Ton de Leeuw

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Antonius Wilhelmus Adrianus de Leeuw (Rotterdam, 16 November 1926 - Paris, 31 May 1996) was a Dutch composer. He occasionally experimented with microtonality.

Rotterdam Municipality in South Holland, Netherlands

Rotterdam is a city and municipality in the Netherlands. It is the second-largest Dutch city after Amsterdam, and is located in the province of South Holland, at the mouth of the Nieuwe Maas channel leading into the Rhine–Meuse–Scheldt delta at the North Sea. Its history goes back to 1270, when a dam was constructed in the Rotte, after which people settled around it for safety. In 1340, Rotterdam was granted city rights by the Count of Holland.

Paris Capital of France

Paris is the capital and most populous city of France, with an area of 105 square kilometres and an official estimated population of 2,140,526 residents as of 1 January 2019. Since the 17th century, Paris has been one of Europe's major centres of finance, diplomacy, commerce, fashion, science, and the arts. The City of Paris is the centre and seat of government of the Île-de-France, or Paris Region, which has an estimated official 2019 population of 12,213,364, or about 18 percent of the population of France. The Paris Region had a GDP of €709 billion in 2017. According to the Economist Intelligence Unit Worldwide Cost of Living Survey in 2018, Paris was the second most expensive city in the world, after Singapore, and ahead of Zürich, Hong Kong, Oslo and Geneva. Another source ranked Paris as most expensive, on a par with Singapore and Hong Kong, in 2018.

Netherlands Constituent country of the Kingdom of the Netherlands in Europe

The Netherlands, sometimes informally called Holland, is a country located in Northwestern Europe with some overseas territories in the Caribbean. In Europe, it consists of 12 provinces that border Germany to the east, Belgium to the south, and the North Sea to the northwest, with maritime borders in the North Sea with those countries and the United Kingdom. Together with three island territories in the Caribbean Sea—Bonaire, Sint Eustatius and Saba—it forms a constituent country of the Kingdom of the Netherlands. The official language is Dutch, but a secondary official language in the province of Friesland is West Frisian. In the northern parts of the country, Low German is also spoken.


Life and career

Taught by Henk Badings, Olivier Messiaen and others, and in his youth influenced by Béla Bartók, De Leeuw was a teacher at the University of Amsterdam and later professor of composition and electronic music at the Sweelinck Conservatory in Amsterdam from 1959 to 1986, at which institute he served as director from 1971–73. For his notable students, See: List of music students by teacher: K to M#Ton de Leeuw .

Olivier Messiaen French composer, organist and ornithologist

Olivier Eugène Prosper Charles Messiaen was a French composer, organist, and ornithologist, one of the major composers of the 20th century. His music is rhythmically complex; harmonically and melodically he employs a system he called modes of limited transposition, which he abstracted from the systems of material generated by his early compositions and improvisations. He wrote music for chamber ensembles and orchestra, vocal music, as well as for solo organ and piano, and also experimented with the use of novel electronic instruments developed in Europe during his lifetime.

Béla Bartók Hungarian composer and pianist

Béla Viktor János Bartók was a Hungarian composer, pianist, and ethnomusicologist. He is considered one of the most important composers of the 20th century; he and Franz Liszt are regarded as Hungary's greatest composers. Through his collection and analytical study of folk music, he was one of the founders of comparative musicology, which later became ethnomusicology.

University of Amsterdam university in Amsterdam

The University of Amsterdam is a public university located in Amsterdam, Netherlands. The UvA is one of two large, publicly funded research universities in the city, the other being the VU University Amsterdam (VU). Established in 1632 by municipal authorities and later renamed for the city of Amsterdam, the University of Amsterdam is the third-oldest university in the Netherlands. It is one of the largest research universities in Europe with 31,186 students, 4,794 staff, 1,340 PhD students and an annual budget of €600 million. It is the largest university in the Netherlands by enrollment. The main campus is located in central Amsterdam, with a few faculties located in adjacent boroughs. The university is organised into seven faculties: Humanities, Social and Behavioural Sciences, Economics and Business, Science, Law, Medicine, and Dentistry.

"When I was quite young I once accidentally tuned in on a radio broadcast from an Arabian station. I was thunderstruck: I became deeply aware that there were other people living on this earth, living in thoroughly different conditions, having other thoughts and feelings" (Ton de Leeuw, 1978[ full citation needed ]).

He studied ethnomusicology with Jaap Kunst between 1950 and 1954 [1] and the encounter with the Dagar brothers and Drupad on his first visit to India in 1961 deepened a lifelong interest in "transculturation". Since then he has travelled throughout the world: Japan, Indonesia, Australia, the Philippines, Persia, the Sovjet Union, Hungary, Bulgaria and Finland, where he hold workshops and lectures on the East-West relationship in music. In the seventies De Leeuw and André Jurres initiated the renowned Music-Cultural gatherings Musicultura at Queeckhoven House in Breukelen, the Netherlands. See: The World of Music Vol. 20, No. 2, Musicultura: Three Orient-Occident Encounters organized by the Eduard van Beinum Foundation—Final Report (1978), pp. 10–14. This manifested itself in his work for Western instruments by the occasional use of microtonality, as in his String Quartet No. 2 (1964), [2] as well as in compositional plans; Gending (1975) [lower-alpha 1] for Javanese gamelan is a rare foray into writing for non-western instruments. In 1956 Ton de Leeuw was awarded the Prix Italia for his radiophonic oratorio Job.

Ethnomusicology study of music emphasizing cultural, social, material, cognitive, biological, and other dimensions

Ethnomusicology is the study of music from the cultural and social aspects of the people who make it. It encompasses distinct theoretical and methodical approaches that emphasize cultural, social, material, cognitive, biological, and other dimensions or contexts of musical behavior, instead of only its isolated sound component.

JaapKunst was a Dutch ethnomusicologist, particularly associated with the study of gamelan music of Indonesia. He is known for coining the word "ethno-musicology" as a more accurate alternative to the then-preferred term, "comparative musicology".

Gamelan Indonesian traditional ensemble

Gamelan is the traditional ensemble music of Javanese, Sundanese, and Balinese in Indonesia, made up predominantly of percussive instruments. The most common instruments used are metallophones played by mallets and a set of hand-played drums called kendhang which register the beat. Also the kemanak, a banana shaped idiophone and gangsa, another metallaphone are amongst the commonly used gamelan instruments. Other instruments include xylophones, bamboo flutes, a bowed instrument called a rebab, and even vocalists named sindhen.

He wrote three operas, all to his own libretti, including a television opera Alceste (1963, after Euripides), the one-act De Droom ("the Dream", 1963), and finally Antigone (1989–1991, after Sophocles). In 2005 his 1964 book on twentieth-century music was published in English translation as Music of the Twentieth Century: A Study of Its Elements and Structure (Amsterdam: University Press, 1995), also in Swedish and German.

Opera Artform combining sung text and musical score in a theatrical setting

Opera is a form of theatre in which music has a leading role and the parts are taken by singers, but is distinct from musical theater. Such a "work" is typically a collaboration between a composer and a librettist and incorporates a number of the performing arts, such as acting, scenery, costume, and sometimes dance or ballet. The performance is typically given in an opera house, accompanied by an orchestra or smaller musical ensemble, which since the early 19th century has been led by a conductor.

Euripides ancient Athenian tragic playwright

Euripides was a tragedian of classical Athens. Along with Aeschylus and Sophocles, he is one of the three ancient Greek tragedians for whom a significant number of plays have survived. Some ancient scholars attributed 95 plays to him but, according to the Suda, it was 92 at most. Of these, 18 or 19 have survived more or less complete and there are also fragments, some substantial, of most of the other plays. More of his plays have survived intact than those of Aeschylus and Sophocles together, partly because his popularity grew as theirs declined—he became, in the Hellenistic Age, a cornerstone of ancient literary education, along with Homer, Demosthenes, and Menander.

Olivier Messiaen wrote about his later works: 'Ton de Leeuw's music is essentially diatonic. He uses modes, melodic lines, counterpoints, chords, but it all remains diatonic. Hardly any discords. The colour white, or just a shade bluish, sometimes a golden light is added. Treatment of the 12 voices in his work about the “Cantique des Cantiques” [Song of Songs] also remains diatonic, both in his pianissimo and forte. His work on part of “l’Apocalypse” [The Book of Revelation] provides a new timbral element with staccato of the horn and the clarinet. Plainsong is introduced in his “Psaumes pour la Messe des Morts” [Psalms for the Requiem Mass], as well as dramatic effects where the beating of the tam-tam comes up against the ostinatos of the marimba, against the calls of the female voice. There are even bunches of chords with the use of modes. But the spirit always remains diatonic in a static way that is very close to the type of oriental music which penetrates the listener and gets him into a semi-oneiric state, the state of a waking dream.'

Ton de Leeuw 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 13 June 1996 by Rosemary Hardy with the Ensemble InterContemporain.

Selected recordings


  1. Grove[ full citation needed ] gives the wrong date in one place, besides "UCLA, Berkeley" for UC Berkeley

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  1. [Author], [Title], Baker's Biographical Dictionary of Music and Musicians, seventh edition, edited by Nicolas Slonimsky (New York: Schirmer Books; London: Collier Macmillan, 1984)[ full citation needed ]
  2. Vincent McDermott, "Current Chronicle: The Netherlands", The Musical Quarterly 52, no. 4 (October 1966): 511–20; citation on 517–18.

Further reading