Few Dutch musicians could make the same boast: to have conducted Stravinsky in Vienna, with the great Russian himself at the keyboard. But Martin Spanjaard, conductor and composer, did this in 1930, at one of the first performances of Stravinsky’s Capriccio for piano and orchestra. The posters announced the names of the participants as "Igor Strajaard" and "Martin Spanwinsky", which Spanjaard himself said was "inverting names in double counterpoint". Spanjaard was first and foremost a conductor. The few works he himself wrote date mainly from his youth; later he scarcely had time for composition due to his busy conducting engagements. We have a fairly complete knowledge of Spanjaard's life, thanks to the efforts of his grandson, Maarten van der Heijden, who also provided a wealth of information for this article. Martin Spanjaard was born in 1892 in Borne, where his father was a wealthy textile manufacturer. In 1899 the family moved to The Hague. From that time on, the family regularly frequented the fashionable seaside resort of Scheveningen. In 1922, when Martin Spanjaard was thirty, the Nieuwe Scheveningsche Koerier commented, after one of his appearances, on the youth of the conductor. "In 1905 his parents moved from their home in Twenthe to the capital and for many years they have visited our beach resort, staying in one of the well-known villas belonging to the Hotel d’Orange. Now we often see young Spanjaard with the flower of the nation on the beach or in the Kurzaal (great hall, of a spa). As a youth in the company of his parents and later as a bachelor he has remained a constant visitor to the concerts, sitting attentively in a front-row folding seat below the platform, where tonight he steps out as magister musicarum."
Martin Spanjaard studied violin, theory of music, piano (with Willem Andriessen) and composition (with Cornelis Dopper). In 1915 he went to Berlin, where he continued his composition studies. Here he wrote Drei Lieder nach Gedichten von Li-Tai-Po (Three Songs to poems by Li-Tai-Po) and a Scherzo for orchestra. Back in Holland in 1920 he was appointed conductor of the Arnhemsche Orkest Vereeniging (Arnhem Orchestra Association); and in 1924 he conducted the Concertgebouw orchestra. In 1932 he reluctantly left Arnhem, primarily because, according to the orchestra committee, there was not enough popular music in the programmme. He had in the meantime divorced his first wife and married Elly Okladek, a Hungarian harpist in the orchestra. No doubt his divorce and his relationship with a member of the orchestra had something to do with his enforced departure. In spite of this Spanjaard continued to be regularly invited to conduct top orchestras, including the Vienna Philharmonic and the Berlin Philharmonic. His performances won him high praise in other countries, giving him a special status by comparison with his Dutch contemporaries.
Spanjaard was a scholarly man, deeply interested in literature and philosophy. He was especially interested in German culture. In music, on the other hand, he preferred French composers. In the contest between the French and the German school, which sometimes rose to fury in the inter-war years, Spanjaard tended to side with the modernists. Martin Spanjaard had a special liking for Bruckner and wrote a book about his symphonies which is still regularly consulted by his great nephew, the conductor Ed Spanjaard.
Martin Spanjaard's own musical output is, as we have said, limited. In his sensitive and well-balanced Three Songs to poems by Li-Tai-Po (1916) the composer seems fully at home in the tradition of German romantic songs, although the last song ends with a series of chords that are unmistakably Debussy. Of his symphonic works, many remained unfinished, probably for lack of time, but the lively Scherzo for orchestra is worth mentioning again. In 1939 Martin Spanjaard again conducted the Concertgebouw orchestra, in a programme of works by Bosmans, Bruckner and Mozart. It turned out to be for the last time: in 1942 Martin Spanjaard and his wife were exterminated in Auschwitz.
Drei Lieder 1916 voice and piano
Scherzo 1916 orchestra