I. Overture and Scene
III. Elegy. Sas Bunge in memoriam attacca:
Commissioned by the Fonds voor de Scheppende Toonkunst (Fund for the Creation of Music)
Dedicated to Christiaan Bor and Het Reizend Muziekgezelschap (The Traveling Music Company)
My sextet for strings, opus 33, is more or less ‘autobiographical’. It is a piece with an ‘idée fixe’ theme, which contains both the initials of my chosen pseudonym and also the beginning of my name: AC-EddeB. A short description of each of the four movements could be as follows:
I. An impactful traumatic experience
II. On the surface, the damage appears to be not too bad
III. Crisis after all, years later
IV. Regeneration and new energy
I. Overture and Scene
The ‘Overture’ starts with eerie sounds, after which the idée fixe theme is introduced in the form of a fugato. After a brief return of eerie sounds, a second theme follows, in E major. This theme is from a piano sonata I wrote for my father, when I was 14, a period when he was hospitalized, drugged by pharmaceutical medication, in combination with unresolved trauma from his time as a mariner in Dutch East Indies, shortly after World War II, and an unhappy marriage.
The word ‘Scene’ is used in the sense of ‘making a scene’. It describes one of the nightly scenes between my parents – they would later separate – intensified by too much alcohol. I would awaken on such occasions by the noise, mostly from the slamming of a door (rehearsal number 13).
On this particular occasion, I found my parents in an inebriated state and my father threatening my mother with a bottle, from which he had knocked out the bottom. There were many shards on the ground, so presumably more glassware had perished. In retrospect, I would say that my father had a psychosis. He imagined himself to be surrounded by ‘ploppers’: deadly dangerous Indonesian guerrillas, fighting for the liberation of their country from Dutch colonization. My mother, too, seemed to be in some imaginary reality, thereby walking barefoot over the many shards on the floor. Neither parent didn’t seem to notice my presence. I screamed on the top of my lungs, ‘What are you doing! Can’t you see that I am here!’ It had no effect whatsoever. For my parents, I simply didn’t seem to exist. Finally, I turned around and walked away, back into my bedroom, into my bed.
I would like to point out that, even though a story like this may sound ‘sensational’ to some degree, what happened to me fades into nothingness compared to horrific things like sexual abuse of children. People who engage in such things are wilfully participating in one of the worst crimes in existence: deliberately damaging children. My parents, on the contrary, had lost control of their lives. In retrospect, I do not blame them in the least. We all experience things that have a more or less lasting impact on our lives and, in my opinion, it is one of life’s challenges to transform difficult experiences into something positive. And both my parents had their fair share of challenges in their lives. As for my mother, she would later become a devout Christian. As for my father and so many of his Dutch male contemporaries: they were either bluntly conscripted or seduced to join the army to ‘do something for their country’, were sent off to a horrific guerrilla war without their knowing, let alone consent, and ended up having to fight, thereby risking being killed or maimed, for a highly dubious cause. And for those who survived and went back to their home country, nothing whatsoever was done to help them. I intend to write a separate composition about this subject (see https://www.eduarddeboer.org/requiem-voor-het-knil-concept-tekst/).
When I entered the Utrecht Conservatory, I came into a ‘warm bath’, after my less than idyllic high school years: I found myself among people who all, like me, loved classical music, which made me feel much less like an outlier than I had felt so far. I felt happy in this environment and this is what this movement sounds like: over-the-top cheerful in a hyper-nervous way, as if one had just drunk fifteen cups of coffee in a row.
III. Elegy – Sas Bunge in memoriam
After my time as a conservatory student, I received a number of composition commissions from radio, regional orchestras, choirs and chamber ensembles. However, the reviews of the compositions I wrote were mostly negative. I was mostly described as a fossil from a time gone by. And so I came to adopt a pseudonym, in Latin, a ‘dead language’: Alexander Comitas. The Latin word comitas means kindness, affability. The idea behind it was: I intend to always remain friendly and sympathetic on the subject of contemporary music, but as a composer I will keep pursuing my own path. The way I compose is not the result of ineptitude, but of a conscious and considered choice. See for example my articles Busoni’s Garden (https://www.eduarddeboer.org/busonis-garden/) and Music and Spirituality (https://www.eduarddeboer.org/music-and-spirituality/).
Meanwhile, the crisis, resulting from what is depicted in the first movement, came after all. A crisis on a personal level as well as in my composing, which for some time didn’t go well. Just before that I had met Maaike, my later – and present – wife. Fortunately for me, not always easy for her. She managed to help me out of the depression I fell into at the time, and I will always be grateful to her for sticking with me throughout this difficult period.
The choice of the pseudonym had yet another background. Alexander refers to Ernst Alexander (Sas) Bunge, a piano major teacher at the Utrecht Conservatory during the time I studied there, and also a composer of some very beautiful pieces, including many songs. He attended the premiere of my Five Tolkien Songs and became interested in me, and his knowledge became a major influence on my composing. A few years later, he would become seriously ill. When he knew that he did not have long to live, he asked me if I would like to become a trustee of his musical legacy. Thus, after his death, I got to know many more of his compositions than I had known before, including a beautiful setting of François Villon’s poem Ballade des pendus (Ballad of the Hanged) for alto and orchestra. I created a version of this work for alto and piano that I performed with a singer friend, and had a modest part in having the version with orchestra performed again. In the third movement of the string sextet, the main theme from this Ballad is used as the central theme for an adagio full of grief, culminating towards the end of this movement (at rehearsal number 107) in a quotation of the first bars of Bunge’s composition.
This movement is about (my) regeneration and recovery. This partly came about through the study of folk music from various parts of the world. I listened to lots of records with folk songs and dances, preferably as authentic as I could find, copied numerous melodies by ear, and I visited places like the Jaap Kunst Etnomusicological Institute in Amsterdam and the library of the musicology department of the Utrecht University, where I spent many hours copying books. As a result, I became acquainted with folk music from the Caucasus, and thus with the Armenian ethnomusicologist and composer Komitas. The last name of my pseudonym refers to him and in the final movement of the sextet some folk melodies from the Caucasus are quoted.
Incidentally, in 2013 I ended the period of my pseudonym with a musical tribute to the Armenian Komitas, in the form of my third symphony (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SA0DrmYppt8&t=3005s).