The composer the Dutch don’t want to know

Hans Kox turned 86 this week. Once celebrated at the Concertgebouw, he lives now in near oblivion.

John Borstlap, a friend and soulmate takes up his cause:


Kox’s career with its extreme ups and downs reflects the cultural climate of Holland from the 1950s on. Born in 1930, he made a brilliant career in his twenties, receiving many commissions and being performed by orchestras, including the Concertgebouw Orchestra under conductors like Van Beinum and Eugen Jochum. He quickly was the most important young composer of the Netherlands, and on a level with someone like Benjamin Britten.

While often using modern means, he always wanted to use them in an expressive way, and this has been the reason that in the sixties, with the emergence of ‘hard core modernism’ (which I would call ‘sonic art’ and dada), he was attacked by the composers who felt themselves representing an avantgarde, so different from Kox who got part of a classical establishment when only in his thirties – in that time, Kox was a more expressionist Benjamin Britten type, with strong roots in tradition, in spite of disruptive dissonance. These modernist composers however, formed a group, calling themselves the Nutcrackers, making lots of publicity noise, among other things by disrupting (with heckling) a concert of the Concertgebouw Orchestra because the programming did not present Stockhausen, Maderna, Boulez, Xenakis etc.

Although Kox always had a success with players and audiences, tastemakers (programmers at orchestras and concert venues, and music critics) soon felt under the spell of rhetorical ideologies and began to defend the avantgarde, who did not have any success at all in concert practice. The Dutch avantgarde consisted of Peter Schat, Reinbert de Leeuw (composing before he became a conductor), Misha Mengelberg, Jan van Vlijmen, Otto Ketting, Louis Andriessen, Konrad Boehmer. Except Ketting and Boehmer, they also formed the ‘Nutcrackers’ rebellious action group of angry young men. At the time Kox’ reputation was very solid, even while distancing himself from the noise made by the crackers; Kox never was a polemicist or someone who liked to extensively talk or write about his intentions: he wants to write good music and that is that. But Peter Schat wrote very often in the media and got much attention.

In 1974 Kox’ opera ‘Dorian Gray’, based upon Wilde’s book, was premiered at the National Netherlands Opera, shortly after he had been appointed Artistic Executive of the Concertgebouw Orchestra. While successful with audiences – the opera was taken-up again twice in the following seasons – it was strongly attacked by two critics who had given themselves the role of defending the avantgarde in Holland: Hans Heg in De Volkskrant and Hans Reichenfeld in the NRC, these were (and still are) the two most important newspapers in the country. The language was so rude, that something of a scandal erupted, with the Composers Guild organizing a special meeting to discuss this attack, and to think of something that could be done (nothing came out of it). Main complaints: eclectic, derivative, bad, pretentious, a dragon, only clichees, no drama, says nothing, no style, no personality, the thing fell flat on its own foul beak (!), embarrassing, yawningly boring, irrelevant – in short: not contributing to modern music. The work was not disqualified with real arguments but simply attacked in hate: it HAD to go down, whatever the National Opera was thinking themselves and whatever success it had with audiences. But the succes was also a result of the music being  rooted in traditional dynamics without (let it be stressed) copying them, it sounds like a mixture of Berg, Britten and Stravinsky (roughly indicated), and is effective and expressive: the singers do really SING, either in arioso or in parlando. If the piece were performed nowadays, nobody would have any complaints and just enjoy the work. Kox was shocked about the attacks and withdrew from his post at the Concertgebouw, knowing that he had become a ‘barrier’ to ‘avantgarde programming’ at the orchestra. There was much publicity about modern music in those days and in the seventies the Concertgebouw Orchestra began indeed to perform international avantgarde music like Boulez and Maderna.

Kox, whose music is serious, was considered ‘pretentious’ while the Nutcracker music was so much more playful, like Schat’s ‘To you’ with indeterminate noises and gigantic hummingtops, specially built for the occasion – the time of the hippies, Amsterdam ‘happenings’, etc. In the seventies Kox’ reputation sank dramatically, and in the eighties he seems to have disappeared: hardly any performances or commissions. Konrad Boehmer has confirmed that the attacks in the media by Reichenfeld and Heg were a political way of settling scores: to get Kox out of the way, especially since he had been appointed at the most important orchestra of the country which, in the eyes of the avantgarde, had been neglecting modernism already for so long. According to Boehmer, Hans Heg “…. was the mouthpiece of the people who wanted to take over power in the ‘modern music scene’; in this way Hans Kox was, in an unspoken process, declared dead. If you don’t have a place abroad, you are dead indeed.” It was all political, and typical of a country where there is not much space – small country – and where there is a strongly conformist tendency.

In the nineties however, with the erosion of the stronger modernist ideologies, Kox got rediscovered and began to get performances and commissions again. Gradually, Kox’ music returned to music life, his Anne Frank Cantata became an important item on the annual commemoration ceremonies of WW II. Kox was asked to take-on a teaching post at the Conservatory in Utrecht, where his collegue Joep Straesser, a moderate and mediocre modernist composer, did everything he could to make Kox feel that he should not be there teaching young people – just a personal obsession of jealousy but with the avantgarde ideology in the background and used as an instrument of defamation. His other collegue, Tristan Keuris, a very successful composer in spite of his rather tonal style, was also very critical of Kox, for being too oldfashioned. Kox wore a jacket and a butterfly while Keuris sported jeans, a wildly anarchic hairdo and demonstrated his artistic independence by chain-smoking. A student of Kox who did not adhere to the avantgarde norms when he did his final exam, caused a scandal by writing expressive music, which led to protests from Kox’ collegues which was supported by the director Ton Hartsuyker who was a loud advocate of ‘renewal’ and ‘avantgarde’, so the result was that Kox left the conservatory. And so on and so forth…. but Kox wrote a couple of big cantatas which were performed and had a strong success with audiences, in a style reminiscent of Britten and Shostakovich but more dissonant and irregular. Of course this cemented his negative reputation in the modern music establishment. His violin concertos were audience successes (3rd: in 1993, releasd on CD). In 1998 many performances of Kox’ music, even an entire festival by the Netherlands Philharmonic, which was very successful… I was there and I was very impressed by the quality and variety of the music. He continued to write symphonies which were performed with success, under David Porcelijn and Jaap van Zweden. The Concertgebouw Orchestra performed his music in 2005, also there was a symphony played by the Rotterdam Philharmonic, and positive reviews: the music finally seemed to have ‘arrived’ and ‘understood’. Sporadically, there were orchestral performances abroad in Scotland and Australia by David Porcelijn.

Gradually interest dissipated again in the last years, and nowadays it is silent again around Kox, with only a handful of chamber concerts occasionally in unimportant venues, by dedicated players and a small but loyal audience. What happened? Over the last years, government subsidy cuts have created havoc in Dutch music life, with the result that contemporary music has hardly any venue of importance left, orchestras no longer want to spend expensive rehearsel time on complex new music like Kox’, and the Dutch ‘new music scene’ has spread into a delta of insignificant and amateurisch small-scale fiddling-around where pop, world music and quasi-hip set the tone. The national Fund for the Performing Arts only funds this un-serious noise, including amateur student commissions, and that means that serious new music has no longer interest and commissions.

But Holland needs a ‘grand old man’ of music and that has become Louis Andriessen, who has managed to get performed abroad, although it has to be admitted that the type of audience which likes his music is NOT the classical music audience but the people who have pop in their ears and like to feel that they do something cultural by attending concerts with this oldfashioned sixties-hip, which I personally find a perfect example of kitsch and very outdated – in the wrong way. The students coming to Andriessen to be instructed in his personal brand of antibourgeois kitsch are often, typically, angry young women from the American Mid-West who have some axes to grind with the classical world of music. Kox wrote and writes for the central performance culture, and the Netherlands could indeed have their grand old man, but they don’t see it. (Louis Andriessen got a commission to celebrate the recent jubilee of the Concertgebouw Orchestra, but it ended in disaster, Janssons not liking the piece at all, the players not  liking their parts at all, and Andriessen angry because his anti-bourgeois teenage message referring to High Culture of past ages in sixties garb, was ‘not understood’.) If people had been more tolerant, pluralist, less ideological and more musical at the time, Kox could have florished and could have made the leap abroad, instead of all the subsidies who supported Andriessen with, for instance, a whole weekend festival in London which fell flat but which was paid for by the ‘bourgeois’ Dutch tax payer. Most of the money went into these flop music events instead of to the real talents of the country. I once spoke with the promotion manager of the national new music publisher Donemus, who travelled around the world to ‘sell’ Dutch new music to festivals, ensembles and orchestras (with lots of subsidy of course), and he admitted that this music had internationally a bad name – so, even in international new music circles, the Dutch variety did not find a welcoming ear – and why? It was exactly the ‘established’ avantgarde music, as advocated by the Nutcrackers, which was taken along in the little briefcase. This man never took Kox’s scores with him. Meanwhile, this much-subsidized publishing house has entirely collapsed, when a hughe financial scandal came to light – a story in itself – and subsidies completely cut. The core of the business was rescued by a courageous employee who now runs Donemus as an independent, non-subsidy business, and successfully so – because of not being influenced by ideology but looking at the market.

So: up and down, up and down again, and now Kox is a very old man with a very large oeuvre, locked-up in a populist small country with a cultural scene that does not like the real, serious stuff, and which struggles with ever decreasing funding. In short: contemporary music life has more or less dried-up and only the central performance culture is still walking, if only on one leg. For Kox’ s work, there are no longer any perspectives in The Netherlands.

Once, I myself had to take this national music fund into court to get paid for a commission by an excellent ensemble, and I won and lost in the same time: I was proven right in my claims that I was treated abyssmally badly, that it completely failed to meet the minimum requirements of professional care, but the court found that the fund did NOT have to pay me, for mysterious reasons. I took the case into the Supreme Court in an appeal procedure, and this court simply retroactively changed a deadline for sending-in documents with unrefutable assessments by a.o. Roger Scruton, as to protect the fund from rightful claims. In this way, music life in Holland is run. Fortunately, I no longer need Holland for my work, having my performances and commissions abroad (in June: premiere by the Hong Kong Phil under Jaap van Zweden, October: UK premiere of my String Trio in King’s Place, London, and something coming-up in Vienna), and I hope to make a name for myself outside Holland also to be able to do something for the music of Hans Kox which I consider of great value and an important contribution – especially because he demonstrated that a 20C composer can be entirely modern without rejecting the tradition, quite an achievement.

In general, Kox’ career reflects the gradual erosion of the musical landscape in Holland towards the desert which is its condition nowadays. His initial entirely deserved reputation was broken by ‘avantgarde’ and its advocates, he was the ‘enemy of progress’, he was rediscovered, and forgotten again – and where are we now? Dutch music life has turned into a desert and of those avantgardists nothing has remained, and institutions for new music have sunk to an embarrassing amateurisch level. Kox has been one of the maybe 3 or 4 really greatly talented composers of the Netherlands, and has paid a hughe price for his individualism. But I am convinced that much of his music will survive somewhere in the future, in spite of the extreme narrow-mindedness of a small and populist country. Mind you, in England for instance, there always has been space for more traditionalist composers, in spite of Birtwistle etc. In France, there was Dutilleux in spite of PB, and nowadays Bacri, Beffa and Connesson. In Holland, that has not been possible.

This story is interesting because it shows what happens when modernism is strongly supported by the state. There was much subsidy for new music from the seventies onwards, which gave the ‘avantgarde’ the freedom to play-act the revolutionary game, against the bourgeoisie but with its money, so: completely fake. And they tried their best to cut down the colleague who was so much more talented then they were, and who never did them any harm.


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  • I must admit I never heard of him, but I’m enjoying the violin concerto linked here. I think he also suffers from the widespread phenomenon in classical music: that audiences don’t know what they like; they like what they know. And performers to some degree are lazy; easier for a violinist to work up the Mendelssohn and Sibelius concertos that they can play dozens of times a year, rather than work up rather than a concerto by Kox and twist the arms of an orchestra to be able to play it – once. Same with orchestras and their limited rehearsal time.

  • Dorian Grey is a fine work, and you are right, it is ‘effective and expressive: the singers do really SING’. It deserves to be revived! There is a recording available with Philip Langridge in the title role giving a wonderful performance.

  • What do you mean by ‘modernism’ exactly? I find this label rather ambiguous and I went to a lecture last week about Music and Modernism and it only created more confusion for me.

    • Maybe musical modernism is better understood by describing what it rejects: the musical culture of ‘the past’, including its fundamentals like tonality, expression through tonality which creates an ‘inner space’ of relationships which can be directly experienced by the listener, and the entire dimension of psychological meaning surrounding it. Modernist music is purely material: only the sound surface counts and its organization or disorganization. There is the ‘modern mentality’ which merely wants to create something new, which is of all times and a normal drive of creativity; and there is ‘modernity as the result of a progressive ideology’ which wants to prescribe change and newness as measurement of artistic quality, which is obvious nonsense. Fortunately there are no longer many people who believe this. Kox wholeheartedly embraced the former modernity but was not interested in the second. For the second meaning of modernity musical talent is not necessary (Cage) and you can apply quasi-sceintific ideas onto the sound surface (Xenakis) or use sound in decorative patterns (Boulez). You can do everything with sound material as soon as you have given-up the fundamentals of music; it is also much easier to ‘write’, in spite of the seemingly ‘complex’ first impressions modernist sound art often presents.

      • A bit depressing. But since “modernism”, as you’ve described it, goes back at least 100 years then isn’t it in need of a new definition or nomenclature? How long can something continue to be regarded as ‘modernism’ when that movement itself now seems to have evolved into that second phase of which you speak? Couldn’t this be closer to ‘post-modernism’ – which only describes what something is not (as you rightly suggest).

        I’ve always found the interest in sound and sound design – as opposed to tonality and music – completely enigmatic. The only thing I could muster to justify the niche market for sound’s ‘decorative patterns’ is hallucinogenic drugs – that those sounds always seem ideal to me as an accompaniment to that intoxicating high or helping obliterate reality.

        • Even odder… declarations of “the end of modernism”.

          I’ve seen commentaries asserting that in several fields.

          What is more modern than modern?

          • Post-modernism, post-Music, you name it, those things that especially John Cage became famous for.

        • One could say that modernism in music began with Schönberg’s opus 23 in the early twenties (the first 12-tone pieces, fixing the avoidance of tonal relationships), and developing over Webern to postwar Boulez, Stockhausen, Xenakis, Nono c.s., until it gradually crumbled towards the end of the century into the delta of postmodernism, which merely means ‘the situation after modernism’, referring to ‘modernism’ as a historical period like ‘renaissance’ and ‘baroque’. But that gives the movement too much honor. Prewar modernism was merely one of the many different trends in new music, with a range of variety including Strauss, Rachmaninoff, Bartok, Debussy, Ravel, Scriabine, Stravinsky etc. etc. So we could say that ‘modern music’ in the sense of ‘new music’ before WW II was very, really VERY varied and pluralistic. After WW II modernism – which was not accepted within the central performance culture (which carried the prestige, received the money and the attention) – tried by ideological propaganda to conquer a place in that culture, and one of the instruments was the defamation of new music that fitted well in concert life. Very useful was the ideology of ‘progress’, in an attempt to present modernism as some kind of scientific research exercise (example: IRCAM). It did not quite work and modernism created its own scene with performances and festivals and ensembles…. but meanwhile it destroyed the fragile relationship between composer, performer and listener, and greatly contributed to the current splintered landscape in which the central performance culture forms an island of a museum culture (in spite of occasional space being offered to the OOMP: the Obligaroty Opening Modern Piece).

          So, musical modernism was a movement within a much broader 20C landscape, but claiming space and attention it never deserved, and on the expense of other types of art music.

          Pure sound art – which is a more defining term for musical modernism – can be beautiful (Morton Feldman) if listened to as sonic decorative patterns. Even in Boulez there are episodes of pleasing interest, if you don’t expect something musically expressive or musically communicative. It is not the existence of modernism which is objectionable but its destructive claims to be music as an art form and its aggressive intrusions in the central performance culture… hence the many confusions.

  • This is a sad article. If there really is an audience out there for Kox, and those listeners don’t have access to his music, then that is unfortunate. However, Borstlap seems to just use his friend as an excuse to go off on his usual idées fixes. His wall of text ends up being less about the goodness of his friend’s music, and more about the badness of whatever music Bortslap doesn’t like. So much negativity probably ends up harming his friend’s chances. Way to treat a “friend and soulmate”.

    • Indeed, reading is difficult, and ad hominam attacks are the easy escape where arguments and information are lacking.

      The text is about the deplorable state of new music in Holland, and how even a great talent and formerly very successful composer like Kox can be treated as an outcast, as in the Soviet Union unwelcome artists were sent to Siberia. People not living in the Netherlands, have difficulty to understand such situation in modern Europe, but there is an important lesson to be learned here: where pluralism, freedom and cultural awareness is being destroyed by state-supported ideology, even if unintentionally, the real cultural assets of a country disappear. There is a link to what is currently happening elsewhere in the world… let it be noticed.

      • And of course Borstlap responds to my comment just like he has to respond to everything here.

        • Mr. Culver is correct in all his observations .Mr. Borfstlap is so lost
          in the desert sands of terminology that if he does trip over a truth it
          is quickly lost to prejudicial observations .One suspects what irks
          Mr. Borstlap most is the politics of getting a performance and an audience
          to listen to what Mr. Borstlap considers worthy music .

          • Well put, Milka. This post puts in me the terrifying thought that this blog becomes “Slipped Disc with John Borstlap” of Jeffrey Biegel or whoever believes over posting is the way to promote their career.

  • Wendy Carlos has a brief verdict on these theorists and composers who insisted on creating music no one would want to hear…

    “They killed music.”

    Studying composition in the 80s, I realized that the university composers running the place probably couldn’t compose so much as a girl scout campfire song if their lives depended on it.

    • Therein lies the conundrum; they already have paid positions in universities and don’t need music to provide a living. Music then becomes a purely abstract academic exercise. Kick them out on their rear ends and then see what they’ll produce which has a semblance of structure and musicality – in order to put food on the table. Until that date most of these so-called composers will remain “academics” who ‘compose’ for a captive ‘audience’.

    • “Composing music which no one would want to hear”
      Correction : music which *you* don’t want to listen to, which is fair enough.
      Xenakis’s Keqrops uploaded in 2014 on YouTube has nearly 4000 listens, and 60 ‘likes’ to so clearly I’m not alone in my attraction to the piece, to take one random example.

      • “Composing music which no one would want to hear” refers to the central performance culture of live classical music, not to other forms of distribution. Since Xenakis is not music, it is no wonder many people like it. But that is not the point.

        • You read it here first, folks, our self-anointed master of good music said it: Xenakis “is not music”.

          Next week: “the danger of listening to the Rolling Stones”.

          • I happen to agree with him about Xenakis. As a composer he was a fine mathematician.

          • Xenakis had difficulties with more conventional aspects of musical composition in Olivier Messiaen’s class. Messiaen told him to concentrate instead on pure mathematical aspekts of sound production.

        • I’d much rather listen to Xenakis than that poseur Arvo Pärt. (I do like what I’ve heard of Kox thus far.)

          • And, of course, you are perfectly entitled to your opinion. There are a couple of pieces I like by Xenakis but mostly I find what he composes cold, detached and abstract. I like music to move me, my emotions and intellect – for it to take me to a place where I’m challenged and each new hearing reveals new things. Above all, it has to be comprised of music notes brought to life from the stave to the instrument. The rest is sound design and rightly belongs in the cinema.

  • I quite liked the Vln Concerto #1 linked here and listened to #2 which I like even better.
    I’d like to hear either concerto live.
    Have never seen Marcovici play here in US, does any other violin player on the US circuit have these concertos in their repertory?

  • On the level of Britten? He’s obviously a gifted composer, but is that level of hyperbole helpful?

    • In fairness, the piece seems to suggests that for awhile Kox enjoyed a profile which was on par with a composer like Britten. That’s how I understood it anyway.

      • …. which is understood VERY well.

        Britten was regularly invited in Holland in the fifties and early sixties, especially by the Concertgebouw Orchestra, to conduct his own works. After the Nuts exercized their campaign, Britten was no longer invited: he belonged to a ‘past’ better be forgotten. Instead, Britten’s profile has never been higher than today, and his music has become part of the regular repertoire, like Shostakovich’s, who was considered in Holland at the time as something beneath contempt.

  • The premis that modernism took precedence in Holland isn’t accurate. Louis Andreissen is a post war Dutch composer who has plenty of exposure and he marks a departure from post-war European serialism and its offshoots.
    The equally striking Matthias Vermeulen (1888-1967) springs more decisively from a modernist tradition and is comparatively sidelined, though his time will come. He made the mistake of being a music critic as well as a composer, and alienated himself from key support!

    • Andriessen is, strictly speaking, indeed no modernist. But he shares the fullblown aggressive modernist mentality: the attack upon the classical music culture and everything it stands for. His incorporating of entertainment elements rings a sympathetic bell with people, who find classical music ‘so heavvy’. I remember a radio interview in which he, quite uninvited and unrelated to the subject, suddenly began to attack the insistence of orchestras to perform Mahler and Bruckner, raging against bourgeois bad taste, apparantly symbolized by the poularity of these two composers. Someone like that does not belong in the central performance culture, which is allright – it’s for small ensemble events for audiences consisting of other old sixties hippies. His music is for people for whom classical music is too difficult and too ‘bourgeois’. Good for them! But please spare me the claims and the sixties-kitsch of an old, angry young man, receiving ‘bourgeois’ Dutch tax payer’s money and then parading as a ‘rebel’.

      Vermeulen was, in my opinion and I think in the opinion of every experienced conductor, an amateurish and musically-challenged composer who could not write for the orchestra which did not deter him from trying many times with the same result. He had no understanding of the European musical tradition, and got ‘high’ on 19C romantic avantgarde-idealism. In Holland, he got his 15 minutes of fame with the Nutcrackers in the sixties because he was the first to write, in the twenties, clusters in one of his symphonies…. very brave, and a full shot into the defenses of the suppressing elites of the time – who could not care less. But that alone does not make him an interesting composer.

      • People who like Andriessen don’t appreciate difficult classical music? One taste doesn’t automatically cancel out another.
        I like De Staat by Andriessen but I also like music which is diametrically opposed to it.

        • That’s very good and pluralistic listening which is much more pluralistic than Andriessen. I am not much interested in LA’s music, but find his posturizing objectionable.

  • I´m a great admirer of the music of Hans Kox, whom I consider one of the greatest Dutch composers _ever_ .
    I know almost all his works, do have all hist discs, and I attent allconcerts his music is beinng played: luckily more and more and more.
    And I’m not the only one, believe me!
    Here and official site from Music Centre Netherlands, with an intro wrote by one of the best Dutch musicologists and writers, Bas van Putten, who also wrote a great book on the composer (very recommended!):

  • My review from the recording of the opera Dorian Gray:

    And from the performance of his Anne Frank cantata aht the Concertgebouw year ago:

    More information about the cantata, with an interview with the bariton Bastiaan Everink who sang it:

    That´s all in Dutch, but SD have more Dutch readers, who are now (why, actually) silent.
    Otherwise: Google helps.

  • I will take Mr Borstlap’s recommendations about this interesting composer and listen to what I can find, which was the primary purpose of his article.

    The secondary one, which seems to me to present a quite extreme view of what contitutes music, is a great deal more problematic. All thinking musicians have long considered – venerably – this issue, and while I do not find it helpful to promote one essential view at the expense of another, I can sympathise with a view which is deeply and sincerely met, even if it isn’t my own.

    In a nutshell (not a nutcracker), Mr Bortslap appears to feel very strongly that the tradition of true music is rooted in a sort of superiority of tonality, (with, it seems, a certain regard for some music which has rejected, or superseded this fundamental aspect of music).

    Yet this isn’t an issue of new music; it has been an essential part of the duality of music for thousands of years. There is no music without this. Even Schenker, whose life’s work was to promote the supposed superiority of the tonal cadence by defining it precisely, admitted that the most interesting and profound elements of music lie in complexity and dissonance, not simplicity.

    The fact that much popular commercial music of today still derives from the general recognition and repetition of a very simple tonal model seems to me to be a very basic and retrogressive example of this dogma, although I am sure Mr Borstlap doesn’t intend this. I think he seems to be saying that his nutcrackers are the dogmatists against music.

    I suppose, then, it is a question of degree, and to what extent the departure from standard-bearing tonality results in non-music; obviously there is a lot of potential dogma on both sides.

    A very, very big subject, but so good to touch on it. Here’s a very interesting little quoate, which I like and which hope can be taken in the right way (I really don’t want to offend anybody):

    “The word ‘education’ comes from the root ‘e’ from ‘ex’, out, and ‘duco’, Iead. It means a leading out. To me education is a leading out of what is already there in the pupil’s soul. To Miss Mackay it is a putting in of something that is not there, and that is not what I call education, I call it intrusion, from the Latin root prefix ‘in’ and the stem ‘trudo’, I thrust. Miss MacKay’s method is to thrust a lot of information into the pupil’s head; mine is a leading out of knowledge, and that is true education as is proved by the root meaning. Now Miss MacKay has accused me of putting ideas into my girls’ heads, but in fact it is quite the opposite. Never let it be said that I put ideas into your heads.”

    (Muriel Spark: the Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, p 45)

    • It is all come to how many angels can dance on the head of a pin nonsense . “true music ” ” superiority of tonality” “non music ” standard bearing tonality.All ridiculous

    • “In a nutshell (not a nutcracker), Mr Bortslap appears to feel very strongly that the tradition of true music is rooted in a sort of superiority of tonality, (with, it seems, a certain regard for some music which has rejected, or superseded this fundamental aspect of music). – Yet this isn’t an issue of new music; it has been an essential part of the duality of music for thousands of years. There is no music without this.” Very mysterious sentences…. which duality has been part of music for thousands of years? Tonality and non-tonality? Music and noise?

      The distinction between music as an art form (and even, as entertainment music), and pure sound or noise, is not so difficult to grasp and is not an extreme point of view. Music is an art form which makes use of the interrelatedness of different pitches which are ordered in such a way – more or less fixed – that they form a scale. Notes can have different kind of relationships with each other, due to their mutual ‘attraction’ through the proportions of the overtone series (‘harmonics’) which is a natural given. Pure noise does not have this kind of relationships with more or less fixed pitches (‘notes’). Empirically it has been demonstrated that art music can create structures and narratives which are experienced emotionally, we recognize them as such, without the intervention of the conscious mind (it is a ‘language’ of the emotions not of words). For that reason, music ‘means’ / ‘communicates’ always something which is not literally in the sonic surface of the notes. Pure sound and noise has no other meaning than itself, which can include referential meaning in the sense of representing something outside the work, like an unmade bed refers to the untidiness of Miss Emin, but it is not a work of art because it has not been worked-through aesthetically and artistically. Music is abstract in appearance but emotionally concrete, pure sound is itself. When pure sound is organized in works of art, the meaning is in its sonic reality, which can be referential like Miss Emin’s unmade bed, but it does not ‘say’ something, there is no “message” in it, the medium is the “message”.

      Kox’ achievement is that he often used contemporary means like dissonance, electronic material, permutational structures, postmodern polystylistic structures, etc. etc., but uses them in an expressive, which is: traditional, way. It is mosaic-like music, eclectic, but personalized and everything under the umbrella of a tonal narrative. That is why he could not be placed ‘properly’ in the cultural wars of Holland at the time, and was attacked. And nowadays he is not ‘hip’ and superficial enough.

  • Fine tribute by Mr. Borstlap. But one is left to wonder, is the YouTube link to the violin concerto copyrighted material? Who ones the rights to this performance?

    • It was a production of the label ‘Composers Voice’, which was produced by the Dutch state-subsidized publishing house Donemus / Muziekgroep Nederland, before it collapsed due to money scandals. Nowadays, Donemus is run as a private enterprise without state subsidy and successfully so, it has been set-up entirely anew with different people. I think they may have the rights, if they had taken-over the production from the former construction.

  • I’ve just found another application for the avant garde; sounds for healing and relaxation. So, not just sound art for cinema – sound for healing. How good is that? Of course, it shouldn’t be confused with real music! I know I don’t. But you ‘composers’ out there – a nice little earner here for your ‘sounds’!

    • This is not sonic art but lukewarm limonade music without any serious structure, it is music used like sonic art, and a kitschy consumer item. Much more interesting and effective for meditation is then Morton Feldman’s Coptic Light, which is sonic art:

      I think this is very beautiful and one of the best uses of the concept of sonic art. It is itself, but beautifully so, like the abstract patters of carpets or islamitic architecture – but much more vague and impressionistic. It is like seeing the Alhambra in Granada with quite bad eye-sight or through dirty glasses.

  • Over the last few years, the stark reduction in Dutch state subsidy for the arts driven by a conservative agenda has led to many small, more experimental or niche, less mainstream ensembles and companies to go to the wall. Many Dutch composers – and other creators – have been sidelined and potentially ‘forgotten’ by the concomitant reduction in performance opportunity. I lived in Holland in the 1970s and I remember Mr Kox being a respected presence. His subsequent neglect may just as likely be circumstantial as anything else. Mr Andriessen is a distinguished, fine and original composer, by the way and does not deserve the mean-spirited opprobrium.

    • Kox was neglected twice, first (after an impressive career high) due to a campaign by ‘idealists’, the second time (after his rediscovery and renewed interest) by the general break-down of state support for the arts, so that orchestras got cold feet concerning programming Kox. His chamber music is still occasionally performed and successfully so, but does not attract much attention. Indeed this second low has been shared by many music profs. But that does not mean that for such a prominent composer, at his age and with such a body of work, an exception should not be made, since there are not many of those talents in the country.

      Both Peter Schat and Louis Andriessen wrote music as an expression of loud-mouthed, self-publicizing juvenile sixties hippiedom. After Schat exposed his mediocrity when he ‘turned towards tradition’ with the help of a small device called ‘tone clock’, his work gradually disappeared from sight; Andriessen continued to cultivate his teenage image and serves audiences who prefer that to classical music – allright. (That is not “mean-spirited opprobrium” but correct observation if measured against standards of the central performance culture; if measured against the general standard of Dutch new music as written today, LA writes staggering master pieces.)

      • I’m sure Mr Andriessen would be enlightened by your opinion of his work. Is this derived from his use of saxophones, electric guitars and other instruments unfamiliar to Mozart and other classical composers? Have you thought of writing to him?

        • I assume Mr A has already discovered his own genius in respect to instrumentation, and probably looks down on Mr M who still is such a hit with the suppressing bourgeoisie.

          It is understandable that Mr A, stemming from a background where the men wore jackets and butterflies, and cultivated bourgeois manners, and being the son of Hendrik A, a very respectable church organist and traditional composer, found in the cause of the liberation of the working class from oppressive elites an opportunity to set-out a musical territory of his own by providing the right music for the proletarian barricades. Alas, it was all just a game.

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