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Although Bernard van Dieren is not, and never has been well known to the
concert going public, he has been highly praised in the writings of many
musicians. Constant Lambert, in the preface to the second edition of "Music
Ho"(1936), described him as one of the two major musicians of the day, the
other being Alban Berg; and Sorabji (in "Mi contra fa") stated that his
intellectual and artistic greatness could only be compared with da Vinci or
Michelangelo, and to those few who knew his work regarded him as "one of the
supreme masters of modern times".
His compositions include two symphonies,
an opera : The Tailor, two violin sonatas, some piano pieces and many songs.
His choral Chinese Symphony uses the same poems as Mahler used in Das Lied von
der Erde. The first performance was conducted by Constant Lambert, using a copy
of the score which had been made by Peter Warlock, who was another musician
greatly influenced by and devoted to the music of van Dieren.
An almost complete list of his compositions can be found in the 2001 edition of
Grove’s Dictionary of music and
musicians. One piano composition not included in Grove is his "6
Skizzen", which were published by Universal Edition of Vienna in 1921. Two
further piano works were published in England by the Oxford University Press :
"12 Netherlands Melodies" and "Tema con Variazione" (1st published in 1927 and
1928). Of these especially the (simple 8 bar) Theme and 14 Variations repay
study if a copy can be found.
Christened Bernard Helene Joseph, van Dieren was born of a Dutch father and a
Dutch/French mother. As a child he studied the violin, but at school was
trained for a scientific career. In 1908, when he left school he took up music
full time, as a largely self taught composer. In 1909, he left The Netherlands
to follow Frida Kindler (who was a pianist who had studied with Busoni) to
London where he married her in 1910. In 1911 and 1912 he visited Berlin as a
music correspondent. While there he met Schönberg and Busoni, with whom he
long remained a friend. From 1912 until the end of his life he suffered from
renal calculi, and was frequently confined to bed with very severe attacks of
renal pain. Sorabji in his book "Mi Contra Fa", chapter 19, writes
affectionately both as an admirer and friend, and describes a highly
intellectual, brave and kind man.
Apart from composition, he wrote many
essays on music, some of which were published in the book "Down among the Dead
Men"(OUP 1935), in which he writes readably sometimes amusingly, as well as
approvingly on such unfashionable subjects as the Operas of Meyerbeer.
Although his complex music has never been and is not likely to
become popular or be widely performed, much of it is highly original and will
certainly repay study by the serious musician.