Alexander Zwaap to a Jewish family active in the diamond industry
and cattle trade, van Delden (www.lexvandelden.nl)
began composing at eleven, but remained largely self-taught.
He enrolled at the University of Amsterdam to study neuro-surgery;
but war and a domestic accident that almost blinded one eye
put an end to his medical studies. Most members of his family
died in the gas chambers, but van Delden remained in the Netherlands
and joined the Resistance. In 1953 the name he derived from
the one he used in the Resistance, was officially approved and
he has since then been known as Lex van Delden. By the time
of his death in 1988, he had accumulated a sizeable body of
some 125 works in almost every genre although most of his pre-war
and wartime compositions were destroyed in the bombing of Nijmegen
in 1944. His music may be best described as 20th
century mainstream, and is characterised by clarity, concision
and economy of means. Although he sometimes toyed with tone-rows
- not necessarily twelve-tone rows, as his Symphony No.3
“Facetten” Op.45 of 1955, based on a 21-tone row, clearly
shows - he never abandoned tonality, albeit a very free tonality.
In the words of his older colleague, Matthijs Vermeulen, “he
listens instinctively, composes instinctively ... he always
has style, but never shows off ... [his music is] something
exquisitely useful, something popular (without deliberately
wishing to be popular”. He was never one to waste a note, and
– as a result – his pieces are often perfectly shaped, superbly
crafted, direct of appeal and expression, so that they rarely
outstay their welcome. This is certainly the case with the chamber
works recorded here.
earliest items here, Introduzione e Danza Op.26
(flute, clarinet, string trio and piano) and Duo per Flauto
ed Arpa Op.27, both date from 1950. The Duo -
beautifully played here by Emily and Catherine Beynon was first
performed to great acclaim at the 1952 ISCM festival in Salzburg.
It was written for two players from the Concertgebouw Orchestra
- harpist Pia Berghout to whom van Delden dedicated no less
than six works for and with harp, and flautist Hubert Barwhaser.
It was one of his first major works and put him firmly on the
international musical map. Two years earlier, Barwahser took
part in the premiere of Introduzione e Danza “Judith”.
The subtitle alludes to the fact that the piece was originally
conceived as a score for solo dance based on the eponymous verse
drama by Herman van den Eerenbeemt. Though essentially abstract,
the music alludes to Judith dancing for Holofernes before beheading
him thus freeing her people from Babylon’s tyranny. It is in
three concise, neatly contrasted movements: a moderately fast
March, a fairly simple Allegretto scherzando with a slower central
section and a lively Rondo to round it off.
Quartetto Op.58 for flute and string trio dates
from 1957, and is again in three succinct movements. It is somewhat
lighter in mood, a short uncomplicated and attractive divertimento
of almost Gallic clarity and transparency. This is music of
direct appeal and great charm.
the other hand, the Sestetto per Archi Op.97 from
1971 is a more ambitious, serious and substantial work that
fellow-composer Marius Flothuis rightly considered as one of
van Delden’s most original pieces. Here van Delden constantly
varies the instrumental layout in order to create a continuous
change of perspective. So, in the first movement Lento-Allegro
delle coppie-Lento, the central section has the string ensemble
divided into three duos that constantly interplay, whereas the
second movement (Lento di terzetti) emphasises
the dialogue between two trios that are also instructed to regroup
accordingly. The full string ensemble is heard as such in the
last movement, a lively Rondo capped by a beautifully lyrical
Nonetto per Amsterdam Op.101 was completed in
1975 to commemorate the 700th anniversary of the
City of Amsterdam. So, the Introduzione con motto that
opens the piece is based on a theme spelling the name of the
city, a nine-note motto that recurs, albeit with variations.
The work is a fine evocation of the city, without being programmatic.
There is good humour, swagger and bustle in the fast movements,
while the slow Passacaglia has a slightly nostalgic ring “such
as sometimes pervades Amsterdam on a rainy day in Autumn” (Lex
van Delden jr.). The Nonetto is another quite
van Delden’s music was never really forgotten, as far as recordings
are concerned (although a number of them date back to the LP
era), this collection of chamber works is most welcome. It provides
a fair introduction to his substantial output. Excellent performances
by the Viotta Ensemble (all players from the Royal Concertgebouw
Orchestra), who will, I hope, record more of van Delden’s chamber
works. This very fine release pays a well-deserved tribute to
a most distinguished composer whose music is still too rarely
heard, let alone, recorded. Recommended.
a footnote, I would like to mention another disc with orchestral
music by van Delden, including three major pieces that may still
be available and that is well worth looking for, i.e. if interested
in van Delden’s music (Etcetera KTC 1156 published in 1993).
It includes old live recordings made in the late 1950s and mid-1960s
(some of them are still in mono) of Sinfonia No.3 “Facetten”
Op.45, the magnificent Concerto per due Orchestre
d’Archi Op.71 and the impressive Musica
Sinfonica Op.93, all by the Royal Concertgebouw
Orchestra conducted by Eugen Jochum, George Szell and Bernard