20 years Leo Smit Foundation
Composers and repertoire

Lex van Delden

Lex van Delden

By contrast with certain other composers in this series, the motto "What remains is their music" is not particularly appropriate for Lex van Delden, born Alexander Zwaap. Most of the roughly thirty works that he wrote before the Second World War were lost in 1944 during the bombing of Nijmegen. This was by no means the worst disaster that befell Zwaap in those years. In 1943 his parents were deported to Sobibor; they never returned. He himself took the pseudonym “van Delden” and dodged from one secret address to another, doing resistance work. An exploding carbide lamp blinded him in one eye. Thus he lost the chance of becoming a neuro surgeon, which had been his ambition before the war.

When peace came he hurled himself under the name Lex van Delden wholeheartedly into the world of music. Apart from composing he worked as a music journalist for Het Parool; later he was chairman of the Dutch authors’ rights association Buma Stemra. He ran off reams of compositions and in the 1950s and 60s he was one of the most frequently played composers of his generation. Works such as the Third Symphony (1955) and "Musica sinfonica” (1967) were to be found on the Concertgebouw orchestra lecterns. Van Delden wrote for companies such as the Noordhollands Philharmonisch Orkest (North Dutch Philharmonic Orchestra), the Hague Philharmonic Orchestra and the Nederlands Blazers Ensemble (Dutch Wind Ensemble). He received Government commissions, was personal composer to the harpist Phia Berghout and enjoyed writing for amateur societies. Many of his works reveal a deeply felt social commitment. The orchestral work In Memoriam (1953) is dedicated for example to the victims of the flooding in Zeeland in 1953; Canto della guerra (1967) for choir and orchestra is a fierce condemnation of war. Van Delden was apparently unstoppable: his huge productivity both in public and in private, his joie de vivre and his social conscience may have been driven by the hard blows he suffered during the war. This at least is the opinion of actor and singer Lex van Delden Jr., eldest son of the composer. His father was not suffocated or embittered by misfortune, but rather was impelled by his war experiences to reach his full potential as man and musician.

Van Delden’s music radiates an idealistic longing for life. The structure is tight; he often includes sharp contrasts between dramatic and lyrical passages. The beat is lively. He usually composed around a spontaneous feeling, a strong pithy idea, that was later adjusted "by discussion and intellect". A good example is the Third Symphony. The work opens with a short theme which is then elaborated into kaleidoscopic variations. Simultaneously it changes in form and character and new perspectives emerge out of what at first had appeared to be a simple idea. No surprise, then, that he gave it the subtitle Facetten (facets).

Throughout his life van Delden militated for the inclusion of more Dutch contemporary music in regular repertoires. In spite of this, in the 1970s, he became the butt of the Notenkrakers (lit. note/nut crackers), a group of young composers and players who thought that the whole concept of an orchestra was old-fashioned and they themselves were entirely misunderstood. Van Delden was seen as the epitome of a generation that resisted change. Furthermore his music did not perforce exclude tonality – a capital crime in their eyes. In 1969 the “note cracker” opera Reconstructie (Reconstruction) received rave reviews; van Delden, however, dubbed it "hopelessly lacking", which hardly endeared him to the rest. Tensions ran high. In the next few years the Notenkrakers anyway gained more public respect, and by the end of the 1970s the sting was out of the conflict. Konrad Boehmer, the self-styled "inventor of the note crackers", even made friends in the 1980s with his former opponent and his opinion of van Delden’s music became noticeably kinder. Boehmer said, "Van Delden’s work follows the tradition of sleek, pragmatic music written by French impressionists. In this sense it is of importance to our Dutch culture."

Jochem van der Heide

Selected works

Rubáiyát 1948 mixed choir, 2 pianos and percussion
Vocalise op. 29a-bis 1951 cello and piano
Impromptu 1955 harp solo
Pianoconcert 1960
Piccolo concerto 1960 wind ensemble, timpani, percussion and piano
Concert voor twee strijkorkesten 1961 two string orchestras
Sinfonia concertante 1964 wind ensemble
Fluitconcert 1965 flute and symphony orchestra
Musica notturna a cinque 1967 harp and 4 cellos
Strijkkwartetten 1954, 1965, 1979 String quartet
Strijksextet 1971 String ensemble

Find out more about Lex van Delden, find sheet music and listen to sound samples on www.forbiddenmusicregained.org

Listen to Lex van Delden's 'Sonatina Eroica' opus 53 played by Jan Wijn on Reclafoon (archives Donemus)