Fanfare Contributor Bio
Bertil van Boer
It is difficult to describe how such a short biographical statement as this ought to be written. There is perhaps a brief moment of facetiousness, or perhaps one might recall the witticism about a hare and a snake meeting on a dark night (yes, this does have to do with music critics, but I am not going to repeat it here). In a world where strong opinions often form or sway the views of others, there is a great responsibility, one that cannot be taken lightly but that must include objectivity as well as a personal take on things, and thus one really ought to know a bit about my background and familiarity with the subject. So, at the risk of foregoing a really good anecdote or simply making it all up on the spot, here goes.
To introduce myself, dear Readers, I am a musicologist, having taught music history at the university level for almost 30 years. Such a career choice seems natural to me, since I have been closely involved in the entire world of music all my life, beginning as a child. I composed my first work at about the age of seven, and by the time I studied composition at the Mozarteum under Cesar Bresgen, I had already written a fair number of pieces. Even now, I continue to compose, as opportunities arise. Recently, for example, our new music ensemble enrolled an odd assortment of several vocalists, a violinist, and three clarinets, the repertory for which is, as one might expect, exceedingly rare if not non-existent. My contribution to a departmental effort was a set of four songs based upon a poem about the seasons of the year penned by my 12-year-old Swedish cousin. Vivaldi it isn’t, but the project was fun, and everyone seemed to like it. Continuing the practical side of the field, I am also a professional performer, having played viola, as well as being a conductor, and thus I have been on both sides of the firing line, so to speak. Moreover, I have done considerable consulting on performance practices of the 18th century, providing expertise on style, compiling editions for performance and recording, and researching the historical background of the compositions. Many may know that my focus for years has been the music of Joseph Martin Kraus, whose music I have catalogued and continue to edit. My research does, however, encompass virtually every period of music history, and I regularly write scholarly articles for academic journals. I frequently write disc liner notes, most recently for Naxos and Phoenix Editions, which means writing for an audience that is both knowledgeable and non-academic. If one thinks that this is a monomaniacal focus on music, I would offer two other bits of information; I continue to teach at a Western Washington University and have other interests outside of music.
My views on music are based upon both experience and vocation. I feel that any composer and his or her music ought to be judged by two criteria: objective contributions to the world of music (i.e., the understanding of its development and style) and how one might react to the works themselves on both an intellectual and emotional level. It is not a question of whether one “likes” or “dislikes” a specific work or composer—after all, as human beings we should feel free to make our own decisions about such matters, as we are all individuals with our own opinions and tastes—but rather whether one is open-minded enough to state the facts concerning the genesis of a work, its place in history, and how it has been treated by the performance reviewed; the exquisite, good, bad, and ugly. But mostly, I hope to have fun listening to and examining the pieces, learning along with obtaining some esthetical enjoyment. And I hope to take as many of you as are willing to journey with me along for the ride.