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The people of the Concertzender: Thijs Bonger

thu 20 dec 2018

Thijs Bonger: musical story teller. According to himself, he has made at least 38 independent programmes and series. Titles include What !?..Is this by Czerny? Mendelssohn and the Elves, Anatoli Ljadov andSchubert’s unique virtuoso eruption (about the Wanderer Fantasy). His magnum opus must be the 38 episodes of Herkansing voor Hummel which portrayed the Bohemian Johan Nepomuk Hummel (1778-1837) as famous pianist, composer and innovative teacher . Thijs is currently working on the series Genial Friends, about the musical friendship between Josef Haydn and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. All these episodes can be heard via Concertzender.nl

Thijs, where does the urge to write come from?
Writing is a delightful occupation.You are forced to organise your normally disparate thoughts so that someone else can follow them. When I write reviews restrictions such as deadlines and numbers of words seem to have a refining effect. Apparently under pressure I make the right choices.’ What’s important and what’s not?’ The urge to write about music and composers arises from the realisation that music has a lot of effect on me, and I would like to share that enjoyment with others.Sometimes I feel like a missionary wandering around saying: ‘Just listen to this’. Many lovers of classical music restrict themselves, both qua taste and maybe out of fear of the unknown. Recently I wrote an introduction to The Fyling Dutchman, to be played by the Reisopera in Breda . I called the opera ‘ Wagner for beginners’. I know a lot of musical friends in Breda and after the brilliant performance some of them came up to me and said: ‘Thijs,your article persuaded me. I found it fantastic music and nothing like as heavy as I expected’.

What elements make up a good story?
When I write about a composer, I want to find out what sort of person they were, including their weaknesses. I don’t like uncritical worship, and I find it important to place them in their time and social environment. I stick to the facts:it mustn’t be fictio, but not too dry or academic. Placing music on a pedestal or sprinkling a story with technical jargon makes music completely inaccessible .A biographical approach is often the best way in.

What should everyone know about Hummel?
That in his time he was the most famous composer in Europe.That he wrote groundbreaking works which were admired by the highly critical Chopin and that Hummel had so much contact with currently better known colleagues his life simply lent itself to musical history.

How would you describe the friendship between Haydn and Mozart?
Very deep and with enromous mutual respect,despite the 24 year age difference. Mozart was known, pig-headed as he was,practically never to accept criticism from anyone.But Haydn’s was always welcome .He often made the suggested changes in his works.In the opposite direction Haydn was happy to be infuenced by his young friend.The friendship was completely disinterested and there was absolutely no suggestion of jealousy.
In comparison with Mozart and Beethoven Haydn is often less valued. But he is definitely valued by musicians. You could say a sort of ‘Composer’s composer.
Shame that people are so intimidated by his enormous oeuvre: more than 100 symphonies and almost 70 string quartets: where do you start?

What story would you like to tell?
A few years ago I got a long way with a listening book about Dvořák, when my publisher announced he was stopping with publishing physical cd’s. Because I thought- maybe wrongly- that my public didn’t like downloads,I stopped.I would love toget into Dvorak in depth.Especially because of his intensely lovely melodies of which many of his colleagues were so jealous. Brahms once confessed he could happily have lived with what Dvorak had thrown away.

What more can we expect from Bonger en De Graaf?
A lot, as long as we can manage things. I am still very curious and constantly finding out about things that I would like to tell other about. I sometimes compare this process with the way the Olympic Rings connect. For instance, when working on a composers’ life story, I might find out that he took lessons from someone I haven’t heard about. That starts me looking up who that was. This way, my universe is ever expanding.