Notes and Editorial Reviews
Simeon ten Holt (pn)
ETCETERA 1467 (37: 21)
I’ve been beating the drum for Dutch composer Simeon ten Holt (1923–2012) around here for a year or two; I hope someone is paying attention! (Also see my Want List in this issue.) Those who know and admire his music will want this release. Those who do not are hereby advised that, desirable as this release is, it is not the best place to start, if you are looking for a first exposure to this composer and his music.
There are several interesting things about this release. First of all, it is, as far as I know, the only commercial release of ten Holt playing his own music. He’s certainly a capable pianist, although I don’t think his pianism
will be stunning to anyone who hears this. Second of all, the CD is contained within a very handsome 48-page hardcover book containing photographs, reminiscences, and quotes from the composer. (My favorite among these is, “I write music like this not because I’m isolated. I’m isolated because I write music like this.”) Finally, the CD itself contains 19 of ten Holt’s 20 Bagatelles (1954) which ten Holt considered his “first important composition”—in his own words, “in a style somewhere between Chopin, Bartók, and Janá?ek, along with a couple of reminiscences of the later work of [his teacher Jakob] van Domselaer.” It’s a fair enough description. Ten Holt plays the shortest of these bagatelles in 48 seconds; the longest requires a whopping three minutes and 39 seconds, but of course that’s a drop in the bucket compared to later works such as
, which, at the discretion of the performer(s), can last one or two hours, or even longer. On this disc, ten Holt omits the 19th bagatelle, marked
. No explanation is offered. These Bagatelles contain the rudiments of ten Holt’s vocabulary and grammar. Even so, the hypnotic clarity of the aforementioned works and their like is not to be heard here, but the obsessiveness and drive are, particularly in the faster bagatelles. Even his shortest works tend to be rather like wind-up toys that unceasingly run their course before simply stopping.
I couldn’t find information in Etcetera’s booklet explaining the circumstances behind this recording, other than a statement that it was made in the composer’s home studio in 1978. The sound quality is far from outstanding: loud passages tend to distort, and the piano sounds harsh. Still, this is the only recording of these works (as far as I know) and the only recording of ten Holt as a pianist, so, especially given Etcetera’s lavish presentation, this is a keeper. However, as I said at the outset, it would be better for ten Holt newbies to start with a later, more typical work, such as the monumental yet approachable
FANFARE: Raymond Tuttle
Works on This Recording
Bagatellen by Simeon ten Holt
Simeon ten Holt (Piano)
Period: 20th Century
Date of Recording: 1978
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