Soprano  Elly  Ameling

A Conversation with Bruce Duffie





ameling




Elly Ameling, born February 8, 1933 - Rotterdam, the Netherlands

The outstanding Dutch soprano, Elly Ameling (actually Elisabeth Sara), studied Rotterdam and The Hague with Bodi Rapp. She completed her training with Pierre Bernac in Paris. In 1956 she won the first prize in the vocal competition in s’Hertogenbosch, but her career really started to take off after she won first prize at the ‘Concours International de Musique’ in Geneva in 1958. Many other first prizes followed.

Elly Ameling made her formal recital debut in Amsterdam in 1961. Subsequent appearances with the Concertgebouw Orchestra Amsterdam, the Amsterdam Philharmonic and the Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra secured her reputation. Since then, concert tours led her regularly throughout the world. She has performed with most major symphony orchestras, and conductors such as Ernest Ansermet, Carlo Maria Giulini, Bernard Haitink, Rafael Kubelík, Kurt Masur, Wolfgang Sawallisch, André Previn, and Seiji Ozawa. She is a regular guest at the major festivals (Holland Festival, Edinburgh, Lucerne, Aix-en-Provence, Tanglewood, Flanders Festival, etc.) She also regularly receives invitations to give master classes.

ameling

Elly Ameling's repertoire (lied as well as works with orchestra) ranges from Monteverdi and J.S. Bach through W.A. Mozart, Schubert, Robert Schumann, Wolf, and Debussy to composers of the 20th century, such as Benjamin Britten, Gian Carlo Menotti, Francis Poulenc, and Geroge Gershwin. More than 150 LP’s and CD’s document this extended repertoire. Many of them have been awarded the Edison Prize (4 x), the ‘Grand Prix du Disque’, the ‘Preis der Deutschen Schallplattenkritik’, etc. [Note: Though the adage says not to judge a book by its cover, the recordings shown on this webpage have been selected because of their photos of the artist!]

Ameling has been awarded four honorary degrees and has been knighted, in 1971, by Her Majesty the Queen of The Netherlands for her services to music (the Order of Orange-Nassau) and in 2008 she received the highest civil decoration in the Netherlands, the Order of the Netherlands Lion.

--  Names which are links refer to my interviews elsewhere on this website.  BD 






In April of 1982, I had the extreme pleasure of meeting one of the great Lieder singers of the age, Elly Ameling.  In Chicago for performance and Master Class, she invited me to her apartment for the conversation.

amelingWhile setting up the machine to record our encounter, I mentioned that the other side of the cassette had my previous interview with Mirella Freni and Nicolai Ghiaurov . . . . .


Elly Ameling:    Oh, how nice!  We have little to do with each other, though I must say once I did an evening recital in Lincoln Center, New York, and Mirella Freni was doing one in the afternoon, and the reviewer in The New York Times wrote an article that combined our two performances — the things that he thought about the two of us.  The beautiful thing about that review was that this man had great understanding for her art
which was mainly opera, though she did a recital with piano and she sang arias — and he also understood my art, the art of the songs, the German lied and the French mélodie.  He brought forward both qualities of both singers and both types of repertoire.  I like the great understanding he found, and the value he gave to boththe way he liked both kinds of music!  That is the thing that really always pleases me very much in this country, more so than in Europe where opera is everything and the art of the lieder is sometimes a little passé.  I speak mainly of Germany, now.  In England it is much better and the appreciation is great.  In France they have many series of lieder recitals now, astonishingly many, and they attract full houses, so that’s not so bad.  So often people want to say, “The art of the lied is dead.”  I don’t believe that, but usually one makes the mistake of thinking that for lieder you need to attract big audiences, even though some recitals have thousands of people, like in big opera houses.  It has never been that kind of an art, of course.  It’s on a more intimate scale, and it is shared by... let me call them the happy few that really have an idea what the texts are about, and really have a feeling for the fine nuances in lieder.

Bruce Duffie:    But you’ve done some opera, so let me ask about that if I may.

EA:    Well, I must say there is very little to say about that.  I did just one opera, Idomeneo.   I sang Ilia and I enjoyed it immensely.  Opera has gone away in my career.  There is really no time for me to take two months out and to study with a group, and to perform many, many times another opera.  I really think I’d like to concentrate on what I’m doing, because there are so few people who try to devote all their time to the art of the lied and the French mélodie.  There are so many beautiful Countesses and Mélisandes!  These are roles that I could sing, of course, but I don’t think it is my part in my little life.  [Laughs]

BD:    You’ve recorded some arias from Schubert operas?

EA:    Yes, and those are nice.

BD:    How are they different from Schubert songs?

EA:    They are worse.  [Both laugh]  I’m sorry to say that because Schubert was a man who felt that in vocal arts.  Of course he has written big symphonies like the big C major symphony, but when he got into the vocal art, he seemed to have felt that intimacy and the inner heart’s voice.  That’s what he brings in his songs.  That’s what brings that tear into our eye when we have one of those melancholic Schubert songs.  He couldn’t do that in his opera because, first of all, he was not that very lucky with his librettos, as you may know.  The librettos were about some rather silly circumstance, which couldn’t make that snare vibrate in him, that string vibrate in his heart, which would make him say the beautiful heart thing from the inner, inner feelings.  That’s why it stayed at the surface, usually speaking.  There are some nice phrases here and there, touching melodies, and always great craft.  He’s a craftsman, of course.  That never leaves him, but the song of his heart he couldn’t sing in his operas.

BD:   
It is surprising that he didn’t bring the same kind of melody at all to the operas.

EA:    It’s sometimes very melodic, but that certain mysterious spark that we cannot really define is missing.  We do not know why this is moving us so much more than the beautiful melodies of his opera.  That spark didn’t want to ignite in his operas.

amelingBD:    [Being devil
’s advocate momentarily]  There are many other composers that have triumphed over poor libretti...

EA:    That’s true, but they had more.  Take Mozart, who could be deeply moving in Zauberflöte or Don Giovanni.  But he had that in his fingers, and Mozart songs are almost nonexisting.  There are a few beautiful songs but they really don’t mean a lot.  That is exactly the difference in time and in culture.  Mozart was not yet in the lieder time culture.  He was not yet a Romantic.  He could do operas very well and Schubert could not, because Schubert was unconsciously and consciously writing it all down, concentrating on this new form that came to exist, this new way of speaking.

BD:    So he was trying to do something new that really hadn’t arrived yet?

EA:    Yes, absolutely, that’s certainly true.  He was the first one to bring the real, Romantic song, and that was the voice of the time.  It was what people felt.  We now have the voice of the time which happens to be rock.  [Both laugh]  It is true.  We have some beautiful classical composers, especially in America; think of Ned Rorem and Samuel Barber, and many others.  Argento is another I should look at.  He is a composer of our time, but songs were the new thing in Schubert
’s day.

BD:    Where is music going today?

EA:    How do you mean?

BD:    You say that the music of today is rock, and yet we have this whole separate classical vein.

EA:    Yes.

BD:    Is the new classical material a lost cousin to rock?

EA:    I wouldn’t even compare it to rock.  It’s the most obvious musical thing now for the masses, to speak themselves in rock, alas.  I don’t want to hear a word about it because to me it is just not elevating any of your senses.  It’s stomping you dead with all those drum and droning rhythms.  I love jazz, all kinds of good old jazz music.  There’s much to enjoy in it.  It has culture.  It has life and it lifts the spirit!  You feel that.  But this rock numbs the spirit.

BD:    Is jazz more intimate?

EA:    It need not be when you have these big bands with the Harry James kind of trumpets.  It’s blaring out.  I was in Carnegie Hall where Sarah Vaughn sang with the Count Basie Band.  That all belongs to jazz with that kind of totality.

BD:    So jazz is more in tune with you than rock. 

EA:    Yes, of course!  It need not be more intimate, but it can be.  I just made a record with songs of Gershwin, Cole Porter and Vernon Duke, and that was done very intimately.  But I know that you can also arrange the same songs for big orchestra, and you just open your mouth a bit bigger.  But I didn’t want that personally.  What I want to say is that it lifts the spirit.  You feel it.  It lifts the body, too, and you start dancing.  But on rock you just stomp around and it numbs you.  I’m sorry, and maybe I’m wrong, but I haven’t heard many serious musical artists that really liked rock for some reason.


ameling


BD:    [With a sly nudge]  Someday, when I wish to blackmail you, I will claim that you had rock albums sitting on your desk!  [Both laugh]

EA:    Which isn’t true!  I do have Benny Goodman.  I was just in concert with Benny Goodman in Aldeburgh where they have the Festival in England. 

BD:    [With eager anticipation]  Oh, did you sing Der Hirt auf dem Felsen with him?

amelingEA:    [Sadly]  No.  That would have been lovely!  But they didn’t have Schubert that year on the program.  It was a Brahms festival, and after doing the Clarinet Quintet, he played a solo.  He sat on a little stool all alone, and started out without any accompaniment by any drum or rhythm section.  So we thought he was improvising away, but after five minutes you felt the beat [snaps fingers].  He was playing the melody so rhythmically that you could feel the beat.  Oh, it was wonderful!  But then there were all these... not old ladies, but little ladies, and they said, “Oh, wasn’t that an awful way to end the concert?  It was deadening!”  I said, “Well, I’m sorry.  It enlivened my spirit, and I’m in great, great form now when he finished the concert like this.”

BD:    Do you try to finish your concerts with something up-beat?

EA:    Yes, certainly.  There’s so much dreadful sorrow in this world that we have to send them home with a smile if ever possible.  I really try.  I also try to bring in one or two cabaret songs, be they German or French or English or whatever, at least for an encore.  People get a good laugh because laughing is something that binds us together.  Crying also can, of course — a beautiful, deep emotion, as I said, and a tear in the eye when you sing Schubert.  That also binds us together, and one notices it in audiences when that happens, that they’re really moved.  There is that real silence during the song and after the song, before the applause starts.  There you’re numbed out a beautiful way.  You’re also, of course, sad, but that was a happening, whereas I swear, in rock it just blows you out and knocks you out.  You also have those light effects.  The lights go blub-blub-blub-blub, and they flutter and blind you.  So in ears and eyes it seems to be the aim to knock you out.

BD:    I find that for me it’s simply too loud.

EA:    Oh, yes!  You know that it hurts your hearing.  You have to be very careful!

BD:    When I was at Ravinia doing an interview with James Levine, they were doing a rock concert that night and they were doing a sound test on the stage.  We were backstage in his dressing room, and for me it was just the right volume, being several solid walls and doors away from the sound.

EA:    That would have been pleasant.

BD:    Yes.

EA:    I must tell you something strange about amplifying.  I was on a trip back from Australia and Indonesia, and I had a small holiday in Persia when it was still possible to go there.  We were in Isfahan, this most inspiring city with the blue mosques.  Oh, my God!  In this most lovely hotel we were having a little bite in a pleasant, small place where there was belly dancing.  There was a very beautiful dancer, and she danced with her belly, that particular way.  The rhythm was lovely and beautiful, and there was an orchestra with some flute and rhythm.  But they blared it all over the hotel through the gardens via amplification.  We sat on pillows in that room, which was no bigger than this one, and she was in the middle of everybody.  I thought it could have been so beautiful just to hear the whistling of her skirts and a small flute and some sort of rhythmic pulse.  They can get more and more excited in this rhythm, but it was far too loud.  Even there, they did that.  It seems to be that everything is bigger and the colors are blaring and the sound is blaring, and that’s why I am so glad that I can come with my intimate message.  [Laughs]  I think it is a necessity, too.

*     *     *     *     *

BD:    Do you ever sing songs in translation?

EA:    No.  No.  No.  I don’t think I’ve ever sung any German song in English.  I do sing Mussorgsky in German; The Nursery, those children’s songs, which are written in Russian, of course.  I sing them in German where German is understood, because I don’t know the slightest thing about Russian.  If I have to learn it, fine.  I can learn it, but I probably will never be able to really understand them to the core because of the structure, and the real meaning of fine nuances in the Russian language is strange to me.  I will not be able to grasp that unless I would study it for years and years, and I have to time for that.  So then for me it is better to do it in German.  I can bring out every color on every syllable if I know the language.  And most of the people in the hall will know German rather than Russian, unless you go to Russia, where I would just not sing the cycle.  I would sing something else.  They have their own singers who do that beautifully.  That is also a little bit my fear in singing English.  I want to sing Barber because he, of all people, is your great composer.  Then I think that all these American singers sing him so well, why would I try my bite of that?  So maybe not.  On the other hand, I want to thank your country, your composers and everybody, who have been always so receiving to my work by singing Barber.   Those are two things that I have to think about, and it is a paradox I do not yet have the solution for.

amelingBD:    Would it be easier for you to sing Barber songs in German?

EA:    No, no, because he thought them in English.

BD:    When you’re performing in Germany, would it be easier for you?

EA:    Oh, no, I wouldn’t do that because the German people will understand English.  They can have also translations, which helps.  It isn’t the real thing, but it helps.  No, no. no.  He thought his works in English.  He thought to English poetry and I wouldn’t like to translate that.  If I can avoid it, I avoid it.

BD:    Let me ask you about recordings.  Do you enjoy making them?

EA:    I do, in a totally different way from singing on the stage, where you have that pull from the audience
when you have a good audience.  They drain it from you.  A few months ago I was in New Orleans, in one of those music places where you sit around the bar and they play New Orleans music, which I love to hear.  If I have a free evening, I go there.  This was a show, as well; they were showing some things.  And out came a lady, and she said, [with a reasonable southern accent] “Well, kids, if you give us a good applause from time to time, you’ll get a lot out of us.”  [Both laugh, then she continues with the accent]  “If you don’t, you don’t get as much for your money.”  [Returning to her normal voice]  This was a nightclub, which was fine, but actually that kind of an act is what a recital, a one-man show, is about.  They don’t think they have to clap all the time, but if the audience reacts, you feel it when they’re with you.  You feel it.  You can feel that fluidum... is that a word in English?  The fluid, the fluidum, that mental thing of the spirit.

BD:    It’s a flowing back and forth.

EA:    Yes, a flowing back and forth!  You feel it come and go.  They take it all out of you, and you give a lot more than when they have eaten too much and they sit a little too relaxed and just wait for the high notes to come.

BD:    Is the opera audience waiting for the high notes, and the song audience waiting for the whole thing?

EA:    No, no, no.  I don’t think that the opera audience is just waiting, no, certainly not!  They can be booing as well.  They are usually very much in the matter, and they are reacting fiercefully.  That kind of thing we need also for all kinds of music.  But there is a difference between opera and singing in a one woman show right towards your audience and influence.  Right away, you’re just in front of them; you view them directly.  This is different from singing to your colleague on an opera stage where you have your thing with him or her, and you do act in ensembles and the audience is somewhat at the side.  To face an audience and to bring it right to them, and hopefully get feedback back from them is a very uplifting experience.

BD:    Do concert recitals work on the radio or on television as well as they do for the people who are there at the moment?

EA:    It all depends how it will be televised.  Personally, I shouldn’t be too close up in a camera because my face is rather round.  It has hardly any square lines, and that’s not so good for my face.  It’s just not so beautiful.  But when it’s taken from far away it can be very nice.  It depends also on the recording, and if you really get the quality of the sound.  We all know there are engineers with records or with radio, and there are the microphones.  I’m not technical, so on records you usually get the brilliant upper part of your voice and leave the warm, basic lower notes out.  You don’t get that warmth in the lower part.  A few times, seldom, you get the whole range of colors on a recording.  That is why I am not at all so content about many of my recordings.  Besides the fact that you sing so many things on the record, you think, “Oh, my God!  I should have done it this way or that way!”  This is especially true a few years later when you think, “Now I would do it totally different.”  I never liked any of my recordings, but then I realize that is because I have in my head an ideal image.  I’m trying all my life to bring that ideal image into sound, and to have that kind of what I think is perfect.  I will never reach it, of course, but the audience, the people who buy the records, don’t have that image.  They may have another image or no image at all, and they buy the record.  So that’s my consolation.

BD:    Do you think the audience has an image, or do you create the image for the audience?

EA:    I hope that I’m personal enough in my performance that I can bring, present, my image to them and almost bring it not just to them, into them, but into their souls.  If they are on the same wavelength and have the same kind of taste as I have, we will have a great evening.  There is always part of the audience who think, “Oh, my God!  This is not at all what I expect from this song.  I would do it in another way,” or, “I’ve heard it in another way.”  If you’re very convincing in your way of bringing it, they might say, “Ah, beautiful,” and get involved.  But part of them you’ll never please.  That is just in the method.  Like the crust on the tart, some people like it and others don’t, but then still the strawberries are good.

*     *     *     *     *

BD:    Do you sing opera arias on the recital platform?

amelingEA:    Very few, and not brilliant arias.  Just one or two from the 17th or 18th century, but I try to avoid that.  Speaking of the 17th century, what I do is sing songs from Monteverdi, and songs by my own countryman, Huygens, who made really beautiful songs to beautiful texts!  He is picturing so truthfully to the words that I thought, “My heavens!”  I thought the art of the lied started with Schubert, but it was all there with Caccini, Monteverdi, and this man called Huygens  We made a set of records of all his works
only 39 songs is all that’s left of his work.  But it’s very beautiful.  He made his own texts in French and Italian.  [A biographical sketch of Huygens appears at the bottom of this webpage.]

BD:    Who are the Dutch composers of today?

EA:    We have Peter Schat (1935-2003), who has been doing his opera Houdini in New York.  It’s interesting, I thought, and we have Henk Badings (1907-1987), who’s living in this country.  We had Hendrik Andriessen (1892-1981), we have his son Louis Andriessen (1939-  ) now.  He’s doing the modern thing.  Hendrik Andriessen was... I shouldn’t say composing in the vein of Duparc and Debussy, because it’s not true, but he used a lot of French texts, and he had his own, almost impressionistic way of setting the songs, which I like very much.  It’s not really modern, though.  It’s last generation.

BD:    Let me ask you about the other composer for whom you’ve sung opera, and that’s Haydn.

EA:    Oh, yes.  We did a recording which is very nice.

BD:    Do you like the Haydn operas?

EA:    Delightful, delightful divertissement.  It doesn’t go as deep, as compared to Mozart, of course.  Everybody realizes that, but it is always very good writing.  And I just did all his songs.  I thought, “Oh, my God, all these songs.  Can we do so many?”  It was a joy!  It was just a joy to do them!  The texts are often very much outdated, but then the music is so fresh and so honest, and so simple, for a change.  I like the English songs, these canzonettas that he wrote the text with Hunter, his friend in London.

BD:    [Remembering a personal favorite]  She never told her love.

EA:    Isn’t it a masterwork?  But even that text is ridiculous when you analyze it!  But the music is just pure!  It is pure music.  You forget about the text.  It becomes music without the program.

BD:    I sometimes find this in Schubert.  You can listen to the music and forget about the text.

EA:    Sometimes he has not the best text writers.  It is absolutely true, which is never the case with Hugo Wolf.  He was always very, very good and careful with his poems.  That’s probably why Wolf never composed Gretchen am Spinnrade, which is the poem by Goethe.  He did compose Gretchen vor dem Andachsbild der Mater Dolorosa, the other poem where she is in the church and prays to Mary.  That one he set because Schubert didn’t finish that song.  It gets to the bar line and then four flats, as if he wanted to go on, but he never finished it.  So Wolf thought, “I can do that.”  But he said to himself, “I will never burn my fingers making “Gretchen am Spinnrade, because it was done a hundred percent beautifully by Schubert.”  He was a great admirer of Schubert.

BD:    Are there any poems that you really wish had been set by Schubert or by Hugo Wolf?

EA:    More Heine.  He just did those few Heines, so what could have come if he had lived 30 more years?  Then maybe Wolf, knowing all that music that Schubert had composed until he was 60, would have never dared compose anything.  [Both laugh]  If you speculate on that you can make all kind of fantasies, but if Schubert had continued in the vein he composed his songs at the end of his life, my heavens, all the treasures we could have had!

amelingBD:    I often wonder about that.  When composers leave off writing because they either just stop writing or because they die, where would they have gone?  The one that fascinates me is Franz Liszt because
he experimented with bitonality and atonality.  I wonder where that would have led had he been able to work it out for another two years.

EA:    And then you would ask yourself what Arnold Schoenberg would have done knowing that.  The lucky man, of course, was Richard Strauss, who got very old and didn’t write so much in different keys.  [Laughs]  He went on and on and on in that same style, and it is just one great, big delight.

BD:    Do you enjoy the Strauss songs?

EA:    Oh, yes, very much.  They are deep in another sense — they’re not quite generally spoken of as sincere as the Schubert and the Wolf.  They have a touch of the lighter, of the sun.  Everything, even his sadness, is bathed in sun.

BD:    If someone came to you and said, “I’m writing a song cycle for you,” what advice would you give?

EA:    Oh, I wouldn’t dare give him any advice!  It’s his inspiration and what he thinks.  I would ask him, “Do you know me?”  If he said, “No,” I’d say, “Would you like to?  Come and talk to me.  Please come to my concerts, and learn and feel who I am, because what I have to say is important.


BD:    Can someone feel that from the record?

EA:    To a certain extent I think in my records I speak for myself.  I come out rather well, especially in the later records that I have been making with people who were able to catch the top and the bottom colors, all the colors.  The last three, four, five, six record that were brought out, I come out rather much as myself. 

BD:    So you’re happier with those?

EA:    Yes.  You can get far with records, but I think you must come to several recitals, because there you feel what somebody really wants to say to an audience.

BD:    Is it different in different cities?

EA:    In this country, people are so receptive in all kinds of places, but they aren’t afraid.  There’s more knowledge, of course, in New York.  There’s great knowledge of the art of the lied.  They had, after all, Elizabeth Schumann, Elizabeth Schwartzkopf, Lotte Lehmann, and so many others that one can’t mention them all.  They know more and have more knowledge, but the receptivity in the middle of Arkansas is as big as anywhere in the rest of the country.  People are receptive.  They find it nice to hear new things, or things they have heard already.  They come with an open mind and an open heart, and I like that very much.  The way you treat people when you see new people, there’s always interest.  It’s very interesting.  I shouldn’t say this all the time, but it’s the truth, that in Europe one is first inclined to label people.  That’s such a man and that’s such a woman, and that may stem from the aristocracy, the nobility, and he’s only a workman.  You didn’t have that burden in America.  You all started from landing in a ship and digging a little place to put your tent.  So I can say that, and that’s why you have an open mind.  I experience that very much with my little part of music that I’m trying to bring and keep warm, because I think it’s important.

BD:    Do you ever sing any songs which you don’t like?

EA:    No.  That’s the beautiful thing
— you can take your pick of what is much to my temperament, and leave all that which is just not my taste.

BD:    I just wondered if you did that as an exercise for yourself, to do something that you really aren’t into just to see if you get around it.

EA:    That can happen when you are invited for works with a choir and orchestra that you don’t really like so much.  But there is very little music that I don’t like.  There’s much music that I couldn’t sing well, and I leave that alone.  But all that I do, I like very much.  I must say, I love it.

BD:    Good... and you bring this to your audience!  It is always so lovely.

EA:    I hope so.  It is true sometimes people say, “You must be a happy person because you sing so happily on the stage.”  Then I sometimes say to them, “But didn’t it ever occur to you that one might be singing of those things one is longing for intensely and is not necessarily having, possessing, and experiencing?”

BD:    I hope that you’re usually happy.

EA:    I’m not unhappy, certainly not, but nobody is a hundred percent happy.  But I’m quite happy in my life, I’m quite content.  [Laughs]

BD:    What is next on the agenda for you
more concerts and more recordings?

EA:    Tomorrow I teach here the people of the Symphony Chorus.  They seem to have never done that yet.

amelingBD:    Do you enjoy doing master classes?

EA:    Yes, because people are intelligent, and full of enthusiasm for the lied.  I always have to tell them, “Try to learn German and French.”  That is the great problem in this country
that they don’t speak the languages.  They are not well enough aware how important the language is, not only for the singer but also for the pianist, because when you color a word this or that way, he has to know why and which word it is.

BD:    Would you ever work with pianists, teaching them how to accompany songs?

EA:    That would be hard because I can tell them what I want to hear.  I know darn well what I want, and how I want things to flow, and the rhythm of things and everything, but I wouldn’t be able to tell them how to do it.  That’s hard, but in the course of working together with your pianist, he learns from me and I learn from him.  You have that with every conductor.  You learn a lot once you are in practice.  That’s why I am against those students that come back and back and back to the course.  They’re thirty years old and they’re still taking lessons.  My heavens!  You have to get in practice!  You’ll learn a lot, enough, if you have your ears open and let yourself be influenced by everything that makes music around you.  You don’t have to come to classes anymore.

BD:    Better to just go out and do it?

EA:    Yes.  That’s your great inspiration.

BD:    Is there enough opportunity for young singers to go and give liederabende?

EA:    I do not know about this country, but maybe this is good advice.  In my little country, Holland, we have a Society of the Friends of the Lied, and they have existed now for twenty years.  They give and take part in recitals in big places like Amsterdam, the Hague, the big cities.  They organize a whole series of recitals for mainly young singers.  Not students, but young singers that have finished their studies and are beginning their careers.  These take place in big houses, let’s say of the notary or the doctor.  They have a big room where they can have 60 or 80 people, and they give a lieder recital.  All sorts of Dutch repertoire is done, as well all the classical composers.  This spreads the art of the lied into people’s homes, and they get accustomed to what the lied is, and they get knowledge and they learn the texts.  Then they will probably also come to the recitals of established singers in the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam.  This might be a nice idea to do in so well-equipped a country as this is.  You have a great feeling for doing things together.  It might be an idea, and I must say that I always experience that there is great enthusiasm for the art of the lied from the young students that come.  So the art of the lied is not dead!  I would love you to stress that.  How can it be dead when I gave in one season three recitals, three different programs, and they were all hopelessly sold out?  There were many people that had to be sent away.

BD:    Do you ever permit people on the stage in back of you?

EA:    Oh, yes.  Why not?  If it is not against the fire regulations.  [Both laugh]  It gives an atmosphere of being all together.  It is fine.

BD:    Thank you for being a singer.

EA:    Thank you for coming here and helping me getting the word out.




A few more recordings with Elly Ameling
which also feature some of my other interview guests



ameling

To read my Interviews with Yvonne Minton, click HERE.

To read my Interview with Tom Krause, click HERE.



ameling

To read my Intereview with Siegmund Nimsgern, click HERE.



ameling

To read my Interview with Anna Reynolds, click HERE.



ameling

To read my Interview with Peter Schreier, click HERE.



ameling

To read my Interview with Vittorio Negri, clilck HERE.



ameling

To read my Interview with Heinz Rehfuss, click HERE.



ameling

To read my Interview with George Shirley, click HERE.

To read my Interview with Benjamin Luxon, click HERE.

To read my Interview with Antal Dorati, click HERE.



ameling

To read my Interview with Raymond Leppard, click HERE.








Sir Constantijn Huygens (4 September 1596 – 28 March 1687), was a Dutch Golden Age poet and composer. He was secretary to two Princes of Orange: Frederick Henry and William II, and the father of the scientist Christiaan Huygens.

Constantijn Huygens was born in The Hague, the second son of Christiaan Huygens (senior), secretary of the Council of State, and Susanna Hoefnagel, niece of the Antwerp painter Joris Hoefnagel.

Constantijn was a gifted child in his youth. His brother Maurits and he were educated partly by their father and partly by carefully instructed governors. When he was five years old, Constantijn and his brother received their first musical education.

They started with singing lessons, and they learned their notes using gold colored buttons on their jackets. It is striking that Christiaan senior imparted the 'modern' system of 7 note names to the boys, instead of the traditional, but much more complicated hexachord system. Two years later the first lessons on the viol started, followed by the lute and the harpsichord. Constantijn showed a particular acumen for the lute. At the age of eleven he was already asked to play for ensembles, and later — during his diplomatic travels — his lute playing was in demand. He was asked to play at the Danish Court and for James I of England, although they were not known for their musical abilities.

The boys were also schooled in art through their parents art collection, and also their connection to the magnificent collection of paintings in the Antwerp house of diamond and jewelry dealer, Gaspar Duarte (1584–1653), who was a Portuguese Jewish exile.

Constantijn also had a talent for languages. He learned French, Latin and Greek, and at a later age Italian and English. He learned by practice, the modern way of learning techniques. Constantijn received education in math, law and logic, and he learned how to handle a pike and a musket.

In 1614 Constantijn wrote his first Dutch poem, inspired by the French poet Guillaume de Salluste Du Bartas, in which he praises rural life. In his early 20s, he fell in love with Dorothea, however their relationship did not last and Dorothea met someone else. In 1616, Maurits and Constantijn started studies at Leiden University. Studying in Leiden was primarily seen as a way to build a social network. Shortly after, Maurits was called home to assist his father. Constantijn finished his studies in 1617 and returned home. This was followed by six weeks of training with Antonis de Hubert, a lawyer in Zierikzee.

In the Spring of 1618 Constantijn found employment with Sir Dudley Carleton, the English envoy at the Court in The Hague. In the summer, he stayed in London in the house of the Dutch ambassador, Noël de Caron. During his time in London his social circle widened and he also learned to speak English. In 1620, towards the end of the Twelve Years' Truce, he travelled as a secretary of ambassador François van Aerssen to Venice, to gain support against the threat of renewed war. He was the only member of the legation who could speak Italian. In January 1621 he traveled to England as the secretary of six envoys of the United Provinces with the object of persuading James I to support the German Protestant Union, returning in April of that year. In December 1621 he left with another delegation, this time with the aim of requesting support for the United Provinces, returning after a year and two months in February 1623. There was yet another trip to England in 1624.

He is often considered a member of what is known as the Muiderkring, a group of leading intellectuals gathered around the poet Pieter Corneliszoon Hooft, who met regularly at the castle of Muiden near Amsterdam. In 1619 Constantijn came into contact with Anna Roemers Visscher and with Pieter Corneliszoon Hooft. Huygens exchanged many poems with Anna. In 1621 a poetic exchange with Hooft also starts. Both would always try to exceed the other.

In 1622, when Constantijn stayed as a diplomat for more than one year in England, he was knighted by King James I. This marked the end of Constantijn's formative years. Huygens was employed as a secretary to Frederick Henry, Prince of Orange, who — after the death of Maurits of Orange — was appointed as stadtholder. In 1626 Constantijn fell in love with Suzanna van Baerle. Earlier courtship by the Huygens family to win her for Maurits had failed. Constantijn wrote several sonnets for her, in which he calls her Sterre (Star). They wed on 6 April 1627.

The couple had five children: in 1628 their first son, Constantijn Jr., in 1629 Christiaan, in 1631 Lodewijk and in 1633 Philips. In 1637 their daughter Suzanna was born; shortly after her birth their mother died.

Huygens started a successful career despite his grief over the death of his wife (in 1638). In 1630 he was appointed to the Council and Exchequer, managing the estate of the Orange family. This job provided him with an income of about 1000 florins a year. In that same year he bought the estate Zuilichem and became known as Lord of Zuilichem. In 1632 Louis XIII of France, the protector of the famous exiled jurist Hugo Grotius, appointed him as knight in the Order of Saint-Michel. In 1643 Huygens was granted the honor of displaying a golden lily on a blue field in his coat of arms.

In 1634 Huygens received from Prince Frederick Henry a piece of property in The Hague on the north side of the Binnenhof. The land was near the property of a good friend of Huygens, Count Johan Maurits of Nassau-Siegen, who built his house, the Mauritshuis, around the same time and using the same architect, Huygens' friend Jacob van Campen.

At the start of the 1630s he was also in touch with René Descartes, with Rembrandt, and the painter Jan Lievens. He became friends with John Donne, and translated his poems into Dutch. He was unable to write poetry for months because of his anguish over his wife's death, but eventually he composed, inspired by Petrarch, the sonnet Op de dood van Sterre (On the death of Sterre), which was well received.

After a couple of years as a widower, Huygens bought a piece of land in Voorburg and commissioned the building of Hofwijck, which was inaugurated in 1642 in the company of friends and relatives. Here Huygens hoped to escape the stress at court in The Hague, forming his own 'court', indicated by the name of the house which has a double meaning: Hof (=Court or courtyard) Wijck (=avoid or township). In that same year, his brother Maurits died. Due to his grief Huygens wrote little Dutch poetry, but he continued to write epigrams in Latin. Shortly afterwards, he began writing Dutch pun poems, which are very playful by nature. In 1644 and 1645 Huygens began more serious work. As a new year's present for Leonore Hellemans, he composed the Heilige Daghen, a series of sonnets on the Christian holidays. In 1647 he published another work, in which play and seriousness are united, Ooghentroost, addressed to Lucretia of Trello, who was losing her sight and who was already half-blind. The poem was offered as consolation.

From 1650 to 1652 Huygens wrote the poem Hofwijck in which he described the joys of living outside the city. It is thought that Huygens wrote his poetry as a testament to himself, a memento mori, because Huygens lost so many dear friends and family during this time: Hooft (1647), Barlaeus (1648), Maria Tesschelschade (1649) and Descartes (1650).

In 1645, his sons Constantijn Jr. and Christiaan began their studies in Leiden. In these years Prince Frederick Henry of Orange, Huygens' confidante and protector, became increasingly ill, and died in 1647. The new stadtholder, William II of Orange, greatly appreciated Huygens and gave him the estate of Zeelhem, but he died too in 1650.

The emphasis of Huygens' activities moved more and more to his presidency of the Council of the house of Orange, which was in the hands of the young Prince inheritor, a small baby. He traveled frequently during that time, in connection with his work. There were however strong disagreements between the baby's widowed mother in law Amalia van Solms, and widow daughter in law Mary, Princess Royal, (4 November 1631 – 24 December 1660, aged 29) on even the name for christening the Dutch-English Royal newborn.

In 1657, his son Philips died after a short sickness during his Grand Tour while in Prussia. In that same year Huygens became seriously ill, but healed in a miraculous manner.

In 1680 Constantijn Jr. moved with his family out of the house of his father. To stop the gossiping which started shortly afterwards, Huygens write the poem Cluijs-werck, in which he shows a glimpse of the latter stages of his life.

He still tried to find time to publish more of his work. In 1647 a number of Huygens' musical creations, Pathodia sacra et profana, was published in Paris. It contained some compositions in Latin on the words of psalms in French, and Italian amorous worldly texts. The work was dedicated to the pretty niece, Utricia Ogle, of an English diplomat.

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In 1648 Huygens wrote Twee ongepaerde handen for a harpsichord. This work was connected with Marietje Casembroot, a twenty-five-year-old harpsichord player, with whom he could share his love for music.

As he was older now, Huygens found refuge in music. He wrote around 769 compositions during his lifetime.

Constantijn Huygens died in The Hague on Good Friday, 28 March 1687 at the age of 90. A week later he was buried in the Grote Kerk in the Hague, together with his son, the famous scientist Christiaan Huygens.

In 1947 a literary award was created, the Constantijn Huygens Award, to honor his legacy







© 1982 Bruce Duffie

This conversation was recorded in her hotel in Chicago on April 9, 1982.  Portions were broadcast on WNIB in 1986, 1989, 1990, 1994, 1998 and 1999.  A copy of the unedited audio was placed in the Archive of Contemporary Music at Northwestern University.  This transcription was made in 2016, and posted on this website at that time.

To see a full list (with links) of interviews which have been transcribed and posted on this website, click here.

Award - winning broadcaster Bruce Duffie was with WNIB, Classical 97 in Chicago from 1975 until its final moment as a classical station in February of 2001.  His interviews have also appeared in various magazines and journals since 1980, and he now continues his broadcast series on WNUR-FM, as well as on Contemporary Classical Internet Radio.

You are invited to visit his website for more information about his work, including selected transcripts of other interviews, plus a full list of his guests.  He would also like to call your attention to the photos and information about his grandfather, who was a pioneer in the automotive field more than a century ago.  You may also send him E-Mail with comments, questions and suggestions.