20 years Leo Smit Foundation
Composers and repertoire

Bob Hanf

Bob Hanf

Bob Hanf was born on 25 November 1894 in Amsterdam, where his parents Joseph Hanf and Laura Romberg had settled shortly after their marriage. The Hanf family were assimilated German Jews, originally from Westphalia. Hanf grew up surrounded by artists. Until he was 30 he spent practically all his spare time in Germany with his Uncle Moritz and Aunt Rebecca. This couple were well-connected in intellectual and artistic circles. Through his regular visits to his artistic family Hanf was in touch when he was still very young with the most modern movements in art, literature and philosophy. Bob’s mother was an accomplished piano player. Bob had his first violin lessons in the ensemble classes given by George Scager, viola player in the Concertgebouw orchestra.

Bob Hanf was a many-sided artist: he drew, painted, wrote, played the violin and composed. Because Bob’s father wanted him to follow him into the chemical firm ‘N.V. Oranje’ he was sent to the Technical High School in Delft. There he first studied chemistry and later architecture. While he was sitting in class he drew caricatures of the lecturers and his class mates and did a great many charcoal drawings in an expressionist style, similar to Beckmann and Kirchner. There was also much music making in Delft; Hanf played regularly with the composers Harold C. King and Ignace Lilien. In 1919 he was he became co-founder of De Coornschuer, a warehouse in Delft where concerts, readings and exhibitions were held.

During this period Hanf associated with the writers Hendrik Marsman, Jan Spierdijk and Simon Vestdijk. In his book Zelfportret van J.F. (Selfportrait of J.F.) Marsman describes Hanf in the following words: "slightly bowed and somewhat tired-looking, with his jacket collar up and his violin case carefully tucked under one arm, he came into the long low-ceilinged room on the Voorstraat where we all sat waiting for him round a hot stove." In Vestdijk’s book De laatste kans (Last Chance)(1960) Hanf appears under the name Bob Neumann. Hanf himself wrote two plays, three novels and several poems, all showing the influence of Wedekind’s anti-bourgeois ideas and the surrealist atmosphere in the sombre world of Kafka.

In 1921 Hanf finally stopped being a student and took an attic room in his parents’ house on Willemsparkweg in Amsterdam. He began to play the violin seriously and composed his own first works. He had lessons from Louis Zimmerman, first violin in the Concertgebouw orchestra. Although Hanf played many times in professional orchestras, including the Arnhemsche Orkest Vereeniging (Arnhem Symphony Orchestra) under Martin Spanjaard, he decided around 1928 that he did not want to pursue a career as a professional violinist. Composing suited him better. He wrote various works for the violin, some string quartets, various orchestral works and an opera; and he set poems by Rilke, Kafka and Goethe to music.

Hanf’s music is marked by motifs that become gradually more chromatic while still staying within the tonality; it is more in the German and Austrian tradition than like French music. In his song cycles Hanf theatrically emphasises the absurdity of the text. He knows how to use a very simple device to create a singular atmposhere in his music.

In 1936 Bob Hanf left his parents’ home and took a room in the Lijnbaansgracht. In 1941 he was awarded the second prize together with the composer Robert de Roos in a competition organised by the foundation known as ‘Rotterdam 1939’. Hanf went into hiding in a house called Suikerhofje on Prinsengracht; here he wrote a poem under the pen name Christiaan Philippus entitled "Mijmeringen over de Nachtzijde des levens" (Thoughts on the Dark Side of Life), for the banned magasine Duinrosia Heraut. This was the only work published in his lifetime. On 23 April 1944 he was arrested in a Nazi raid. He was deported first to Camp Westerbork and then to Auschwitz, where he was exterminated on 30 September 1944.

Eleonore Pameijer

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The score for Hanf’s symphony 'Ituriel' is in the music library of Muziekcentrum van de Omroep. You can read and download the score from www.muziekschatten.nl

Selected works

Tema con variazioni undated violin solo
Violin Sonatas nos. 1, 2 & 3 undated violin and piano
Kleine Suite undated violin and piano
String Quartet 1940 two violins, viola and cello
String Quartets in C Major and in D Major undated two violins, viola and cello
Nuit Phantastique undated tenor and string quartet
String sextet in E Minor undated
Concert in d minor undated violin and orchestra
Serenade undated chamber orchestra
Symphony "Ituriel" undated symphony orchestra
Leonce und Lena undated opera
Der neue Advokat undated song cycle for male voice and piano

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