Amersfoort, 2 June 1902
Hilversum, 15 July 1947
2. Con dolore e passione
3. Intermezzo (Passionato)
duration: about 14′;
publisher: Donemus, Amsterdam 1950.
duration: about 3’30”;
location: Nederlands Muziek Instituut.
Jacques Beers obtained his final diploma at the Conservatorium van Amsterdam in 1923. In 1926 he was its first student to graduate with a music history major. He also took composition lessons with Sem Dresden.
In 1927 he continued studying composition in Paris, first with Jean Huré and later, after Huré’s death in 1930, with Nadia Boulanger. Up until the outbreak of World War Two Beers worked in Paris as a music journalist for the Dutch newspaper het Handelsblad and as organist and cantor of the German Evangelical Church. His address book has survived to the present day and bears witness to his extensive network.
It seems fair to claim that the Cello Sonata of 1923 is primarily of interest to us today for the insight it affords us into how the 21-year-old composer sought to find his way in modernism. While his ideas are captivating in themselves, they are often worked out in a somewhat contrived manner. The piano sonata, which was written a few years later and dedicated to Jean Huré, already makes a far more balanced impression.
Beers’s own modern idiom breaks through in his Trois chansons pour danser, composed to poems by Yvan Goll in 1928. The work was published by Heugel, dedicated to Vera Janacopoulos (one of the modernists’ muses, who inspired the poet Jan Engelman to write his cantilena ‘Ambrosia wat vloeit mij aan…’) and was premiered by Marcelle Gerar. The latter introduced Beers to Ravel, who certainly attempted to help him gain entry into the Parisian musical world, as evidenced by his surviving postcard dated February 1930: ‘Please excuse me: I myself am working: 1º on a concerto; 2º on a half concerto (for the left hand); 3º on a symphonic poem: Dédale 39. I leave my house as little as possible. I hope to hear your work with orchestra soon, for I do not doubt that Monteux will be captivated by its musicality and character.’
Other song cycles are Vlan! 6 chants puérils dating from 1930 and the Trois chansons nègres of 1939, the latter dedicated to and once again premiered by Marcelle Gerar. All these songs are permeated with a true ‘esprit gaulois,’ as are the Huit pièces faciles for four-hand piano dating from 1933.
The flute sonata of 1931was dedicated to Elisabeth Sprague-Coolidge and published by Eschig, thanks to Ravel’s advocacy. Despite its many indisputable qualities it leans perhaps a little too obviously on Stravinsky’s neoclassicism. This explains why some prefer the more spontaneous suite for flute and piano of 1939. Other outstanding works are the concerto for soprano, alto saxophone, piano and orchestra (1932) and the superb Missa sine tenore (1934), dedicated to Nadia Boulanger.
During this period Beers submitted Melody to the French bureau for authors’ rights SACEM: it is a gently melancholic work with the simplicity of a chanson (tonic key C minor, modulating to E flat major and concluding with a C major arpeggio) but with some subtle metric displacements. It could serve as a fine intermezzo within certain programmes or perhaps be used as an encore.