12:00– 13:00, BBC Radio 3
This week, Donald Macleod is joined by Bosmans expert Dr Helen Metzelaar and also Dr Laurien Vastenhout from Amsterdam’s Institute for War, Holocaust and Genocide, to explore the incredible legacy of pianist and composer, Henriëtte Bosmans
Henriëtte Bosmans seemed destined for a life in music from the moment of her birth, in 1895. Her father was the principal solo cellist in the Amsterdam Concertgebouw Orchestra and her mother a piano teacher at the Amsterdam Conservatory. Bosmans’s mother was a Jew and, although Bosmans didn’t consider herself Jewish, her ancestry played a significant role in the events of her life.
During the 1920s and 30s, Henriëtte Bosmans was making a name for herself as a concert pianist. She was regularly engaged to perform with orchestras and her chamber ensemble and toured the Netherlands. In 1934 Bosmans became engaged to the violinist Francis Koene. However, tragedy struck, and Koene died that same year of a brain tumour. Years later, Bosmans confessed that she “died a little bit then” herself.
Towards the beginning of World War Two, Henriëtte Bosmans found herself in great demand as a performer. The turbulence in Europe meant that other pianists, such as Myra Hess, were cancelling their planned visits to Holland.
By 1942, Bosmans’ music had been banned by the Dutch National Broadcasting Organisation and there was also an injunction which forbade her from performing. With little income and now relying on friends for food, Bosmans took to performing in illegal concerts; on at least one occasion, she was nearly caught and arrested. A further blow came when her mother Sara was arrested and sent to a transit camp awaiting deportation.
Once the Second World War had ended, Henriëtte Bosmans and her mother, Sara, emerged exhausted and malnourished but alive. Bosmans soon started to compose again, and found particular inspiration in writing for the voice.
In 1946 she witnessed young British composer Benjamin Britten perform with Peter Pears and was immediately struck by their artistry. Bosmans began corresponding with Britten and championing his music. She adopted a rather motherly role towards him, sending him presents of chocolate and eggs.
Henriëtte Bosmans was greatly inspired observing the powerful connection between composer, Benjamin Britten and tenor, Peter Pears, and she sought out her own vocal muse. Her heart was captured by the singing of Noëmie Perugia and the two began to perform together.
The relationship was far from harmonious, though, and there were frequent arguments between the two. Perugia refused to sing in Dutch, and often refused to sing songs Bosmans composed in other languages, too. For Bosmans’ part, she would deliberately set texts she knew would irritate Perugia. Their relationship only lasted a few years before Bosmans started to suffer from stomach pains. She died of stomach cancer in 1952.