Underground Pianist

I first heard of Henriette Bosmans while researching and writing the blog “She Was Just a Girl” (which can be found in my archives). I wanted to learn more about her, but there isn’t a lot written on her and so I am going to share with you what I was able to find about her.

 

Henriette was born December 6, 1895 in Amsterdam, Holland, the only child of Henri and Sara Bosmans. They were a musical family; her father was the principal solo cellist for the Concertgebouw Orchestra and her mother was a piano teacher. She was half Jewish, her parents were a mixed marriage, her mother being Jewish and her father Roman Catholic. Her father died when she was just a child and she was raised by her mother, from who she got her first piano lessons.

By 1912 at the age for seventeen, she passed her final exam at the Society for the Advancement of Music in Amsterdam. She went on to study music theory and composition with Jan Willem Kersbergen and composition with Willem Pijper. In 1919 she performed publicly for the first time, and by the 1930’s she was performing regularly with the Concertgebouw Orchestra. 1936 she was the soloist for Variations Symphoniques by Cesar Franck for which she received high praise.

1938 brought international acclaim when violinist Willem Noske performed her Concert Piece for Violin and Orchestra, it also brought her to the United States with violinist Ruth Posselt.

As war loomed nearer, Henriette took over concerts in Holland for other artist who could no longer travel to play, including Jacques Fevrier and Myra Hess. She could have emigrated to the United States, but did not want to leave her aging mother behind, so she stayed in Holland.

In May 1940 Holland capitulated to Germany and Dutch music became more appreciated. A February 1941 concert at the Concertgebouw was cancelled due to a transportation strike against the treatment of the Dutch Jewish population.

The Germans set up the Kultuurkamer, a registry of musicians within the city of Amsterdam. All musicians must register with them if they would like to keep playing and earning a living. Registration began April 1, 1941. Henriette was registered as a “Jewish case” because she was only half Jewish. She kept giving concerts until June of 1941 when she had to stop because of her Jewish ancestry.

By 1942, she could no longer perform in public. She began doing “Black Evenings”, these were underground concerts in people’s homes. Fear of getting caught made it an intense evening for those attending the concert, as well as the performer.

In the Spring of 1944 her mother, Sara, was arrested and sent to Westerbrook. She was 83 years old. Henriette pleaded her mothers case to everyone, including the Gestapo. She went to Dutch composer Willem Mengelborg for help and with his intervention, her mother, along with other mixed marriage Jews were released.

By the Autumn of 1944, she can no longer perform outside of Amsterdam. Trains have stopped running. Her and her mother barely scrape by the long winter, however she begins composing again, something she had not done since 1935 when her fiancé died.

When the war ends in May of 1945, she composes two new songs, Prayer and Here Come the Canadians. She dedicates them both to soprano Jo Vincent and on June 9 & 10, 1945 she performs them publicly with Jo.

She enters into a new life and a very productive and creative period of her life after the war, however in 1950 she is over come with stomach pains and has two surgeries for what she was told was an ulcer. Though it is more likely she had stomach cancer.

However, she performs for the resistance fighters that had been kept at Oranje Hotel in Scheveningen in 1950 as well. On June 16, 1951 she was made Knight in the Royal Order of Orange Nassau, however she dies July 2, 1956.

Henriette could have left her mother and made herself a new life in the United States, but she chose to stay and take care of her elderly mother. She played wherever she could to be able to pay for food for them. She showed incredible courage by risking her life to save her mother from Westerbrook, as she could have just as easily been arrested as well.

 

I hope that you have enjoyed Henriette’s story and will share it with those around you. Until we meet again, stay safe and stay healthy.

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