Henk Badings (1907-1987), Beautiful Music by a Controversial Individual

Henk Badings was an intelligent, productive composer who left behind an impressive œuvre of over 600 works. Most of them are of a high musical caliber that has been appreciated throughout the world. But in the Netherlands, their creator’s name continues to be associated with a controversial war record.

Henk Badings (source: Netherlands Music Institute)
Henk Badings (source: Netherlands Music Institute)
During the Second World War, Badings collaborated with the Germans to develop a new, lasting “Dutch musical landscape” with improved working conditions for musicians. Although he energetically offered help to people during these years, his disputed past involving his actions during the war years continued to haunt him for decades after the war. Was Badings simply a composer on the wrong side who wrote good music?

Pre-war Years
Badings was born in Java and as an eight-year-old orphan was taken in by a clergyman and his family in the Dutch city of Gorinchem. His guardian insisted that he enroll not at the conservatory but at the Technical University in Delft to study mining engineering. Although he took composition lessons with Willem Pijper while he was a student, Badings was mainly a self-taught composer. The Concertgebouw performed his First Symphony as early as 1930. A short time later, the conductor Willem Mengelberg discovered Badings’s exceptional talent for composition, and many premieres of his orchestral works, conducted by Mengelberg himself, followed. Meanwhile, Badings had traded in an academic job in Delft for a teaching position at the Amsterdam Muzieklyceum and the Rotterdam Conservatory. In the 1930s, Badings would grow to become the most successful composer in the Netherlands. By that point, his music was being published by Schott in Germany and by Universal in Austria.

During the War
At an early stage, Badings was recruited by Jan Goverts, head of the Music Section of the Departement van Volksvoorlichting en Kunsten [“DVK, Department of Public Information and the Arts”] as an organizer and head of the Muziekgilde [“Music Guild”], a situation he was far from happy about. On March 9, 1941, he wrote to Goverts, “First of all, I do not believe that [...] am the right man to be appointed chairman of the Music Guild. I know that there are many baseless rumors circulating, but be that as it may, one or two things are gnawing at my conscience. [..] In the Music Guild, I see a non-political instrument wielded socially and politically by a conductor and the government in a broader organic setting. If the Music Guild is intended as a political instrument, its management should be entrusted to political hands, not to mine.” [1] At his own request, Badings was appointed to a less prominent position in the Music Guild - he was named chairman of the Composers Group.

On September 1, 1941, Badings was pressured into accepting an appointment as director of the State Conservatory in The Hague, a post that had become vacant earlier that year after Sem Dresden had been dismissed by the Nazis because he was Jewish. Badings used his good contacts with the German regime to protect Dresden from being deported to Germany. He also appointed Dresden’s wife, Jacoba Dresden-Dhont, as a voice teacher at the conservatory in The Hague, thus securing the Dresden family’s income. Badings is a typical example of a certain dichotomy present in the mindset of many who collaborated with the Germans. Was he “right or wrong?” or “wrong and right?”

War Compositions
From 1940 to 1945, Badings wrote a large number of compositions, some of which were commissioned by various organizations:
  • he composed the often performed Sinfonischer Prolog in 1942 to commemorate the centennial anniversary of the Vienna Symphony Orchestra
  • his widely discussed dramatic opera De nachtwacht (1942–1943) had its origins in a commission by the controversial Nederlandse Kameropera [“Dutch Chamber Opera”]; the work would not be premiered until 1950 in Antwerp
  • the Fanfare de Jeanne d’Arc for strings, harp, timpani, and percussion was commissioned by the government in 1944
  • Badings dedicated his Fourth Symphony, also from 1944, to conductor Eduard Flipse; the work was premiered in Rotterdam in 1947
  • his Violin Concerto No. 3 was also composed in 1944

In addition, Badings wrote various chamber works, including solo sonatas for piano, violin, cello, and harp; four song cycles; and Java en poèmes for choir, which dates from 1940 and evokes memories of the country of his birth.

After the War
Immediately after the war, the Ereraad voor de Muziek [“Music Honor Council”] banned Badings from participating in public musical life in any way for a period of ten years. He appealed to the Centrale Ereraad [“Central Honor Council”] to reverse this decision, however, and it devoted two sessions to the Badings affair in December 1946. The council did not impose a professional ban on Badings with regard to performances of his music or to his teaching position. But it did ban him from becoming a member of any professional music association and from conducting editorial work for music periodicals until November 5, 1947. This represented a considerable reduction in the first sentence imposed on him.

In his post-war compositions, Badings showed an unflagging interest in experimental music, which encompassed such elements as micro-intervals, new tonal systems (e.g. the thirty-one-note tonal system), and electronic music. This interest drew a great deal of attention to his work, particularly outside the Netherlands. Fully in line with the convictions set out in his article De ivoren toren van de componist [“The Composer’s Ivory Tower”], Badings also composed several hundred works for a variety of choral settings and wind bands after the war, thus providing the world of 'amateur music-making' with edifying, demanding compositions. “Badings’s works composed between 1930 and 1960 are of an international caliber. Yet his later works are also well loved, particularly in the US, and are characterized by unbridled energy and strength of mind. Up until shortly after his death, Badings was one of the most often performed Dutch composers for almost half a century, and at the same time, as a person, one of the most controversial.” [1]

Author: Geert van den Dungen

  • Sinfonischer Prolog, 1942 (1), Henk Badings
  • Sinfonischer Prolog, 1942 (2), Henk Badings
  • Nederlandse muziek in de 20ste eeuw ["Netherlands Music in the 20th Century"], Leo Samama; Amsterdam University Press - Salomé, 2006 [1]