Jacobus Richardus (Jaap) Callenbach
(5.2.4) (1904 – 1975), Concert Pianist and Piano Teacher
door Gégé Callenbach

Jaap Callenbach was born in Rotterdam. He was the son of Dr JR (Koos) Callenbach (1862-1945) and Quirine van Gheel Gildemeester (1868-1955) His father was the minister of the Laurens Church in Rotterdam from 1901 until his retirement in 1936.

Jaap was a senior lecturer in piano at the conservatorium of Rotterdam, Tilburg, Amsterdam, Utrecht and Arnhem from 1935. Not of The Hague, as was shown on the Callenbach-Meerburg website.

We only have information in the archives (of the Callenbach-Meerburg Foundation) about his professional life. There is no information about his youth and secondary education achievements. We don’t know how his parents coped with his undoubted musical talent and with his decision to make music his career.

Jaap was married to Anneke van Aken (1922- 2002). They did not have any children

I was fortunate that I was able to speak with an old pupil of my second cousin, through which his human side became a little clearer. The person in question, Jan van Dijk¹, has known him as an artist and a romantic, who had difficulty coping with the restrictions of civil society. He describes Jaap as a person who played his own part in society, who could participate but was more inclined to be an observer. According to Jan, Jaap was no theorist of composing but more an analyst. This attribute served him well as a performing artist.

The years of training until the early thirties.

Jaap Callenbach receives his education as a pianist and a teacher at the Music School of the Society for the Advancement of the Art of Musical Composition in Rotterdam. This school was the predecessor of the Rotterdam Conservatorium. He receives his diploma, with honours, in 1925. In the late twenties and early thirties he continues his studies in Paris. According to Van Dijk he was able to do so because of the financial support his parents were able to give him. Paris was, at that time, the centre in Europe for literature, the figurative arts and music. This is where the composers Honegger, Gershwin, Milhaud and Ravel, the writer Hemmingway, the painter Chagall and artists Maurice Chevalier and Mistinguette lived and worked. His teacher in Paris is Marcel Ciampi, the representative at that time of the “jeu perlé”. (pearl like piano playing.) Jan also tells us that Jaap also studied in Frankfurt, Germany, under Karl Leimer, a well known pianist and author of “Das Moderne Klavierspiel” (The modern way to play the piano.)
Letters of reference from 1928/29 reveal that he is appreciated as a musician and why. Karl Textor, also one of Jaap’s teachers, declares in a letter dated 29.05.1928: [….] ”that Mr Jaap Callenbach is a pianist of great talent, musicality and intelligence [….] as well as [….] having  great qualities as a teacher.”
Marcel Ciampi in Paris writes in a letter dated 30.051928:
“M. Jaap Callenbach est un artiste qui a le noble but de respecter la pensée des auteurs qu’il exécute. Sa grande musicalité, sa belle technique font de lui un magnifique interprète.” (Mr Jaap Callenbach is an artist whose prime aim is to respect the intensions of the composers whose works he performs.) His great musical ability and his beautiful technique make him a magnificent interpreter.)
Professor Robert Teichm
űller, from Leipzig, Germany, writes in a letter dated 02.070929: “Herr Jaap Callenbach [...] ein ausgezeichneter Musiker und fortrefflicher Pianist [....] ist  technisch wohl gerűstet, ja virtuos eingestellt, gestalted mit klaren Blick fűr musikalischen Aufbau, sehr gutem Geschmack und Sinn fűr Feinheiten [....] Alles Konzertreif.“ (Mr Jaap Callenbach , an  excellent musician and an exceptional pianist, [....] has a good, yes even a virtuose technique, has a clear view of the musical construction with very good taste and a feeling for details. Ready for the concert hall.
Van der Hutschenruijter, the director of the Music School for the art of Musical Composition in Rotterdam until 1925, writes in December 1929: “He has a very sharp ear, is a tasteful and well founded  piano player. He is a very experienced teacher. Experience in foreign countries has made him technically, musically and aestetically more mature.“

Jaap has the opportunity to make a career in two ways, as a performing artist or as a teacher.  Van der Hutschenruijter sincerely recommends Jaap in 1928 to the Art Society in Batavia. (now Jakarta, Indonesia) “Callenbach is one of our most promising youngsters and I have the utmost faith in his future. It is therefore my desire that his wish, to make a concert tour in Indonesia, becomes a reality.“ It is likely that he has not made this tour. The family archives, which appear to contain a complete collection of his concert programs, shows no evidence of it. Van der Hutschenruijter writes on 03.06.1929: “[....] Mr Jaap Callenbach shows evidence of diligence, industry and persistance [and] of great musical talent. It is my pleasure to be able to strongly and warmly recommend him, both as a performing pianist and as a teacher of his instrument.

Jaap as a performing Artist.

Jaap performed as a concert pianist since 1925. Between 1925 and 1930 his performances are almost entirely confined to accompanying of female singers. After that period he almost exclusively confines himself to performances as a soloist, especially recitals. In his time he was very much appreciated as a performing artist, according to Van Dijk. When he performs in the Kurzaal in Scheveningen (near The Hague) his pupils are part of the audiance as a claque of hired aplauders. Van Dijk calls Jaap a perfectionist who is critical of himself from note to note. He was also well known as an accompanist of singers. Van Dijk calls Jaap’s way of playing  “cantando“, singing. From the critiques it is clear that his technique is strongly influenced by the Frensh way of playing called “jeu perlé.”

Places where Jaap performs.

He performs all over the country. One can discern three periods, 1925-1942, and 1942 till the end of WW II and after WW II till 1956. His last two concerts are in 1974, as part of his farewell from the conservatoriums of Arnhem and Rotterdam. The public performances before and after WW II take place predominantly in the Western part of the country, mainly in The Hague, Rotterdam and Utrecht. He only performs three times in Amsterdam, twice in the Small Hall of the Concertgebouw. In the country he performs from Goes (in the South) to Leeuwarden (in the North) and from Noordwijk (in the West) to Cuijk (in the East).

Between 1942 and the end of WW II he only plays in the private homes. This must be because he has refused to become a member of the Netherlands Chamber of the Arts. This National Socialist institution was founded by the German occupiers in November 1941. It was part of the Department of Information and the Arts. The Chamber of the Arts made the pretence of being a professional society of all artists. In practice it was mainly an organisation which promoted the National Socialist philosophy and which controlled the artist. It was compulsory for everyone who was active in the Arts sector to be a member. The choice Jaap made was indicative  of most Dutch artists during WW II and the consequences were the same for all. To “make ends meet” he performs in private homes all over the Netherlands. From late 1944 these concerts are confined to The Hague. This will be a consequence of the fact that the Railways had gone on permanent strike, which made travel impossible. (Most private cars had been impounded by the occupier and petrol (gasoline) was unobtainable). In total there were 44 of these home performances. Sometimes on a grand piano  “of poor quality out of tune and in poor condition” sometimes on an “excellent one”.

A special mention is made of his performance of the 30th June 1945, the first  MaNeTo-Concert after the war of the Manifestation of The Netherlands Toonkunst (Musical arts) .  In this way ”the performing artist can be considered as symbolic of The Netherlands music world and the audience as sympathetic of The Netherlands concert goers, who refused to attend “Nazi –Kultur Konzerte” during the war.”

The Minister for Education, Art and Science addresses the audience about  “the attitude of the artists who either did not perform at all or  who were heard only in private homes “.  The performers of this concert included Jo Vincent, who was a world famous singer at the time, Jaap Callenbach (who played the third piano sonata of H Andriessen ) and Géza Fried (a violinist), Jaap must have been known as an artist who had conducted himself well during the war. 

His Repertoire

He is not known as a soloist in piano concertos. We have 10 programs from the period of 1930 and 1954 where that is the case however.  He performs the piano concerto of Grieg in A Minor (twice), the fourth piano concerto by Saint-Saëns (4x) Variations Symphoniques by Franck (1x) and Mozart’s Piano Concerto KV482 (3x).  His repertoire primarily smaller piano works.  He plays works from the baroque period to the 20th century. For each period we mention the most important composers from whom Jaap performed several works.  From the baroque; Bach (8x) and Scarlatti (4x).  From the classical period; Beethoven (6x) and Mozart (6x).  From the romantics; Brahms (4x), Chopin (16x), Fauré (7x), Franck (3x), Liszt (7x), Mendelssohn (3x), Schubert (4x), Schumann (4x) and Saint-Saëns (3x). From the impressionists; Debussy (11x), and Ravel (2x).  From 1900 and later Albeniz (4x), De Falla (2x), Prokofief (2x), Schäfer (4x), Van den Sigtenhorst Meijer (2x).  

The romantics and the impressionists are far and away the best represented in his choice of repertoire.  (About 600 times out of a total of 900). They, doubtlessly, also fitted the preference of his audience. 

Critiques of his Performances

Following his debut in The Hague and in Rotterdam in 1931 the critics are full of praise about his technical abilities.  “His pearl-like playing of the movements, the speed of his fingers, his touch, the mighty forte, and the velvet of the bel canto-pianissimo’s demand admiration. “(De Tijd 14.02.1931) “A good debut [....] Tight and technically solid, everything is totally free and uninhibited. “ (Telegraaf 14.02.1931) “His technique is excellently developed, richly shaded, smooth and delicate. The touch and the use of the pedals are cleanly balanced.  The diction is sensitive and distinguished.  The interpretation shows understanding of style.” (Algemeen Handelsblad 14.02.1931) “Repeatedly his touch is lucid and serene and the left hand has a particular clearness of tone [....] Callenbach’s phrasing and his use of the pedals [....] is excellent. That does not mean however that plastically everything succeeded equally beautifully in this recital.” (De Maasbode 16.01.1931).  The critics also pay attention to his interpretation.  “[....] the rendition shows an understanding of the style.” (Algemeen Handelsblad 14.02.1931).  [....] the naturally present harmony from searching intelligence and intuitive sensitivity and picturesque musicality.” (Het Vaderland 10.01.1931). [....] “also in this regard it is pleasing to notice the progress.  The musicality is more profound now, the acquired makes way for the personal insight.” {....] (NRC 16.01.1931)  “The display of the thought processes occurs with deliberation, the sentiment runs deep.” (De Avondpost 10.01.1931)
The critiques are not always positive:  “in the Bach and Mozart the performer completely missed the point”.
[….] “Only the notes were present” (NRC 30.01.1932). “in the works by Bach and Mozart and even the variations by Mendelssohn we missed the architectural beauty, [….] in parts too romantic of expression and in parts too plain and often too fast.” (Utrechtsch Dagblad 30.01.1932)  His performances or works from the Romantic and the Impressionist composers, amongst which works with a story-telling character such as those of Albeniz, received positive critiques from the beginning of his career. “Callenbach has played Auric, Ravel and Albeniz brilliantly.” (NRC 30.01.1932)  “[After] interval comes [….] Ravel’s “Jeux d’eau“ and the two magnificent piano pieces by Albeniz (Evocation and Navarra) succeeded admirably.” (Utrechtsch Dagblad 30.01.1932) 

They predict a beautiful future for him.  “Jaap Callenbach is becoming a meditative pianist, an interpreter of things which rise from the inner being.  A messenger of an inner spiritual perception and that is saying a lot in these superficial and unusual times.” (De Tijd 10.01.1931).  “In the refined colourisation of the French impressionists and the swooning storytelling style of the romantics he finds everything to his liking.”[….]  “the in-detail remarkably crafted rendition of the magnificent pieces by Debussy [….] (NRC 10.01.1931) 

After WW ll they talk about him as “a musician who lets himself be inspired by the spirit of the compositions and who then comes to an impressive interpretation.” (Algemeen Handelsbad 24.03.1951) And about a concert in which “the atmosphere of Schumann was expressed beautifully in the ingenious études.”  Prélude, choral et fugue were shown in a sensitive and musical way to great advantage, probably as the high point of this recital.”(NRC 28.03.1951) 

In the archives there are also critiques which judge the same performance quite differently.  Unfortunately these do not carry a date.

Specially in Schumann’s Etudes, does Jaap Callenbach show what a clever pianist he is. One must be very accomplished to be able to interpret Schumann so surely and brilliantly.     NRC

The Etudes symphoniques sounded too much like etudes and not enough like music pieces.     Rotterdamsch Nieuwsblad

Callenbach gave a very riveting interpretation of Schumann’s etudes, which showed a sturdy musicality and a harmonically developped technique.     Algemeen Handelsblad

There was insufficient warmth, insufficient passion in his interpretation as a result there were limp and empty passages.     Dagblad van Rotterdam

Jaap as a teacher of the piano.

Jaap Callenbach has a busy practice as a piano teacher according to a newspaper report in 1947. His first appointment as a piano instructor is with the Rotterdam Conservatorium in 1935. Willem Pijper is then the principal. He is the defender of the French musical tradition in The Netherlands. That a young man like Jaap Callenbach is straight away appointed as a principal teacher can be attributed to his advanced studies in Paris with Marcel Ciampi. Ciampi is at that time one of the leading musicians, composers and teachers. He was world famous.
One of the first pupils of Jaap is the afore mentioned Jan van Dijk. He starts his education in Rotterdam in 1936. It is Willem Pijper, his supervisor, who strongly recommends that he commences studies with Jaap Callenbach. Van Dijk tells that Jaap gave his students an overview of the principal playing methods. This places Jaap with the French line of Liszt and Chopin, which runs via a concert pianist like Cortot and continues in the thirties to Ciampi. “Callenbach played as a Frenchman” says van Dijk. Apart from that, Jaap has become acquainted, during his postgraduate studies in Germany, with the theory of Karl Leimer. This theory he has also practiced with van Dijk. Van Dijk summarises this theory as follows: “Piano technique is not something you learn by continuously practicing
études; that deadens you; you can’t hear a thing anymore. You learn by fixing the music in your head, in bed, and follow that by starting to play it slowly from memory.”
Besides training in technique Jaap also gives lessons in memory training. As an 89 year old van Dijk witnesses in 2007: “Because of the technique I learned from Jaap I can still play today.” Van Dijk tells how years later, in the sixties and seventies, he propagated the education techniques of Callenbach. He encountered through his function as chairman of the Federal Commission of Music, at exam time, students whose technique left something to be desired. He would advise them to study the books by Jaap Callenbach. When, in 2007, we showed him copies of the books held in the family archives, he remembered them as those Jaap used to teach him.

His pupils

Van Dijk mentions amongst those who were taught by Jaap Callenbach: Elly Salomé (Music critic of the newspaper ”Het Parool”), Gijbert Nieuwland (conductor of the Band of the Dutch Marine Corps), Jan Masséus (Dutch composer 1913-1999),  Louis van Dijk (who, with Prof Pieter van Vollenhoven forms the duo “Musical Friends), Pieter Schat, (a composer 1935-2003, who dedicated one of his compositions to Jaap Callenbach) and Jan Zakveld (Producer of the “Saturday Matinee” for VARA) The significance of Jaap Callenbach as a teacher gets dimension when people such as Louis van Dijk frequently make special mention of Jaap Callenbach as their teacher. Jaap took a personal interest in his students as evidenced by the fact that he went to visit van Dijk when he was evicted from his house during the war. He also had his vulnerable side; his students were not allowed to touch Saint-Saëns 4th piano concerto. That he kept for himself. Even though there is nothing of personal nature about Jaap Callenbach in the family archives, it is possible, thanks to the substantial volume of material about his professional life, to get a good impression of him as a concert pianist, including his strong (and weaker) sides. As a result of this material we can get an impression of the preference of Jaap and his audience for romantic and impressionist compositions.

I have placed a list in the archives of all the works Jaap has performed, including how many times each item featured. This detailed list indicated exactly where Jaap’s preferences lay.

¹Jan van Dijk was born in 1918. In 1936 he commences studies at the Rotterdam Conservatorium and becomes a pupil of Jaap Callenbach. His mentor is Willem Pijper, the principal of the Rotterdam Conservatorium. After the World War II van Dijk himself becomes a teacher at the Conservatorium (harmony, counter point, theory and composition) and later also at Tilburg. He has composed more than 1000 works. He is an honourable citizen of Gouda.
I visited him at his home on 20th December 2007. The citations of van Dijk originate from these discussions.

Note: The items written in italic are additions from the translator to make things clearer for non Dutch readers.

Translated by Kees and Bernice Callenbach.