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Composers and repertoire

Henriëtte Bosmans

Henriëtte Bosmans

Henriëtte Bosmans was through-and-through Amsterdam, but if you listen to her Sonata for cello and piano (1919) you know from the first notes: here is the spirit of German Romanticism. The composer was indeed raised in that tradition. She spent her girlhood in an impressive house on Weteringschans where music was the order of the day. Joseph Joachim, Brahms’ favourite violinist, was a frequent visitor. Dozens of other famous musicians came to dine or make music with her father, cello solo in the Concertgebouw orchestra. He died when Henriëtte was eight months old. She therefore received her musical education from her mother, a piano teacher at the Conservatory, who enthusiastically took on the task. The results were soon evident, as when she was only seventeen Henriëtte performed in the Concertgebouw, under famous conductors such as Willem Mengelberg and Pierre Monteux. Headstrong as she was, a year later the young musician fled from her dominating mother and moved into her own house. She lived together with the cellist Frieda Belinfante, who was in love with her, and led a bohemian life. Frieda’s instrument had a central part in Bosmans’ early works. In 1921 she wrote the Trio for piano, violin and cello and in 1926 Impressions for cello and piano. Frieda performed the premiere of the Second Cello Concerto (1923), still marked by the broad lyrical lines of Romanticism.

Things changed after Henriëtte met Willem Pijper, a respected composer and critic. Bosmans’ strength, he thought, was her association with the past, but at the same time this gave her "a weakness with regard to the future." Bosmans was provoked by this and started to study under Pijper. He introduced her to modern techniques such as polytonality and polyrhythmics. Her style developed and became more concise and her rhythms became fiercer. The 1928 Concertino for piano and orchestra is a good example of this new direction. Another significant personality in the life of the composer was the violinist Francis Koene. In the early 1930s she shared the stage with him for a performance of Alban Berg’s dodecaphonic Chamber Concert for Piano and Violin with thirteen Wind Instruments. The audience were taken aback and booed the music. Bosmans was head over heels in love with her duet partner. They got engaged; and Koene’s playing was the inspiration for the 1934 Concertstuk (concert piece) for violin and orchestra. Koene never played it as he died in 1934 as the result of a brain tumor. Bosmans fell into a deep depression. "Part of me died at that time," she wrote to her friend Matthijs Vermeulen. For years she wrote not a single note. The Second World War made matters worse, as the Nazis forbad her to appear in public and her works were banned from the concert halls. Only as a pianist could she sometimes be heard in small recitals in private houses - the so-called 'black evenings'. Towards the end of the war she picked up again; her optimistic song Daar komen de Canadezen (Here come the Canadians) (1945),is one of the first signs of this.

Just as before the war the cello played a key role in her life, now the voice took over. Bosmans’ muse was the French singer Noemie Perugia; she sang in 1949 in Amsterdam, and Bosmans heard the last part of her recital. She was overwhelmed. It took a while before Perugia responded to Bosmans’ musical and amorous advances, but eventually the pair developed a relationship that may be compared to that between Benjamin Britten and Peter Pears. The creative relationship did not last long. Bosmans wrote a series of inspired songs for her beloved, but died in 1952 of stomach cancer.

Jochem van der Heide

Selected works

Sonate 1919 cello and piano
Trio 1921 piano, violin and cello
Eerste Celloconcert 1921 cello and orchestra
Tweede Celloconcert 1923 cello and orchestra
Trois Impressions 1926 cello and piano
Concertstuk 1929 flute and orchestra
Concertstuk 1934 violin and orchestra
Daar komen de Canadezen 1945 soprano and piano
Das macht den Menschen glücklich 1951 voice and piano

Find out more about Henriëtte Bosmans, find sheet music and listen to sound samples on www.forbiddenmusicregained.org

Doris Hochscheid (cello) and Frans van Ruth (piano) recorded the Cello Sonata and Trois Impressions by Henriëtte Bosmans in their CD series 'Dutch Cello Sonatas' This CD can be ordered from www.cellosonate.nl.