting article),  and doing his solo work, teaching and the Consort became just too much for him, so it was “pruned”.

In around 1972 the Leonhardt Consort officially ceased to exist as a concert-giving group, though the players continued to come together, sometimes with other colleagues, for specific projects, most famously for their fêted Bach cantata recordings.
Here they are, in the harpsichord and single-string formation, in

John Dowland’s Pavane in C Major

For nearly two decades, the Leonhardt Consort had played a key role not only in revolutionising historical performance style but also in introducing a number of forgotten composers to twentieth-century audiences. Their work remains an important reference point for early music ensembles to this day.


Thanks are due to the late Antoinette van den Hombergh (and her son, Felix), Wim ten Have, Jaap Schröder (who occasionally played with the Consort pre-1960), Janneke van der Meer (who played in the expanded Consort), Inger Enquist (of the Music and Theatre Library of Sweden), and to Jolande van der Klis for her excellent Oude muziek in Nederland, which has been a valuable source in writing this post. The English translations of various quotes are my own.

Copyright © 2015 Semibrevity – All Rights Reserved

Also of interest

The Leonhardt Consort  –  The second phase 1955 – 1972, Part 1

The Leonhardt Consort: the early days – with recorder pioneer Kees Otten

Gustav Leonhardt & Martin Skowroneck – Making harpsichord history

Alfred Deller, Leonhardt & the Harnoncourts: the first recording

The Leonhardt Consort – The second phase 1955 – 1972, Part 1

FLTR: GL, Marie L, Antionette vd H, Lodewijk d B, Dijk K, Wim t H, with the 1775 Kirkman harpsichord (c. 1959)


Although the Leonhardt Consort is perhaps best remembered today for its complete recordings, as a baroque orchestra, of the Bach Cantatas (shared with Concentus Musicus, Wien), it began life as a chamber music ensemble with the recorder players Kees Otten and his wife, Marijke Ferguson. In 1955 the group became a five-part string band with harpsichord.

For details of the genesis of the original instrumental line-up, their concerts (with i.a. the countertenor, Alfred Deller) and the reasons why the group became a string ensemble, see here.

The players of the second phase of the Leonhardt Consort and their instruments

All the stringed instruments used by the Consort were tuned a semitone below modern pitch, and either had their original short neck or had had it restored.

Initially modern bows were used, but then Leonhardt provided the players with new baroque bows from a maker in Vienna, which each cost him the princely sum of 30 Dutch guilders. Later, they were to use old bows, and Marie Leonhardt commented that Wim ten Have was particularly good at tracking these down.


Marie Leonhardt (Leonhardt’s violinist wife, whom he had met at the Schola Cantorum Basiliensis) played in both the first and second phase of the Consort. She started, in 1954, with her newly-acquired 1676 Jakob Stainer violin, which they had found in a dusty corner of a violin-maker’s workshop, somewhere on the train route between Vienna and Amsterdam. It had been caste aside, because it was still in an almost original unaltered state (alter Mensur) and, as such, was not of interest!


The cellist Dijck Koster also played in the Consort in both phases. Her connection to the group was that she was a conservatory friend and an ex-roommate of Marijke Ferguson. She was lent a small cello made by Giovanni Battista (II) Guadagnini in 1749, which had previously been used by Leonhardt himself.


The violinist Antoinette van den Hombergh, joined for the second phase. She had also been a conservatory friend and ex-roommate of Dijck Koster, and had been playing the medieval fiddle in Kees Otten’s early music group Muziekkring Obrecht, from the time it was established in 1952. She had the use of an 18th-century Klotz, which had been used by Marie Leonhardt prior to her finding the Stainer.


The viola player, Wim ten Have, who joined for the second phase, was recommended by his former teacher, Mieke Feldkamp, whom Leonhardt had initially approached, but she thought herself to be too old (aged 50) to start something so very new!  He was given the use of a viola made by Giovanni Tononi, from around 1700, which belonged to Leonhardt’s mother, who was a conservatory-trained violinist.


Leonhardt knew Lodewijk de Boer through the historical performance practice classes which he taught at the Amsterdam Conservatory. He invited him to become the second viola player, for the second phase, while he was still a student. He was lent an 18th-century German viola, restored to its original condition. It’s unclear if this instrument was already in the family, or was purchased specially. In 1968 De Boer left the Consort (and the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, in which he also played) to pursue his career as a playwright and theatre director. He was replaced by Wiel Peeters.


Gustav Leonhardt, obviously, led both versions of the Consort.

On the records, he used an organ by Klaus Becker made in 1961, consisting of  8’, 4’ and 2’ stops, with wooden pipes, “after original specifications”. The harpsichords he used were a Rainer Schütze, made in 1963  “after a Dutch model  c. 1700”; the famous Skowroneck, 1962 “after Dulcken 1745” (see this comprehensive article), and the Skowroneck, 1960  – 2 x 8’ “after an Italian model of the 17th century”.

For the concerts, he probably used a Neupert or an Ammer, and perhaps also his 1952 Goble, on which he had played solo recitals at the Amsterdam Concertgebouw. The two-manual Jacobus and Abraham Kirkman harpsichord (1775) which Leonhardt bought from Raymond Russell in 1957 – shown in the photo above – was also used in concerts, sometimes in combination with the 1775 Shudi and Broadwood, owned by Leni van der Lee, who had been his very first Amsterdam student. Post 1960, it’s most likely that the very gutsy, small and easily portable Italian Skowroneck, mentioned above, travelled with the group.

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Rehearsals with Leonhardt

As all the string-players except Marie Leonhardt were in other “conventional” ensembles and orchestras, there was no question that the cellist should not use an end-pin or that of any of the others should play without a shoulder-pad and chin-rest.


Lodewijk de Boer says:

[W]e were not at all ideological, the two [playing styles] just went on at the same time  … the use of a baroque bow already made a huge difference … And when we started to play in unequal temperaments, Leonhardt [who was a cellist himself] marked in the parts when we should play sharp or flat and added the fingering … it was a completely new sensation, with pure intervals which produced many more upper harmonics …

The rehearsals were very businesslike and efficient, and not at all heavy with scholarly references to historical treatises … Leonhardt knew exactly what he wanted, and so his approach was very clear to him, and [in the course of time] we developed [some of] this clarity, too. In fact, they were very normal rehearsals: we played the notes, and he told us what it should sound like.

Marie Leonhardt:

In the Leonhardt Consort, there was only one person in charge, and that was my husband. He knew exactly what he wanted and, as he played the cello and gamba, he could demonstrate if necessary. He [also] knew how you should use the bow, and when there should be a messa di voce and so on. He told us what the result should be, and as he had such a clear vision, it was easy for us to do what he wanted.

Antoinette van den Hombergh:

[The knowledge of] Leonhardt was the basis of the Consort, and I grew enormously [in my understanding and playing]. It was wonderful working with someone like that, where something [new] actually happened. It was a revelation to play such beautiful [unknown] music … but it took a very long time before we formed a “whole”, in terms of style.

According to Wim ten Have, they practised weekly, for about a year and a half, at Leonhardt’s house, which was then above a café on the Nieuwmarkt No.20, in Amsterdam, before they began to give professional concerts. Some house-concerts did take place during the “experimentation” stage, he said.

More next time, on the concerts, the foreign tours, recordings and the audience response to this very new way of performing early music.

© Semibrevity 2015 – All rights reserved

Also of interest:

The Leonhardt Consort  –  The second phase 1955 – 1972, Part 2

The Leonhardt Consort: the early days – with recorder pioneer Kees Otten

Gustav Leonhardt & Martin Skowroneck – Making harpsichord history

Alfred Deller, Leonhardt & the Harnoncourts: the first recording

Ina Lohr (1903 – 1983), a forgotten Dutch/Swiss zealot of early music


Ina Lohr, in her later years

Anne Smith, who teaches at the Schola Cantorum Basiliensis, is doing research for a book about Ina Lohr, who was one of the SCB’s founders. She talks here to Jed Wentz.

This interview was first published in Dutch in the 04/2014 issue of the Tijdschift Oude Muziek.

Jed Wentz: Many of the famous names in early music are associated with Holland: Marie and Gustav Leonhardt, Frans Brüggen […] and Ton Koopman. Ina Lohr’s name does not enjoy similar familiarity. Who was she, and why isn’t she better known?

Anne Smith: There are numerous reasons for this. For one thing Ina Lohr belongs to the generation before those you mention. Having grown up in an extraordinarily rich cultural environment, she made the decision to study the violin with Ferdinand Helman at the Muzieklyceum in Amsterdam. By then she was already pursuing interests far beyond her instrument, learning Gregorian chant from Hubert Cuypers with such engagement that she was able to be an assistant for the boys’ choir at the Mozes en Aäronkerk [in Amsterdam] while still a student, as well as getting to know the Belgian musicologist Charles van den Borren [teacher of Thurston Dart] and through him his son-in-law Safford Cape, one of the pioneers of early music, the founder of Pro Musica Antiqua in 1932.

In 1929 – in order to recover from the stress of her studies – she set out to go to Switzerland to visit her sister, who was recovering from tuberculosis there. She grew so weak on the way that she was forced to stop over in Basel at the home of some friends. The stay, which originally was only to be for a few days, lasted for the rest of her life.

Within a month she had had her first string quartet premiered in a house concert, met the director of the Basel Symphony Orchestra and the Conservatory, Felix Weingartner, and been offered a position in the composition class at the Conservatory, and also been invited by the Professor Karl Nef to take part in his seminar at the University of Basel.

And in the following spring, she met Paul Sacher, and mentioned the possibility of performing Gregorian chant in concert – the beginning of a long cooperation in the realms of both early and new music.

In 1933, together with some fellow musicians, they founded the Schola Cantorum Basiliensis, creating a teaching and research institute for early music, a paradigm for all later institutions of that kind. Ina Lohr was, to a great degree, responsible for the curriculum and taught most of the theoretical subjects. From the beginning there was a concert group associated with the school which she took part in, made up of members of the faculty, which later came to be directed by August Wenzinger. Not of robust health, around 1940 she decided the work of teaching and performing was too much for her, and decided to concentrate on her teaching.

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In line with her time, she was involved with the Singbewegung [Singing Movement], and thus was very concerned that the original function of earlier works of music be retained in their performance. As a result she devoted much effort to the teaching of Haus- und Kirchenmusik [literally, home and church music]. This meant also that she was speaking out against virtuoso display, as virtuosity was considered to suggest that the performer was being egotistical rather than devoting his or her entire attention to the music. Today this approach seems particularly old-fashioned, and, together with the fact that she did not perform much, contributed to Lohr’s being ignored later in life.

She remained in Basel for the rest of her life, retiring from the Schola in 1963 but staying musically active almost until her death in 1983.

JW: What did she contribute to the early music movement and how? How did she reach people with her message? Who was influenced by her?

AS: I think her contribution lay in her intense interest in the interaction between text and melody and in the special affinity she had for the connections between the (spiritual) content and prosody of the words and the inner tensions of the musical line. As one of her students said, for her monody was not a construct, but something that must become a spiritual line. Because of that she always reached people who were looking for something more, for something behind the surface; people who saw something in her that they were lacking in themselves.

The list of those who she influenced is actually quite astonishing. At the top of the list, of course, is Paul Sacher. In Ina Lohr he found someone who could help him in his interest in building up the Basel Chamber Orchestra, advise him in his performances of seventeenth- and eighteenth-century string music. That she also had a great knowledge of the new music scene was an added benefit.

Gustav Leonhardt was highly stimulated by her teaching. He wrote on her 80th birthday that he could not begin to mention all the ways in which she had influenced his musical development, and chose to put the spotlight on her work with melodic monody. Eric Ericson came to study with her in 1947 and said more than once that his approach to working with a choir stems from Ina Lohr. Jan Boeke, the conductor of Cappella Amsterdam, met her through the workshops she gave in the Netherlands after World War II and found a new approach to music in her work. Alfred Deller worked on Dufay with her when he came once to perform with the Concert Group of the Schola. And there were many more, perhaps less famous, people who look back with pleasure on the work they did with her.

JW: It seems a paradox that she was involved in contemporary music as a composer and as a key supporter of Paul Sacher. How does her passion for early religious monophonic repertoire square with her views on Stravinsky and Bartok?

AS: Recently I was speaking with one of her former students about just this subject. He said that Ina Lohr always saw early music in the context of the present. For her music was timeless because it came into being in a timeless framework within the church, within the liturgy; everything else was just a temporal expression of it. So on one level she made no distinction between types of music, only between the functions they fulfilled.

Another aspect that I have found fascinating, is that both the revival of early music and Neue Sachlichkeit  seem to have been fuelled by the same rejection of Romanticism, by the search for objectivity in a world which seemed to have outlived Romantic ideals.

As a result Paul Sacher and Ina Lohr had similar approaches to both of these worlds, seeking concrete, tangible musical elements that gave form to the music. Ina Lohr, however, in her constant desire to find connections between the text and music, to bring the melodic line to life, went beyond this in her teaching, offering something extraordinarily special that all the people that I’ve spoken to seem to find difficult to put into words.

© Anne Smith, Jed Wentz 2014 – All rights reserved

Anne Smith would like to hear from anyone who knew Ina Lohr or has information about her. She can be contacted at anne[at]smiths[dot]ch.

Thanks to Anne Smith, Jed Wentz and the Tijdschift Oude Muziek, Utrecht, for permission to post a shortened English version of the article which was originally published in their 04/2014 issue.








Back-to-back Christmas Bach in Amsterdam

The Amsterdam Concertgebouw in 1902

Christmas is almost upon us and Bach’s Weihnachtsoratorium (Christmas Oratario) is on the menu in three different flavours at the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam on almost consecutive days, Saturday, Sunday and Tuesday.

B’rock (get it?)

René Jacobs kicked off the series on 13 december with a Saturday afternoon matinee, with the RIAS chamber choir and the Belgian baroque orchestra B’rock, which he conducted here recently in an Handel opera.

For some reason, this was not listed in the local cultural rag, and I didn’t realize it was on till this lunchtime (Sunday), while browsing through the current early music leaflet of the Concertgebouw. Jacobs offered the full set of six which, although it’s not historically correct for them all to be performed on the same day, I am used to, and would have preferred. Had I known, I could have even heard it broadcast live on Dutch radio; too late now, though.

Akademie für Alte Musik Berlin

The second up is the Akademie für Alte Musik Berlin, which I’ve only ever heard in recordings. They are just playing numbers 1,2, 3 and 6 aided and abetted by the English tenor James Gilchrist, who’s always good value, and the Windsbacher Knabenchor which, to be honest, I’d never heard of.  It turns out that this is the choir of a German boys boarding school.

I just made it to this concert, which was sold out, and managed, exactly 3 minutes before it began, to get a returned ticket. My seat turned out to be at the back of the stage, just to the left of the huge 19th-century organ. From this position, I had a great view of the conductor’s face and the back of everyone else’s head.

When the choir came onto the stage they were not in the expected sailor-suits, Viennese style, but were wearing shirts and ties and sober blue double-breasted suits, with the little boys sporting dickie bows. Before they sang a note, I was impressed that most of them had no scores, and would be performing four Bach cantatas from memory, and they weren’t just going to be singing chorales either!

From the start, it was clear that the boys and young men of the choir were the stars of the show. And given the contorted face of the conductor, emphatically mouthing the words, I guessed that Martin Lehmann was also their choir-master, which I verified when I got home.

Their pitch, tuning and enunciation were impeccable and the blend of voices was excellent. All in all, a fantastic choir which also apparently wowed everyone when they performed at the Concertgebouw in 2012.

Their beautiful ensemble was evident in the chorale “Ich steh an diener Krippen hier” from Cantata No. 6 which, unusually, was performed at a magical mezzo voce and without accompaniment.

At the end of the concert, the orchestra, soloists and choir were given a huge standing ovation, which lasted well beyond the usual presentation of flower bouquets. It was clear that I was not alone in seeing the quality of the choir, and our thunderous applause acknowledging them was rewarded with an encore: part of the beautiful and moving “Nun sei willkommen, Herre Christ” by Carl Hirsch, which was sung a cappella.

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Ton Koopman

On Tuesday, Ton Koopman gets a turn at Cantatas 1 – 4, with his Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra and Choir. Although he’s just turned 70, he has no plans to slow down (according to a recent interview) and I expect that he’ll be playing the organ continuo and conducting at the same time, as he has always done.

Appetite for Bach

I was initially surprised that three performances of the same work, all given by early music groups, would take place so close together, and at the same venue. But there obviously must be a market: the Akademie für Alte Musik Berlin was sold out, I imagine Jacobs did very well too, and there are only a few tickets left for the Koopman concert.

The Dutch, of course, have been keen on Bach for a very long time, and the revival of the St. Matthew Passion, which started in the 1920s, established a very deep-seated tradition which now produces dozens of performances of all types each Easter.

So, compared with that, three performances of the same work in four days is really not very much, at all.


Thanks to conductor Martin Lehmann who kindly e-mailed me from the road, with details of the encore, as he made his way to the next city in their eight-concert tour.

© Semibrevity 2014 – All rights reserved


How famous is Scott Ross for playing the harpsichord, 25 years on?

The American harpsichordist Scott Ross is one of those musicians who just don’t seem to have achieved the fame they deserved. I must admit that he didn’t register on my radar at all, at the time when I “discovered” the likes of Gustav Leonhardt, Ton Koopman and Kenneth Gilbert.

For the first time ever, I recently came across some LPs of Scott Ross, in a pile on the floor of a junk shop. I guess they must be pretty rare, as I’ve never seen any records by Ross before, although I regularly look through thousands of LPs in search of recordings of early music.

Ross was the first person ever to win the first prize in the harpsichord competition at Bruges in 1971. The jury had previously only ever given second prizes, as no one had been considered good enough to deserve the top prize.

Ross was aged just 20 when he won. It was, in fact, his second attempt, as he had entered the competition (which is held only every three years) in 1968.

The boxed set I found is of the complete harpsichord works by Rameau, re-issued by Telefunken. It was originally published by Editions STIL in 1975, and won a Grand Prix du Disque.

As you can see, Ross is pictured on the front looking like a pop star, with long hair, a beard, a hippy-style shirt with flowing sleeves and octagonal gold-rimmed glasses of the type made popular by John Lennon; his hands and the reverse keyboards of the harpsichord are reflected in the lenses – nice touch, this.

See the Scott Ross Facebook group for more wonderful photos and many recordings.

Scott Ross – J.P. Rameau – Allemande – Premier Livre de Pièces de Clavecin

His playing here was something of a revelation to me, as this music can sound rather vapid. Previously I’d only ever heard his Scarlatti and, to be honest, I only associated him with his monumental recording of all the 555 sonatas.

See this hommage (in French) for some interesting details.

Scott Ross –  Scarlatti K. 209

His discography shows that he had a very broad repertoire and was also a gifted organist.

Early life

In fact, although he started piano lessons at the age of six, the organ was to become his passion and he studied seriously with Professor Russell Wichmann of Chatham College (Pittsburgh, USA) from the age of 12.

In 1964, his mother, “an intellectual who spoke French … and worked in advertising”, according to Michel-E. Proulx’s biography, decided to move to France. Her husband, who had been a journalist, had died in 1956.

Shortly after their arrival, Ross met Pierre Cochereau, the organist of Notre-Dame in Paris, who invited him to register at the Conservatoire of Nice, of which he just happened to be the director. So it was that Ross, aged just 14, began to study the organ with René Saorgin.

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Needing to learn a second instrument and having seen a poster advertising the new harpsichord class, Ross enquired if he could join it.  As he said in a CBC interview, “one is always well received in a class of harpsichord [as] they have so few people!”

I always thought that Ross was a long-term student of Kenneth Gilbert, with whom he did take some classes, at the Royal Conservatory of Antwerp, after winning Bruges. It was, however, his first teacher, in Nice, to whom he said he owed everything: “It from her that I have my technique, it was she who taught me to play, in short.”

Huguette Grémy-Chauliac, born in 1928 (the same year as Leonhardt), had been a student of Robert Veyron-Lacroix and Antoine Geoffroy-Dechaume (1905 – 2000), author of a little erudite book entitled Les secrets de la musique ancienne, based on the work of his teacher – a certain Arnold Dolmetsch.

Madame Grémy-Chauliac, who is still giving concerts, was interviewed in April 2013 for Radio France and, happily, there is a podcast, in which you can also hear her play.

In 1967, Ross studied with Michel Chapuis at the Académie in St-Maximin de la Ste-Baume, in Provence, and was awarded the first prize for organ and harpsichord at the Conservatoire of Nice.

In 1969 he moved to the Conservatoire National Supérieur de Musique in Paris, to study with Robert Veyron-Lacroix who, apart from his solo work, was also the regular accompanist of the flautist Jean-Pierre Rampal.

Three different interpretations

Here’s a comparison of Ross and his last two teachers playing the same piece: Rameau’s Les Cyclopes – the one-eyed giants.

Veyron-Lacroix’s instrument isn’t mentioned (nor is the date), but it’s a lot less percussive than some he used in his early recordings.

Robert Veyron-Lacroix – Les Cyclopes

Gilbert, recorded in 1964, plays a instrument which, according to the sleeve notes, is “virtually a copy” of a seventeenth-century Flemish–French instrument made by Rainer Schuetze.

Kenneth Gilbert – Les Cyclopes

Ross uses the anonymous unrestored eighteenth-century harpsichord at the Château d’Assas, a short distance from Montpellier, France, which he first encountered via a friend in 1969. For photos of Assas and more about Ross (gleaned from Michel-E. Proulx’s biography), see this post on the “On An Overgrown Path” blog.

Scott Ross – Les Cyclopes

In 1986, Ross resigned his tenure at Laval University in Quebec (where he had taught from 1973) and moved to France permanently, to give master classes and concerts at the Château d’Assas.

By the time he started recording the Scarlatti project, in 1985, he knew that he was very ill. His health rapidly deteriorated and he became exhausted, as can plainly be seen below.

A video of the last public performance of Scott Ross, playing Rameau, made on 1 April 1989.

He died of AIDS-related pneumonia on 13 June 1989 in his house in Assas, aged just 38.

During his lifetime, Scott Ross was often called a musical maverick, and not only because of his tendency to perform in lumberjack shirts and jeans at formal concerts. According to the obituary which appeared in The Times on 17 June 1989, his technically stunning playing  “was always marked by scholarship (evidenced also in the editions he made with Kenneth Gilbert of Scarlatti and D’Anglebert), fastidiousness, elegance and, vitally for an instrument still widely derided [!], an impression of rich sonorities.”

Although the Scarlatti has recently been re-issued, his other recordings are scarce, but they are well worth tracking down.

© Semibrevity 2014 – All rights reserved


Syntagma Musicum, the internationally famous Dutch early music group founded by Kees Otten

Syntagma Musicum, with a youthful René Jacobs

Following the demise of Muziekkring Obrecht, in 1961, and a brief return into his jazz roots, Dutch recorder pioneer Kees Otten was soon active in early music again, making a series of radio programmes, with his old friends, the Collettes, with vocal compositions from the 15th and 16th centuries juxtaposed with their instrumental arrangements.

Shortly after this, he began musing on starting up another group:

I wanted an ensemble of the standard of a first-class string quartet. My aim was not to try to conjure up the atmosphere of paintings of the time, with dancing people and so on, but rather to achieve a translation into music of the visual art of Memling or Van Eyck. I was trying to make some kind of Utopia, of course, but I thought it was worth a try.

In 1963, Otten established Syntagma Musicum. The ensemble consisted of Will Kippersluys (contralto), Marius van Altena (tenor, portative organ, crumhorn), Anneke Pols (fiddle, viol, recorder, crumhorn), Kees Otten (recorder, gemshorn, crumhorn, rackett, cornett), Leo Meilink (recorder, crumhorn, pommer, trombone) and, Otten’s second wife, Barbara Miedema (clavichord, spinet).

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It was a period in which quite a number of new early music groups were being formed in many countries: Musica Reservata and Thomas Binkley’s Studio der fruhen Musik were both established in 1960, and David Munrow started the Early Music Consort of London in 1967.

Syntagma Musicum offered a much broader range of “early” sounds than Muziekkring Obrecht had ever done. In cooperation with instrument makers, they experimented with crumhorns, dulcians, pommers, rackets, cornetti and gemshorns, and also used copies of medieval and Renaissance recorders.

“At one time,” Kees Otten has commented, “I owned 80 wind instruments, as well as keyboard instruments and our new portative organ. From the outset we also had a business manager … so everything was arranged much better than before.”

Duke Ellington

In terms of planning the programmes, Otten admitted following Duke Ellington’s approach: a number of major musical highlights in the evening, with everyone in the band getting at least one solo. This was possible because each of the items took only between two and ten minutes.

Otten was known for his witty, deadpan commentary, which introduced the public to instruments they had probably never seen before. Otten said of his own presentation style, “It happened again and again that the public had hardly understood anything of the music, but they had had a highly enjoyable night’s entertainment.”

Apart from concerts, they also made several very large series of broadcasts for Dutch radio.


The first record by Syntagma Musicum, issued in 1967, was awarded an Edison (the Dutch record prize), as were their three subsequent discs. A Grand Prix du Disque quickly followed, along with a Japanese press prize. All of this equated to an international breakthrough.

In 1968 Syntagma Musicum played at the Edison presentation ceremony, at which the conductor and composer Leonard Bernstein was to receive an award.  Bernstein was also present on the afternoon before the event, and was so enthusiastic during Syntagma Musicum’s rehearsal that he shouted out, “I want more!”. The press picked the remark up, and those three little words both helped the growing interest in medieval and Renaissance music and enhanced Syntagma Musicum’s international reputation enormously.

As a direct result, tours to the US, Canada, Mexico, New Zealand, Indonesia, Australia, Hong Kong and Japan quickly followed.

Almost all change

By 1974 Otten was exhausted, as he was teaching at the conservatoires of Amsterdam, Rotterdam, Utrecht and Den Haag at the same time. In the same year, there were also disagreements amongst the members of Syntagma Musicum, some of whom left the group.

The new line-up included the lutenist Toyohiko Satoh, the trombonist Charles Toet and two star ex-Brüggen recorder students: Walter van Hauwe and Kees Boeke (who also played the gamba and had studied cello with Anner Bylsma). Several singers also became involved for varying periods of time, including René Jacobs, Carolyn Watkinson and, finally, Rita Dams, who had been a student of the tenor Marius van Altena. Apart from Otten, Van Altena – whom Otten described as the constant element that bound the ensemble together – was the only one of the original members who remained in the group throughout the 25 years that it existed.

For business reasons, after nine “golden” years, the group was reduced to just four people: Satoh, Van Altena, Dams and Otten himself.

Otten summed up the period in these words:

This was a particularly good time for me: we had a wonderful repertoire, two singers who were perfectly attuned to each other, and a lutenist whose approach reminded me greatly of Julian Bream [with whom he had played regularly in his early years].

The end of an era

In 1987, after 25 years of performing with Syntagma Musicum, Otten decided to stop, and held a large party to celebrate the end of an era. As luck would have it, three days later, a letter arrived from Japan (where they had previously toured five times), inviting them to make a valedictory tour. “We did it, of course,” Otten recalls, “and at the final concert, the four of us performed for almost 4000 people, and that was the end of it.”


Thanks are due to Marijke Ferguson, Marina Klunder (Kees Otten’s widow), and to Jolande van der Klis for her excellent book, Oude muziek in Nederland, which has been a valuable source in writing this post. The English translation of various quotes is my own.

© Semibrevity 2014 – All rights reserved

Also of interest:

Kees Otten, Dutch recorder pioneer

Muziekkring Obrecht – the first ever Dutch ensemble for medieval & Renaissance music

Frans Brüggen: the early years (1942–1959), with his teacher Kees Otten

The Leonhardt Consort: the early days – with recorder pioneer Kees Otten 

Gustav Leonhardt & Martin Skowroneck – Making harpsichord history

Farewell to Christopher Hogwood (1941–2014), harpsichordist, conductor and early music pioneer

Christopher Hogwood, conducting in 1976

I was very sad, and also quite surprised, to hear that Christopher Hogwood CBE had passed away on 24 September 2014. His own website says he had been suffering from a brain tumour for several months.
I interviewed him on the phone in March 2006, primarily about Mary Potts, the harpsichord teacher we both had in common, see here.

Although I’ve talked to a lot of well-known people, I was really quite star-struck during that conversation, as his voice was, unsurprisingly, just the same as when I’d listened to his BBC radio programme, ‘The Young Idea’, when I was a schoolboy. At that time, ‘Pied Piper’, written and presented by David Munrow, with whom Hogwood co-founded the Early Music Consort of London was another firm favourite of mine.

Hogwood playing the medieval harp and percussion as well as keyboards in this group from 1965, and then became the continuo player and musicologist for the Academy of St Martin in the Fields, where, according to Sir Neville Marriner, their scores were “hogwoodized”. Partly due to frustration that there was no real attempt at “authenticity”, he started his own period-instrument group, the Academy of Ancient Music, in 1973 (borrowing the name from an 18th-century ensemble). He led the AAM until 2006, when Richard Egarr took over.

During my conversation with Hogwood, fragments of information about Hogwood himself surfaced, of course. He told me, for example, that he had had a few lessons from George Malcolm, making Mary Potts his second harpsichord teacher, not his first, as I’d thought. He joked that he was not keen for this to be widely known, given that Malcolm had a famously non-historical approach, and that he had needed to be weaned off playing a harpsichord with seven pedals.

Apart from studying with Mary Potts when he was an undergraduate at Cambridge, Hogwood also lodged in her house in Bateman Street for ten years. At this time, David Munrow (remembered here in Tom Service’s 2012 blog) was also a regular lodger and would often bring the whole Early Music Consort to practise in Mary’s living room.

I have picked up various other crumbs of information about Hogwood in the course of researching the lives of various forgotten pioneers of the early music movement, but nothing very substantial.

One story that sticks in my mind is about his pre-rehearsal warm-up routine on Mary’s late 18th-century Shudi harpsichord, which reportedly consisted of him playing as many preludes and fugues from Bach’s Wohltemperierte Klavier as could be managed in the time that it took to make some mulled wine.

He had a considerable keyboard instrument collection of his own, including a Kirckman and an 18th-century Dutch chamber organ previously owned by Thurston Dart, along with several modern instruments; see the catalogue here. I wonder what will happen to this collection and his “vast” personal library?

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Hogwood’s life has been well documented in the press and online, so, rather than writing any more, I list here some links to sites which may be of interest, plus some of the current obituaries, which include appreciations, career highlights and embedded videos.

 Copyright © 2014 Semibrevity – All Rights Reserved

Account of the funeral of “magician” Frans Brüggen, in the Oude Kerk in Amsterdam

Frans Brüggen, in his early days

There was a sober memorial service held at the Oude Kerk in Amsterdam on Tuesday [19 August 2014] for Frans Brüggen, whom his family described as a “magician” on the funeral invitation.

By eleven o’clock, a long line had formed outside the church. About a thousand musicians and friends had gathered to pay their respects to Frans Brüggen, who had passed away the previous week. The appreciation for what he has done was almost palpable among those present.

At the front the church, the white coffin was surrounded by flowers. Brüggen’s wife, the art historian Machtelt Israëls, stood with Brüggen’s close friend Sieuwert Verster and two of Brüggen’s four daughters to accept condolences.

The ceremony began with Bach’s chorale prelude Erbarm dich mein which was played on the main organ. Verster who, with Brüggen, had led the Orchestra of the Eighteenth Century, was the first to speak. He quipped that Brüggen had said that there would be a great deal of interest in his memorial service. Laughter. He went on to say that Brüggen had had a “very rich life” and that what remains was a “Holy alliance” of the words, the memories and the music. “This is the source of energy which must now sustain us,” he said.

He recalled the last concert conducted by Brüggen, in May at the Hague Conservatory, with works by Rameau. “There was young talent, the old guard and an orchestra of middle-aged people all playing together. Frans enjoyed this hugely.”

Verster went on to try to identify the three pillars of Brüggen’s genius. “First, no one else understood as much about the very core of the music. Secondly, he knew how to create the ideal orchestra, with his Orchestra of the Eighteenth Century, bringing together musicians who loved to perform [this kind of] music to the highest possible standard. The third was that when he conducted, there was a kind of peace and constantly developing affection that existed, through which the essence of [real] music making became possible. “

A short news video (in Dutch) of the ceremony

With a nod to Brüggen’s infamous statement that every note of Mozart played by the Concertgebouw Orchestra was a lie [see here], Verster imagined that, if there is such a thing as heaven, or a another kind of meeting place, in which Brüggen, Bach, Mozart and many other composers could meet, that they would all praise Brüggen for his authentic performance practice.

Because Brüggen liked applause “an awful lot”, Verster asked the attendees to give the deceased one final round of applause. The Orchestra of the Eighteenth Century then played the understated chorale Von Gott will ich nicht lassen by Bach. Among others, Brüggen’s old friends, Kees Boeke and Walter van Hauwe, then performed on recorders.

[At the end,] Brüggen’s two oldest daughters, Laura and Alicia, spoke on behalf of the family, followed by Zephyr and Eos, his children with Machtelt Israëls. Finally, Brüggen’s wife spoke herself, and told us that the body of her husband would be committed to “fire and air,” in a private ceremony to be held “in the sand dunes by the sea”.

She gave the “last word” to a recording of the Pavane by Samuel Scheidt, performed by Brüggen and his orchestra.

Here is the original article (in Dutch) & photos of the ceremony

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Thanks are due to Jaco van der Knijff, who wrote the original article, which first appeared on 19 August 2014, and to the Editor of the Reformatorisch Dagblad for permission to translate and publish this piece.

Copyright © Jaco van der Knijff; Reformatorisch Dagblad 2014

© Semibrevity for this translation, 2014 All rights reserved

Also of interest:

Farewell to Frans Brüggen (1934 – 2014), the most famous recorder player in the world
Frans Brüggen: the early years (1942–1959), with his teacher Kees Otten
Frans Brüggen on Gustav Leonhardt


Farewell to Frans Brüggen (1934 – 2014), the most famous recorder player in the world


Frans Brüggen in 1967  


Frans Brüggen passed away on Wednesday morning, 13 August, 2014, at his home in Amsterdam, just a few months short of his 80th birthday. He had been ill for quite some time and had become very frail. He conducted his last filmed concert from a wheelchair (see below) on May 14 of this year, in which the Orchestra of the Eighteenth Century was doubled in size with students of the Royal Conservatory of the Hague, following a 5 day residency. Heartbreaking.

Video of Brüggen conducting Rameau

Brüggen, the youngest of nine children in a very musical family, began to play the recorder at the age of six. He was initially taught by his oboist brother, Hans, who “was old enough to be my father”. Apparently, with all his uncles and aunts, they had enough people to play all the Brandenburg Concertos (whether they ever did, I don’t know), and young Frans was regularly woken up at night to come downstairs and play a missing part. (For more details of Brüggen’s early years, see this blog post.)

Later, Kees Otten, whom Brüggen regarded as a good teacher, took over, but Brüggen wanted to do everything differently and, after passing his exams, he quickly developed his own highly recognizable style of playing, and his concert presence – seated with crossed-legs, hunched forward and stirring the pot with his recorder – couldn’t have been more different from the established norm of the early 1950s.

Although Otten laid the foundations of the rehabilitation of the recorder as a “real” musical instrument (see this blog post), it was Brüggen who boosted the recorder’s image yet further, enhancing it with his casual manner and boyish good looks.

And it was Brüggen who was to become the first fully fledged recorder soloist of the early music revival, aided and abetted by Gustav Leonhardt (whom he called “the teacher of a generation” – in fact, of more than one). Their trio, completed by cellist Anner Bijlsma, and Brüggen’s participation, from 1960 to 1968, in Quadro Amsterdam with violinist Jaap Schröder, even using modern instruments, helped cement Brüggen’s reputation.

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By 1967, he was an international superstar, poster-boy of the early music movement and, as a Dutch obituary published this week reminds us, “the recorder player in the sports car [a red Porsche]” which, like Leonhardt, he liked to drive at 200 km an hour.

Video of a youthful Brüggen, playing Telemann’s Fantasie No 3, in 1967

Around this time, Brüggen said that he intended to play the recorder for another 10 years and hoped by then to have made as much money as he needed, and to be living somewhere in the Mediterranean. His prediction was to come true: he bought a house in Tuscany from Luciano Berio, and he continued to play until the early eighties, when he was the soloist in concertos with his own Orchestra of the Eighteenth Century, which he co-founded with musicologist-turned-manager, Sieuwert Verster, in 1981.

Video of Frans Brüggen talking about his orchestra, in 2012

He often said that there were only a couple of dozen masterpieces in the recorder repertoire, and this led him, like his teacher, Kees Otten, before him, to commission new works from contemporary composers. Berio’s Gesti, challenging for both player and listener, was premiered at the Wigmore Hall in 1966 and became something of a signature piece for Brüggen.

Video of Brüggen playing Berio’s Gesti and talking about it (in Dutch), in 1967

Stravinsky was one of the few composers, perhaps even the only one, to decline a request from him, saying, “You’re a nice boy … but I’m too old.”

A musical anarchist

Brüggen was something of a musical anarchist. He quickly found his own way, rejecting much of what he had been taught, “discovered” old instruments and forgotten sources, particularly during his road-trip to Italy and Austria, in an old Volkswagen square-back camper van, following his double graduation from high school and the conservatory.

He was also active in creating new repertoire, and pushed the boundaries of what could happen in a concert, with his star students Kees Boeke and Walter van Hauwe in his experimental group, Sour Cream, formed in 1971. Dressed mostly in white, they played a dynamic and audatious mix of standard recorder repertoire and avant garde “performance pieces”.

Sour Cream playing Tye

Walter van Hauwe’s article “Frans Brüggen at 60”

Brüggen also added his voice to the “Nutcracker Action” (little known outside Holland), in November 1969, in which the elitist nature of Dutch music culture and the very conservative programming of the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra was challenged by leading artists and composers, whose work was often overlooked. Their coordinated disruption of a RCO concert at the Concertgebouw, using children’s rattles and plastic kazoos, stunned everyone present, and the 40 perpetrators were literally thrown out into the street. The resulting media uproar did much good in liberalizing the whole scene and in shaking up the Dutch musical establishment.

Brüggen was involved in the ensuing public debate and his much-quoted cri de coeur was that every note of music by Mozart to Beethoven (and by inference that of earlier works too) played by the RCO was a lie, as it lacked any reference to the composer’s original intentions.

Brüggen the conductor

Brüggen’s approach mellowed over time, and as well as his own original-instrument band he was later to conduct the RCO and other “normal” orchestras, which he imbued with the old playing styles as well as altering their approach to what the composers concerned might have intended, often with quite staggering results.

He managed consistently to create surprising performances of exceptional refinement, particularly with his own Orchestra of the Eighteenth Century. I will never forget his Matthew Passion, where the dramatic intensity was both shocking and sublime.

Listen here to the complete 1998 Matthew Passion

With his own orchestra, although he was at the front as conductor, it was always clear that he was performing with them, and this collaboration, coupled with much mutual respect and love and the democratic set-up of the orchestra, produced music-making of the highest order. As Tom Service has pointed out in his blog, “He seemed to share the music with his musicians rather than lead them.”

Frans Brüggen, as a conductor, recorder player and flautist, was a musician par excellence, an early music pioneer of immense importance, a challenging and imaginative teacher and, above all, a brilliant and adventurous spirit full of openness and generosity.

A Remembrance Service for Frans Brüggen will be held at the Oude Kerk in Amsterdam next Tuesday, 19 August, 2014. People can pay their final respects from 11 o’clock and the service will start at 12 noon. According to Sieuwert Verster, Managing Director of  the Orchestra of the Eighteenth Century, “It will be a modest and sober meeting, with few speakers and little music.”

© Semibrevity 2014; All rights reserved