EDUARD VAN BEINUM
Eduard van Beinum’s family was very musical, his father being a double-bass player in the Arnhem Orchestra. Eduard learnt to play the piano, violin and viola, and by the age of sixteen he was performing in the viola section of his father’s orchestra. His elder brother was himself a violinist and choirmaster, and he taught Eduard the rudiments of music. Eduard went on to study at the Amsterdam Conservatory, where a performance that he gave as a pianist of Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 1 drew a favourable response from the academic staff. His principal interest however was conducting, and he launched into this by directing amateur choirs and orchestras, notably at Schiedam and Zutphen. In 1927 he was appointed as conductor of the Haarlem Symphony Orchestra. Here he learnt the backbone of the orchestral repertoire and conducted many Dutch contemporary works. He left Haarlem for Amsterdam in 1931 when he was appointed the second conductor of the Concertgebouw Orchestra, with which he had already appeared as a pianist and guest conductor.
At the Concertgebouw he was able to observe not only the legendary chief conductor of the orchestra, Willem Mengelberg, but also its numerous distinguished guest conductors, such as Bruno Walter and Pierre Monteux. He maintained a strong individual profile and appeared as a guest abroad, notably with the Leningrad Philharmonic Orchestra in 1937. In 1938 he was appointed principal conductor of the Concertgebouw Orchestra, now working alongside Mengelberg. Following the end of World War II and the ban on conducting imposed upon Mengelberg as a result of his pro-Nazi stance, van Beinum took over the musical direction of the Concertgebouw in 1945, remaining as chief conductor of the orchestra for the rest of his life. In 1946 he happened to be in London discussing a visit by the orchestra when Albert Coates, who was scheduled to conduct a concert with the London Philharmonic Orchestra, fell ill; van Beinum stepped in and made an immediate impression. After further guest engagements with the London Philharmonic Orchestra he was invited to become its chief conductor, a post which he held between 1949 and 1951, despite having to retire for a year in 1950 because of ill health.
During 1954 van Beinum and the Concertgebouw made a highly successful tour of America and American engagements quickly followed. Rather than accept a handful of concerts as a guest, van Beinum preferred to work extensively with one orchestra. Thus in 1955 he conducted the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in eight concerts at the Ravinia Festival; and in 1956, again after a series of successful guest engagements, he was appointed chief conductor of the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra, with whom he was to spend two months of each year. However van Beinum’s career was cut short by poor health: in 1959, while conducting the Concertgebouw in a rehearsal of Brahms’s Symphony No. 1, he suffered a fatal heart attack.
Eduard van Beinum earned the admiration of orchestral musicians by his style of conducting, which has been described by a member of the Concertgebouw Orchestra as ‘stroking’ the orchestra rather than ‘hitting’ it. A fine chamber musician, a role which he took frequently with his wife, the violinist Sepha Jansen, his driving philosophy was that he and the members of the orchestra were making music together. Possessing an unfailing sense of musical style across the principal areas of the symphonic repertoire, van Beinum was one of the first conductors of international standing to record for Decca Records with its ‘Full Frequency Range Recording’ system. The resulting recordings, several of which have been reissued, remain outstanding examples of his art, and include fine performances of Bruckner’s Symphony No. 7 (which he recorded twice for Decca), Berlioz’s Symphonie Fantastique, and Bartók’s Concerto for Orchestra (a very recent work at the time of recording). He went on to record with the Dutch company Philips, with whom his recorded repertoire continued to reflect his life-long interest in composers such as Bruckner and Brahms as well as other composers, such as Debussy, whose music he had not recorded with Decca. An enthusiastic supporter of contemporary music and especially of Dutch composers, van Beinum gave the first performances of many new works, including the world première in 1949 of Benjamin Britten’s Spring Symphony.
© Naxos Rights International Ltd. — David Patmore (A–Z of Conductors, Naxos 8.558087–90).