The Netherlands lost a great composer on Friday 31 May 1996, when Ton de Leeuw died in Paris. He had lived there for the last ten years of his life. Ton de Leeuw was born in Rotterdam on November 16th, 1926.
He was not only the composer of a highly refined and rich musical oeuvre, but was also an influential thinker, teacher and writer with a distinctly cosmopolitan outlook. After studying with Henk Badings, Olivier Messiaen and the ethnomusicologist Jaap Kunst, he worked for several years as a music producer at the Netherlands Radio Union. From 1959 to 1986 he taught composition and electronic music at the Amsterdam Conservatory of Music, of which he was director for some years.
His book Muziek van de twintigste eeuw, first published in 1964 in Dutch, later in Swedish and German and translated in English in 2005, including a 1995 essay written by the composer (called Music of the Twentieth Century), is still regarded as an authoritative work.
His committed interest in non-Western music led to many journeys throughout the world (notably India, Japan and Indonesia) and has been a major spiritual influence on his work. He wrote about 160 compositions, spanning the whole range from solo pieces to complete operas, but it is the vocal and, more specifically, the choral works which reveal most clearly what he was striving to obtain: a conjunction of the essence of past and present, a link between Eastern and Western thought, and the result was a unique purity of expression.
His last work, Three Shakespeare Songs, was performed on June 13th 1996 by Rosemary Hardy with the Ensemble InterContemporain. Ton de Leeuw died too early, and although we may find some comfort in the knowledge that he accomplished much of what he set out to achieve, he will be sorely missed.
Rokus de Groot