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Lex van DELDEN (1919–1988)
String Quartet III “Willinck Tetraptych” Op.106 (1979) [15:36]
String Quartet II Op.86 (1965) [20:19]
String Quartet I Op.43 (1954) [19:09]
Musica di Catasto Op.108 (1981)a [11:04]
Utrecht String Quartet; Quirijn van Regteren Altena (double bass)a
rec. Doopsgezinde Kerk, Haarlem, The Netherlands, April 2006


Van Delden’s three string quartets belong to his mature output but nevertheless span twenty-five years of his prolific composing life. However, his stylistic consistency is clearly in evidence, for he found his own voice early in his career and remained faithful to it throughout. Although it might have sounded pretty modern in the rather conservative Dutch musical establishment in the years following the end of World War II, it is now perceived as part of the 20th century mainstream and it has become somewhat at odds with the new trends that once prevailed amongst the younger Dutch composers in the early post-war period. However, he stuck to it and made his view quite clear in his detailed programme note for the first performance of his second string quartet. Now, times are ripe for a proper reappraisal of his considerable achievement.

The String Quartet I Op.43 was composed during a period of deep depression, when his marriage began to collapse after the onset of his wife’s mental illness. It is not surprising then that the music is generally tense and often troubled, which does not exclude some deeply lyrical episodes. On the whole, this is an imposing, utterly serious and deeply sincere piece of music that clearly deserves to be heard.

Although it bears a somewhat later opus number, the String Quartet II Op.86 is actually a transcription of his Symphony VIII Op.84 for string orchestra. As already mentioned earlier in this review, this and the Eighth Symphony are eventually some sort of manifesto in which Van Delden reaffirms his artistic creed, then at odds with new avant-garde ideas prevalent in the 1960s. He definitely remained true to his ideals, as later works clearly proclaim. The Second String Quartet is no exception. A rather striking characteristic of this work is that each of the three movements is cast in tripartite form. So, the first movement has an Allegro section framed by a slow Prelude and a slow Epilogue. Similarly, the lively Scherzo outer sections of the second movement frame a short contrasting section played pizzicato. Finally, the third movement similarly opens with a slow introduction leading into the animated main section in turn capped by an ambiguous coda. The Second String Quartet is undoubtedly one of Van Delden’s major works.

The String Quartet III “Willink Vierluik” Op.106 is the perfect illustration of what a resourceful composer can do with some rather queer requirements sometimes put forward by commissioning bodies or persons. In this particular case, the work was commissioned by a Mr. Fopma, an art-lover, admirer of the ‘fantastic realistic’ paintings of Carel Willink as well as an amateur violinist. Mr. Fopma wanted the piece to be performed by a new set of instruments in Guarneri fashion by the violin maker Roos. He also asked Van Delden to take four of Willink’s canvases in Fopma’s collection as a source of inspiration. So far so good, but he also suggested biblical texts that he thought relevant. As Lex van Delden junior puts it in his insert notes, “the composer took all these elements on board, processing them on a mainly subliminal programme, and then went on to follow his own musical instincts” (my italics). So, the end result of it all is a tetraptych more or less inspired by four of Willink’s paintings (reproduced in the booklet), in which the composer went his own way and eventually turned out an abstract piece of music that may be listened to without any prior knowledge of Willink’s oeuvre. The Third String Quartet is a beautiful piece of music in its own right, and the third movement (“Mrs Fopma”) is particularly touching. The work, however, ends with an unresolved question mark.

Musica di Catasto: Intrada e Passacaglia Op.108 for string quintet (string quartet plus double bass) or string orchestra is another example of Van Delden’s ability to adapt his music to particular requirements, this time to commemorate the 150th anniversary of land registry in the Netherlands. So, the composer based his work on a theme derived from the word ‘Cadastre’ (C, A, D, A flat [As in Dutch, but this may also be read as A and Es [E flat] and Re [D]). This short work is a fine example both of Van Delden’s technical imagination and of his humour, for he weaves a theme from Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture into the fabric, just to remind one that the origins of land registry were first established in France in 1812. The work, however, is on the whole quite serious and superbly crafted.

Hubert Culot

see also Review by Rob Barnett




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