ten Holt is a Dutch composer born in Bergen who is now
in his mid-80s. Incidentally he is not to be confused
with the British composer Simon Holt or indeed the Horse
Racing commentator Simon Holt, but never mind.
which incidentally did not receive its first British
performance until 8 September 2008 in Cardiff, is one
of several works he has written for two pianos. I could
also mention ‘Shadow or Prey
’(1993-5) and there
is another for four pianos ‘Méandres
He is now a minimalist composer having had two other ‘phases’.
was a pupil of the Belgian composer Jakob van Domselaer
who was to prove a strong influence upon him but whose
music has never really carried outside Belgium. Holt
also took lessons from Honegger and Milhaud. Then he
had a serial phase and now, returning mostly to the piano
where he started. Like Louis Andriessen he has gone down
a minimalist line but one which is very particular to
the Dutch composers of his generation. One aspect is
the ‘rehabilitation’ of tonality or as the brief booklet
notes by Kees Wieringa says “redefining the beauty of
the triad and related tonal means” … and I might add
modality. For example at Track 36 a delightfully simple
and effective modal melody emerges out of the ordinary
major/minor tonality of the earlier music and the piece
then moves on to a brief chromatic passage.
was initially quite daunted by a CD of 92 continuously
playing tracks. Each links into the next and many are
extremely short. This I think is a useful idea as each
track marks a slight change in the music’s inexorable
progress - not in the ostinato rhythm itself or the speed
which is established right at the start, but in each
slight change of harmony or dynamic, articulation or
texture or even of melodic line. The piece unfolds like
a leaf in front of your eyes – sorry, ears - and once
started you cannot let it go.
you can see from the recording date of 1996 this CD has
been released for some time but has only just arrived
with MusicWeb International for review. The new cover
is now adorned with various pieces of praise and comment.
Of the several I would particularly agree with is one
from Fanfare “…it is the two pianists who really dazzle.
It would be hard to surpass the concentrated power of
this version”. I was wondering, only slightly facetiously,
if the pianists might get repeated strain injury. In
the booklet there are also biographies of the two players.
Kees Wieringa writes about the moment he first began
to understand Ten Holt’s music as he stared across the
sea near the composer’s home and thought of the ‘repeating
seas of sound’.
are told that the score of ‘Canto Ostinato’ has the “form
of a route which the performers can follow by means of
so-called roaming parts that are used ‘ad libitum’”.
The composer leaves open the number of performers as
well as the total duration and number of repeats. Wieringa
adds that “the musicians are also given the freedom as
far as dynamics and articulation are concerned”.
you listen, note how various ideas - harmonies and melodies
- make a return visit almost as they were at first, but
not quite. I wonder however, was this in the composer’s
or the performer’s control? It’s worth realizing, if
I understand the advertising on the back of the CD booklet
correctly, that there is another recording of this work
on KTC1317 for four pianos (see review
). It would be
interesting to know how the material is utilized by the
Indeed I could add that this has been one of those reviews
when a score would definitely have been exceedingly useful.
the music is highly thought-provoking, quite exciting
at times, and superbly played I have to say that I may
well not play the disc again … and I probably won’t find
my life any less rich for this deprivation.