Musical life continued throughout WWII. At first the Germans let musicians carry on freely, but German ideology soon began to impose itself. The first anti-Jewish measures were introduced in early October 1940, and musicians were collectively registered with the Kultuurkamer ["Dutch Chambre of Culture"] over the course of 1941. Music became a state affair, and was to remain so after the war.
During the occupation, the Netherlands had two governments: a German and a Dutch one. The head of the German government, called the Reichskommissariat für die besetzten niederlandischen Gebiete, was Dr. Arthur Seyss-Inquart. A great lover of music, he organized many concerts at his own home in The Hague. He also enjoyed visiting concerts of the Concert Hall orchestra conducted by Willem Mengelberg, the chief conductor who was known for his explicit pro-German sentiments.
Establishment of the Department of Public information and the Arts
Five months into the occupation, the Dutch government was expanded with a ministry of propaganda, which included the ‘art’ sector. This new Department of Public information and the Arts (Departement van Volksvoorlichting en Kunsten, DVK) was established entirely on nationalist-socialist premises, willingly obeying the ideological and administrative directives of the Reichskommissariat. The staff members were generally members of the NSB, the Dutch National Socialist Movement. The civil service skills of most were far below par, the only exception being the head of the department of Music, Jan Goverts, who was both a musician and a journalist. Goverts was also very much an idealist, who managed to introduce a number of important social improvements for musicians.
Urge to cooperate in the first months of occupation
At an earlier stage, however, the shock of the occupation in May 1940 had severely stirred up the Dutch art scene. The artists were overcome by a sudden urge to foster unity and cooperation. This had already resulted, in the same month of May, in the establishment of a Dutch Organization of Artists. After all, in unity lies strength. By trying to keep matters in its own hand, the organization could possibly build a strong position from which to work with the occupation forces. However, it soon became clear that the effort was futile. First, internal disputes hampered the effort, and subsequently the organization was disbanded by the authorities.
Call for Dutch music
Those first months of occupation also heard a widespread call for authentic and especially Dutch music. Many Dutch citizens felt betrayed by the German occupation and now very much feared an unwelcome German meddling with Dutch musical life. “In the awesome battle that we are now experiencing”, said the musicologist Karel Bernet Kempers, "we are also defending our fortress, the fortress of beauty, in which the most precious treasures of mankind have been gathered throughout the ages.” The composer Marius Monnikendam wrote: "Has the art of music in the Netherlands been so poor, so anemic throughout history that, now everyone is calling for national deliberation and other fine phrases, there is nothing to be discovered in our own tonal arts that deserves a place of honor?”
The article that provoked most discussion appeared in October 1940, written by the composer Henk Badings. Badings pointed to the divide between the composer and the audience, and the ensuing exclusivity of modern music. "The dramatic events of our time [...] have aroused in almost everyone a sense of solidarity with the community to a degree as did not previously exist. May the Dutch composer, with this awareness, have the courage to climb down from his ivory tower.”
The composer Willem Landré did not consider the situation hopeless. “The occupiers of our fatherland should be given the respect that is their due. For the Germans, music is a vital need, and they have always been willing to make significant sacrifices in the interest of a flourishing musical life. I therefore remain persuaded that those who once again return to work in the world of music shall not meet with the slightest resistance from German side, but rather can count on their cooperation.”
Music becomes a state affair, Aryanization of musical life
But Landré’s hope soon turned out to be misplaced. From October 1940 onwards, the music world was progressively purged of Jews as part of the Aryanization program. As 1941 drew on, it became clear that there was not much ‘cooperation’ to be expecte d from the Germans. The roles were gradually reversed: the Germans now set the policy and the Dutch cooperated with them. Art, including music, was to become a state affair, entirely in conformity with Nazi ideology.
Establishment of the Dutch Chamber of Culture (Kultuurkamer)
Jan Goverts had begun work energetically at the start of 1941. In his view, the pre-war music world had been a pitiful affair, with a permanent lack of funding stifling any possibility of a vibrant music scene. The chronic quarreling between the different music interest groups had also not helped matters much. The new order, brought by the German occupation, offered an opportunity for change. One of his first goals was to establish a Music Chamber (later, Music Guild) after German example. This would be an organization of all musicians, as part of an overarching corporative Chamber of Culture. Despite his strenuous efforts, it was not until the spring of 1942 that the Nederlandsche Kultuurkamer was established. All ‘culture workers’ were obliged to register. Whoever failed to register was barred from all cultural jobs. Jews were not permitted to register with the Chamber of Culture, nor were Negroes, Malayans and Indonesians.
Substantial salary increases for musicians
Goverts saw it as very important that the government finally start providing financial support for Dutch musical life. He wanted to see an end to the meager salaries and sometimes abject secondary labor conditions that musicians had to contend with. He saw this as the government’s duty, and as something that would benefit the entire Dutch population. The first results of his new policy, approved by the Reichscommissariat, started becoming noticeable in the second half of 1941. Suddenly, state prizes were awarded to a large number of musicians, and several composers were commissioned to create works. Goverts' greatest triumph, however, was a new sala ry policy for symphony orchestras, which became effective in October 1941. From one day to the next, musicians’ salaries increased hugely, thanks to a substantial increase in government subsidy for the orchestras.
Naturally, the government demanded a great number of things in return for this concern and the royal financial gestures. Dutch musicians were hit by a deluge of measures, policies and prohibitions. All these matters were carefully monitored by the department and the Reichscommissariat. First of all, the music repertoire was adjusted to suit the demands of the occupier. Music by Jewish, English, Polish (except Chopin) and later also Russian and American composers was prohibited, as was music that was considered entartet (degenerate), such as atonal and other overly modern music. Later, French music performance was also curtailed, as the orchestras started showing an ever-greater predilection for French music, at the expense of the German music maestros.
Dutch music made mandatory
The DVK in turn attached much importance to the performance of Dutch music, although even Goverts did not manage to provide a clear definition of the term. In exchange for the subsidy increase, the orchestras were required to devote twenty to thirty percent of their programs to Dutch music. The programs had to be submitted to the department for approval in advance. The most popular composer was Johan Wagenaar, followed at a distance by Henk Badings and Hendrik Andriessen.
Propaganda through culture
Cultural propaganda was a natural extension of the new politics. Musicians were expected to lend their cooperation to cultural manifestations. This not only concerned political goals such as Vreugde en Arbeid (‘Joy and Work’), Winterhulp (‘Winter help’) and Frontzorg ('Warfront care'), but also performances for the German Army. Cultural exchange with Germany was considered important, but the consequences of war hampered the development of this program. Nevertheless, the entire Concert Hall orchestra travelled to Vienna in April 1942 to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Wiener Philharmoniker. For the occasion Henk Badings composed the Feestelijke proloog (Festive Prologue) and pianist Cor de Groot dazzled the audience in the Variations symphoniques by César Franck.
Classification in terms of Nazi sympathy and quality
In the first year of war, two lists circulated in the Reichscommissariat that are historically interesting, but that had no further significance. An unknown author classified 'nach kritischem Masz-stabe' Dutch composers and performing musicians ('exportfahige niederlandische reproduzierende Künstler') into three categories. Sometimes the author added a comment such as 'Groszer Erfolg in Deutschland' or 'Will nicht in Deutschland gespielt werden', and he also noted whether the persons were Jews or half-Jews. Four composers belonged to the first category: Alphons Diepenbrock, Johan Wagenaar, Willem Pijper ('Zerebral, konstruiert, mitunter genial. Anfange einer Gesundung zeigen sich') and Henk Badings ('der bedeutendste Komponist in Holland seit 1600. Genialer Neutoner von europ. Bedeutung').
The other list started with the pianists. 'Supra-Klasse Gieseking gibt es nicht', followed by four pianists of the first category: Willem Andriessen, George van Renesse, Cor de Groot and Theo van der Pas. Of the violinists ('Klasse Kulenkampff gibt es nicht'), only the Hungarian-born Zoltán Székely qualified for the first category, but it was uncertain whether he was Jewish. 'Vokalisten wie die ersten Bayreuther Sänger(iWillem Mengelberg. He headed the list, followed by Eduard van Beinum (category I).nnen) gibt es nicht; mehr Oratorium und Lied' was written above the list of vocalists, of whom only Dora Versteegh, Henk Noort and Jo Vincent ('Deutschfeindlich') qualified for the first category. Two brass musicians also scored high: the hobo players Jaap and Haakon Stotijn. Just one Dutch musician was judged to be of 'Supra-Klasse', and that was
Mengelberg’s contentious position in the Netherlands
For the Germans, Mengelberg’s position as the most celebrated conductor of the Netherlands was undisputed. However, in the Netherlands his reputation suffered greatly during the 1930s on account of his outspoken admiration for Nazi Germany. His a-political stance was seen by many as rigid and simply foolish. An interview in a German newspaper in May 1940, in which he commented favorably on the German occupation of the Netherlands, spelled his ruin. From the most admired Dutch citizen at the start of the thirties he became a conductor viewed with distrust, who lost all his credibility with his orchestra as well as with much of the public.
Huge concert attendance during the war years
During the years of occupation, the concert halls and other music venues drew ever larger crowds. This development also occurred in theaters and cinemas, where attendance figures increased spectacularly, especially during the second half of the war. Clearly, the desire for relaxation was greater than ever before.
Another typical war phenomenon was the spread of house concerts. Following the dismissal of Jewish musicians, these concerts were organized particularly in Amsterdam and The Hague. From 1943 onwards they spread across the entire country. Especially for musicians who refused to register with the Chamber of Culture and were therefore sidelined, these concerts offered an opportunity to perform in private settings. By organizing such concerts, people had a sense of committing a small yet significant act of defiance.
Apathy and resistance among musicians
Overall, musicians experienced the occupation in the same way as most of the Dutch population: with a sense of apathy. Under the given circumstances, one simply had to try and make the best of it. A few refused to submit to the demands of the occupier. They withdrew from public music life at an early stage, and some of them joined the resistance. This applied especially to Jan van Gilse, though others such as Bertus van Lier, Marius Flothuis and Henriëtte Bosmans also took a personal stance. Others initially remained active in public musical life, but decided to withdraw during the second half of the war in protest against the Chamber of Culture.
Author: Pauline Micheels