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Composer withdraws all his works in anti-government protest

Cornelis de Bondt’s final work, Das Lebewohl, will be premiered tonight in Amsterdam at Muziekgebouw aan ‘t IJ by the Dutch Radio Chamber Philharmonic Orchestra, which will soon cease to exist due to government cuts.

The composer is so angry about this that he has decided to withdraw all of his works from further performance in Holland and made his views clear in a searing manifesto on Facebook.  He writes:

I’ve pondered for a long time over my personal farewell – not just on a personal level but also on the position of composing, the contemporary music practice and art, education and science in general. It seems inevitable to ultimately return to a white, empty space. Not because I myself feel empty, but the space I will operate in should be such. That’s why I’ve decided to withdraw my complete works from the Donemus catalogue and remove it from the public space as much as possible. It is inevitable.

This is for me the only possible way in which an artist can respond to the rancorous, inept and loveless policies of politicians, bureaucrats and – following in their trail – all the executives in the musical field, and I really do mean all of them.

Cornelis de Bondt

The issue has been taken up by major Dutch media:

Parool: “The composer is cancelled”

Trouw: “Do not perform my compositions any longer”
NRC: “The market is poisoning my music”
Will it change anything? Certainly not, but it does remind us that composers have a right to be unheard, as well as to be heard.
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  1. I don’t see how withdrawing one’s works can be seen as an effective protest. it’s too easy an action and then there will be only silence, not good for a composer whose music is worth listening to. What about writing an opera – another Grand Macabre – in which he lampoons all of the politicians and bureaucrats that have brought about the demise of music in Holland?

    • Oy vey. (What’s Dutch for “oy vey”?)

      Peter, I understand the attraction (and occasionally even the value) of rhetorical overstatement. But classical music in Holland is far from dead. We in the States – most of us in all of Anglophony (to adapt a French term) – would dearly love to have the level of classical activity on a per capita basis that Holland has, even after the horrible funding cuts.

      • Johan Herrenberg says:

        The Yiddish expression “Oy vey ” is closely related to the Dutch ‘O wee’ /German ‘O weh’…

  2. remember when composers would create more music as a statement against governments? remember how self-expression is kind of one of the points of creating art? who is this guy anyways?

  3. In tonight’s pre-concert talk on the radio Cornelis de Bondt has explained a little: he is withdrawing his work, not per se as a protest against budget cuts. But primarily because he is of the opinion that true art on the one hand and market enterprise on the other do not go together. He adds that he has nothing against entertainment, now or in the past (Verdi or Rossini opera’s or for example well made Hollywood movies were mentioned).

    And in addition he has said as much that if someone would approach him to work with him to reinvent or recreate one of his existing pieces, he would consider to work on this together with the musician. But he doesn’t want his music played any longer in the old-fashioned way (pick up score from library and perform the written notes).

    • But has he written anything someone would actually want to hear?

      • Martin Locher says:

        I just listened to his “Het gebroken oor”, which, at least to me, is an interesting work. You can listen to it here:

        But saying that. One composer more or less on the global map doesn’t really matter. There are so many excellent works out there, which are way too seldomly performed. If we stick to Dutch composers, I can for example mention the 3rd symphonies of Jan Van Gilse (named “elevation”) and Bernhard Zweers (named “To my fatherland”).

        • neil van der linden says:

          Het Gebroken Oor comes certainly from his most inspired period.

          • I am amazed about the term ‘inspired’ in relation to the ‘Broken Ear’. Bits from music, but without making any musical sense, are channeled through a conceptual mincing machine, leading to disconnected gestures and textures. It is obviously the product of a rational, materialistic mind, as is proper for sonic art, but I would hold the term ‘inspired’ – which is a psychological one – in reserve for psychological art, like music. We don’t judge Mondriaan in the same context as Velasquez……. or compare a cut corpse in formaldehyde by Damien Hirst with a Vermeer painting.

        • I recommend the vocal music of Daan Manneke.

          • neil van der linden says:

            De Bondt is a highly skilled composer. And there have been schools of highly skilled composers in the Netherlands. There was an environment that encouraged production in large quantities, but that environment also inadvertently promoted shelving pieces after their premiere, and the crowd of connoisseurs moved on to the next premiere. Now there is a situation of coming down, partly due to the economical situation, but also partly due to a reevaluation of this kind of arts policy. That can also lead to bitterness, and I think De Bondt’s bitterness is a mistake.

          • I protest at the description of De Bondt as a ‘highly skilled composer’. He always has been a modernist, in the sense that the notes in his work do not relate to each other: he is a highly skilled sound artist. Sonic art is an art form fundamentally different from music, like photograpy is fundamentally different from painting. His ‘subjects’ are destruction, pulverization, absence, in short: nihilistic meditations. The unfounded claims of sonic art being music have greatly contributed to the current loss of respect for new music in general and the change of funding policy (in Holland) towards the outdated ‘hip’ and pop confections, equally inappropriately claimed to be ‘new music’. And De Bondt’s stance as a ‘spokesman’ of high art is, given the nature of his own work, an absurd claim.

          • Martin Locher says:

            You name De Bondt’s choice of subject as destruction. There is an audience for this. Swiss TV regularly broadcasts controlled demolitions live – although some viewers would prefer the TV headquarters would implode. But that’s another subject. Destroying stuff can be fun. Who doesn’t like to pop bubble wrap bubbles?

            If a composers tries to put those little destructions and larger ones into music, he shall be free to give it a try. It will be up to the audiences to decide, if they heard music or just a cacophony of sounds.

            A handful of the new compositions will be enjoyed for a long time to come. The vast majority however will, justified or not, be ignored.

            Unfortunately, what you mentioned about money going to the “right direction” is a way too important part. Composers with a big network have a much higher chance to be performed. In many cases, I wish the network would collapse.

            Saying that about compositions, I would mention that about all forms of music. In my eyes, most music CDs bought today, the buyers can, without a hint of guilt, use for this:

        • Martin Locher says:

          Don’t know why I found “Het gebrooken ear” interesting. Just heard it again and see no reason why I shall listen to it a 3rd time. As the composer does take himself off the map, I wish him good bye. Maybe one day I’ll find him again in Radio 4′s archive.

          Will now refocus my “Youtubing” back to Corentin Boissier’s collectionCB and collectionCB2 accounts where better music can be found. Staying with the subject of Dutch composers: Corentin has uploaded over 1000 seldomly to never commercially recorded works. Just 7 of them Dutch: i.e. Roel van Oosten’s Dyas for orchestra, which surely would be a nice concert overture for some occations.

    Let it be known that Cornelis de Bondt is, together with Jan de Vriend and Klaas de Vries, representative of hardcore modernism, i.e. sonic art, in the Netherlands, the art form which exclusively operates on the level of acoustical material and its rationalistic processing, without any consideration of the psychological, musical, communicative dimensions typical of music. He has been on the board of the music fund (the organisation which is supposed to fund new music) and on its advisory committees, who carry-out the selection process, so that De Bondt could influence the flow of tax money into the ‘right’ direction, a system he and hardcore modernism have generously profitted from. But alas, the modernist project has run its course and ended in a dead end street – who wants to hear this stuff which celebrates pulverized sound material, processed through aggressive sonic mincing machines, with titles like ‘Carcass’, ‘Blood’, Broken Ear’? Who wants to eat gravel, sand, bloody corpses and be told that it’s good for you?

    Yet, De Bondt has taken it upon himself to voice indignation about the ‘threat’ to ‘high art’, of which he – incredibly – thought himself a representative in the Netherlands, from the real world which indeed seems to slowly erode its cultural assets. The central performance culture, where in the past new works by contemporary composers were awaited with great expectation and curiosity (Debussy, Ravel, Prokofiev, Stravinsky, Bartok, etc. etc. etc.) has turned into a museum culture because postwar contemporary music tuerned away from the basic tenets of this culture, among which are tonality, the notion of expression, narrative, development, and audible structure. ‘New music’ split itself off from a still developing tradition, and isolated itself. Under the influence of utopian thinking, musical norms were left behind because of being ‘outdated’. The result is people like De Bondt who have no idea what music actually is, what a musical culture is, and who operate merely in the subsidized circuit – the glass bell of mutually-congratulating circuits totally separated from the reality of any musical culture. After a life of generous earnings through the Dutch music fund and his job at the conservatory – which is contrary to the intention of the funding idea of composers which had been meant to create time free from such obligations – and being patted on the back by Dutch music critics (who knows them? which music critic has ever earned a statue?), the real problem of contemporary music has escaped such people. And this problem is: how to compose new music which would be compatible with the basis of musical culture, and be an enrichment to the existing reperoire. Sonic artists like De Bondt now find themselves in the void they created for themselves all the time. They should opt for a conversion, like the frenchman Nicolas Bacri who began as a brilliant IRCAM Wunderkind with a Boulezbian music better than the master, and returned to an exploration of tradition, creating a very personal but expressive and lyrical musical language.

    I am still amazed by the absurd arrogance of De Bondt, thinking that his personal frustration and artistic cul-de-sac would mean something to the musical world, which is still alive and kicking – outside Holland, that is.

    • Dr. Marc Villeger says:

      Thank you, as your comment allowed me to discover Nicolas Bacri.

    • neil van der linden says:

      Well said John. Without intending to cowardly bash the system you describe at the moment it is weakening, the system, as you describe it, had so many dictatorial traits, that one does not need to have too much pity on the other side as well/
      Maybe even in order to preserve what had been good of it, it would serve for instance the Muziekgebeouw aan t IJ or the Fonds for the Podiumkunsten well, or maybe some of the ensembles, to organise a thorough debate on this Something the MNC and Donemus never dared to, Partly because they were so close to the hardcore nucleus of this nepotist movement.

        From a rational point of view, a discussion should be possible, but in Holland that is expecting too much.
        In the past I have myself tried, in vain, to get something like a serious, objective and especially: rational, discussion off the ground. First attempt: at a chamber music festival which I had organized in Haarlem in 1998 which would open with such a discussion – I had good speakers but from the fund music camp nobody dared to accept the invitation (Jan Peter Wagemans, one of these fund composers, instead sent me a fax accusing me of rightwing fascistoid leanings). Second attempt was a conference at the University of Amsterdam, including some speakers from abroad: ‘Redefining Musical Identities’. This time I was involved in the organization anonymously, so that fund composers would finally show-up, but only Klaas de Vries came along, admitting in his talk that the ‘modernist project’ had failed. (He never drew any conclusion from this…… while being on the board of the music fund and in its selection comitees.) Currently I am involved in such a discussion project in Berlin, together with an orchestra; there, people are more grown-up and more serious about music. I have long since given-up on the Netherlands. In fact, it is – behind the thin façade of a well-organized Western country – not really a European country, because of lacking in cultural identity and cultural awareness. THIS is the real reason behind the government cuts in the art subsidies, and people like De Bondt, De Vries et al are a product of this cultural void. And given the confused and primitive reactions upon the government cuts, it does not seem possible to create a platform from where possibilities of a real reform could be explored.

    • Michael J Stewart says:

      John Borstlap writes: But alas, the modernist project has run its course and ended in a dead end street – who wants to hear this stuff which celebrates pulverized sound material, processed through aggressive sonic mincing machines, with titles like ‘Carcass’, ‘Blood’, Broken Ear’?

      I’m not sure I totally agree with you there. In my experience ‘modernist project’ has actually found a lot of fertile ground in the last 10 or twenty years or so and I would speculate that the audience for it (albeit a relatively niche one) is greater than it has ever been.

      • But is this audience a musical one? Isn’t it an audience curious for sonic art acoustical events? There is nothing wrong with modernism i.e. sonic art, as long as it does not claim to be music and be part of a musical culture. It has created its own context: sonic art culture. With all due respect, but sonic pieces performed in a musical context is mostly like a gorilla joining a wedding party, which would be experienced as a disruption of context; we love gorillas but preferably in the zoo. Compared to music, sonic art is (for people who understand and love music) quite poor. The best qualities of sonic art are pure sound effects or interesting textures. But music creates a context, within the piece, of notes relating to each other in an audible way, thus providing the possibility of psychology (‘expression’) and narrative, and audible structure with distinctive episodes.

        • Michael J Stewart says:

          Well, I’m part of the audience and I consider myself to be one of those people who you say “understand and love music”. Is there a test for this? Do I need to take it, if so what score do I need to achieve to become one of the chosen?

          • It has nothing to do with ‘chosen’, i.e. being ‘elitist’ – but with a fundamental distinction. We can like all kinds of different things, the point is, for which reason? Listening to Boulez’s ‘Pli selon Pli’ creates a very different context in comparison to, say, Debussy’s ‘La Mer’, and that has nothing to do with ‘advanced’ or ‘outdated’. Why should a statement that reflects awareness of a distinction between music and sonic art be ‘elitist’? A musical culture where ‘anything goes’ is no longer a culture…. seems obvious.

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