The music of the Dutch composer Margriet Hoenderdos (1952-2010) is extremely parsimonious. Her hushed sound sculptures call to mind the white relief paintings of her countryman Jan Schoonhoven. Three of her chamber music compositions appear on a cd released by the German label Wandelweiser, appropriately presented in a sober white sleeve.
Margriet Hoenderdos: Chamber Music contains one vocal work: Juli ’06 for unaccompanied soprano, and two instrumental pieces: Maart ’98 for string sextet and De lussen van Faverey (‘Faverey’s Loops’) for wind quintet. The title of the woodwind piece at once betrays it’s an earlier work: about halfway through her career Hoenderdos started titling her works after the month and year of conception. Being strongly anti-romantic she thus wished to avoid any personal connotations.
Ghosts wailing in the night
De lussen van Faverey was composed in 1990 and refers to the Dutch/Surinam poet Hans Faverey (1933-1990), who wrote verses for her to set to music. Instead of creating a song cycle, however, Hoenderdos wrote an instrumental piece for two (bass)clarinets, bassoon, horn and oboe. In her own programme notes she compares Faverey’s language skills to the versatility of a boomerang or dolphin that elegantly returns to its point of departure.
The twenty-minute piece consists of long-held, bent tones in a slow rhythm, interspersed with piercing shrieks in the higher registers. The effect of a boomerang is found in the succession of synchronized entries veering into different directions before returning to base and starting again. The overall atmosphere is that of a lament, the sudden cries and heavy dissonances evoking the feel of ghosts wailing in the night.
This slow pace and mournful atmosphere also characterize Maart ’98. The six players create dense tapestries of sound, that rather seem to be generated electronically than by horse-hair on strings.
Digging their bows deep into their instruments, the players create metallic and groaning sound effects. These are the more unsettling since their tones are in constant flux, moving up and down the scale in endless meandering glissandi. Hoenderdos may not have wished to evoke emotions, but these two pieces seem to express a deep, existential angst.
Juli ’06, based on a poem by Bas Geerts, is the most beautiful and remarkable composition on this cd. Geerts broke up belligerent texts from President George W. Bush, reassembling them into a phonetically notated poem on rhetorical manipulation. In spite of its political content, Juli ’06 has a jaunty atmosphere, comparable to Berio’s Sequenza III.
The Dutch soprano Margo Rens turns out to be the ideal performer, switching without apparent effort from loud tongue clacks and fierce glottal stops to more lyrical, operatic lines with different types of vibrato in the blink of an eye.
After her premature death in 2010, Hoenderdos has become somewhat neglected. This recent cd offers a new generation of listeners and performers the chance to become acquainted with her sparse but probing style.
In 1997 I made a radio series about women composers for Radio 4. My first programme was about Margriet Hoenderdos. Here she speaks about her teacher Ton de Leeuw. (Dutch)