Today’s news of Jaap van Zweden’s appointment to the Dallas Symphony Orchestra as the next music director made me remember a thought I had the other day.
Last Monday I heard a piece by Dutch composer Louis Andriessen at the CSO’s MusicNOW concert. Andriessen is arguably the Netherlands’ best known contemporary composer, but other than Andriessen and Van Bree, I really don’t know any Dutch composers.
Why are there no famous Dutch composers in the likes of Beethoven (even though his name has a “van” in there), Mozart, Verdi, and Ravel? In all facets of classical music—great orchestras, great conductors, and great soloists—the Dutch have and have had a strong representation. But what about composing?
Finland had its Sibelius, Norway its Grieg, and even Belgium had Franck. But I don’t know any Dutch composer that would be part of a non-Dutch orchestra’s regular programming. I don’t think there is or was a lack of interest in classical music in the country either, and I know Mahler liked the Netherlands, he befriended Concertgebouw conductor Willem Mengelberg, and apparently even Mozart traveled through the country.
Of course, most famous classical music composers hail from central Europe; even Spain does not have an abundance of well-known composers. Classical music is, of course, geographically very much confined to particular regions, but the Dutch are historically involved in almost anything: in painting we have brought forth Rembrandt and Van Gogh, in philosophy we have brought forth Spinoza and Hugo Grotius, and even in literature, limited very much by language, we have brought forth Multatuli and Harry Mulisch. Heck, we even founded New York!
The answer might be frightfully simple, but, going from history, I think it’s odd there is no universally-known Dutch composer.