(Gerrit Cornelis Otten)

born November 28, 1924

A Dutch Recorder Pioneer


His father was sectretary to The Lord Mayor of Amsterdam, after which he became secretary to the Governor of Amsterdam University. Both positions embraces a certain amount of pomp, ceremony and music, and doubtless the young Kees was influenced by the music on numerous official occasions.
His mother taught piano at the Amsterdam Muzieklyceum for fifty years.
An uncle, on his mother's side, was active in the 1920's and 30's in the field of school music and it was this uncle, a good friend of Hindemith, Milhaud and Poulenc, who introduced Kees to the recorder.
Growing up and surrounded by music, it is not surprising that Kees found his way into the world of music playing clarinet and recorder.

Kees Otten

Surprisingly perhaps, it was jazz that attracted his enthousiasm, particularly after attending a concert featuring Duke Ellington. One of Kees Otten's boyhood jazz highlights was playing the recorder with the great Coleman Hawkins. His parents were not exactly happy with their son's enthousiasme for jazz at the expence of a broader musical education, and Kees finally agreed to seriously study clarinet at the Amsterdam Muzieklyceum. Kees successes there included his being soloist in works by Mozart, Schumann and Reger, and presenting the first performance of Sonatine by Jan Wisse.
From 1942 onwards while still at the Muzieklyceum, he presented performances on the recorder of works by Scarlatti, Telemann, Poulenc and Auric.
In Holland, during World War 2, there were very few officially approved public concerts, but plenty of opportunities for Kees to take part in house concerts. These were presented in co-operation with oboist Hans Bruggen, an older brother of Frans who later on became a student of Kees Otten.
The influence of Kees Otten made it possible from 1952 to study recorder as one's principle instrument at the Amsterdam Muzieklyceum, Frans Brüggen being one of the first to receive the Dutch Recorder Diploma in 1953.
Directly after after World War 2, and never relinquishing his enthousiasm for jazz, Kees Otten took part in many cabarets presented to allied troops, particularly the Canadiens. His 1945 rendering on the recorder of an Hungarian style violin concerto was particularly well received.
Towards the end of 1945 Kees received an invitation to travel through the Balkans, Spain and North Africa with a top jazz ensemble, but in that same year he was also invited by the harpsichordist and Bach scholar Hans Brandts Byus to take part in concerts and broadcasts presenting Bach Cantatas. He chose the latter.
In 1945, realising the importance of teaching younger students the recorder, Kees introduced the instrument at the Amsterdam Volksmuziekschool. The following year he met for the first time Carl Dolmetsch, who was continuing and expanding the work of his father Arnold Dolmetsch.

Kees Otten's involvement with the recorder since the early 1930's reads like a history of music involving the people, places, music and publishers of the time. Over the years he has worked with numerous musical organisations including the Dutch Bach Society, the Radio Ensemble for Old Music, the Amsterdam Recorder Ensemble and Radio Herrijzend Nederland. Some others he founded, including the Stichting Muziekkring Obrecht. He has given concert performances with Frans Bruggen, Carl Dolmetsch, Edgar Hunt, Dutch harpsichordists Gustav Leonhardt and Jaap Spigt, lutenists Julian Bream and Walter Gerwig, Alfred Deller, and blues singer Big Bill Broonzy.
He has presented concerts in America, Austria, Belgium, Denmark, England, Germany, Greece, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, New Zealand, Spain and Switzerland. He has performed the vast majority of the recorder's early literature and much of its modern repertoire, including the much neglected compositions written between the two World Wars.
In addition Kees Otten has composed music for the Netherlands Volkstoneel, and started the series Nieuwe Blokfluitmuziek published by Heuwekemeijer. And even in so called retirement he is happy if recorder players seek his guidance on how to play some of the rather obscure contemporary Dutch compositions, so many of which have been dedicated to him.

But for many people, and not only recorder players, Kees Otten's name is most associated with the early music ensemble he formed in 1963 - Syntagma Musicum. Their concerts received the highest praise from discerning music critics including Leonard Bernstein, while their recordings on more than one occasion received the noted Edison Award. Comprising six versatile musicians including two extraordinarily talented vocalists, they played a huge range of wind, percussion, string and keyboard instruments. More than any other pioneering ensemble, they presented to the world Medieval and Renaissance music - from the sprightly danse tunes of those times to the profoundly moving Motets and Masses. Over the years the personnel of Syntagma Musicum changed, but the standard remained consistently high. In the same way as Otten's pupil Frans Bruggen made us listen to Baroque Music with new ears, Syntagma Musicum compelled us to listen similarly to their performences of pre-Baroque Music. Much of the understanding and popularity of this music as well as the numerous groups around the world performing it, are indebted to the pioneering work of Kees Otten's ensemble.
In 1984 Syntagma Musicum recorded sixty five compositions for the Dutch Radio, and soon afterwards, aged sixty, Kees disbanded the ensemble which had achieved recognition and fame around the world.

There were further solo tours following which, in 1985, an ensemble was formed around Kees and his wife Marina. In 1998 the BV Haast issued a CD called Fluit Douceur, with music of Hindemith, Poulenc and contemporaries.
In 1999 two CDs were issued to commemorate the work of Syntagma Musicum.
Carl Dolmetsch advanced the idea that if the recorder is to survive it needs more than its early repertoire - it needs modern world wide compositions as well. Over the years a large volume of music was commissioned by and/or written for Carl Dolmetsch. Kees Otten had exactly the same influence upon a large and different group of composers, including the Americans Ervin Henning and Roslyn Brogue, the first composers to write recorder twelve tone compostion - Henning in 1951, Roslyn Brogue in 1955. The Argentinian composer Esteban Eitler who died in 1960 wrote a piece for solo soprano (descant) recorder.
Many works are composed for and dedicated to Kees Otten. A large collection of pieces speaks eloquently of Kees Otten's enormous contribution to the world of music, made by one of the world's recorder pioneers. However, one must not imagine that Kees Otten's musical interests are confined exclusively to the recorder and Jazz. He has a profound knowledge of music, musical styles, composition, composers etc etc.

Kees Otten died on the 25th of September 2008

Kees Otten