Cornelis Dopper (1870-1939)

  • DopperSL2
  • DopperSL9USA
  • DopperSL4
  • DopperSL8Twintiger
  • BlindeClemenceDirckx
  • Cornelis Dopper
  • Dopper with cat
  • Dopper at the time of writing De blinde van Casteel Cuillé
  • Clémence Dirckx-van de Weghe, the first Margareta in Dopper's 'De Blinde van Casteel Cuillé'

The composer Cornelis Dopper is best known as one of the golden engraved Dutch composers in the balustrades of the Royal Concertgebouw Amsterdam. During his career he worked alongside such celebrities as Richard Strauss and Gustav Mahler. His work as second conductor of the Concertgebouw Orchestra 1909-1931 is well documented. As a composer he is renowned mostly for his ‘Ciaconna gotica’ and the ‘Rembrandt’, ‘Amsterdam’ and ‘Zuiderzee’ symphonies. Of the four operas that he composed not a note is remembered today, even though De blinde van Casteel Cuillé (The blind girl of Castle Cuillé) (1894) and Het eerekruis (1902) were largely succesful in their days. 401DutchOperas plans to disclose these operas along with Dopper’s Fritjhof (1895), William Ratcliff (1900) and Mei-droom (May dream) (1918) by means of performing arias duets and ensembles from these titles and making them available through downloadable recordings.
401COnc3Logo130401Concerts 3 (Video)
Download: € 7.99
401COnc3LogoAud130401Concerts 3 (Audio)
Download: € 7.99


The first one of these are the final aria ‘Krassende raven’ and Baptiste’s preceding ‘O Margareta’ from De blinde van Casteel Cuillé, which was performed at 401Concerts 3 in the Kröller-Müller Museum Otterlo on May 29 2016.  Baptiste was sung by tenor Denzil Delaere, Margareta by soprano Jolien De Gendt, accompanied from the piano by Pieter Dhoore. These recordings are available from our 401Concerts 3 download programme.

Tekst: René Seghers after Joop Stam and the sources below.
Bronnen: Cornelis Dopper: De blinde van Casteel Cuillé(1894, piano-vocal score); Algemene Muziekencyclopedie (Zuid-Nederlandse Uitgeverij, 1957); Joop Stam: Schitteren op de tweede rang | Biografie Cornelis Dopper (1870-1939)(Stadskanaal, 2002); Leo Samama: tekstboek bij Chandos CD 9923 Symfonie Nr. 3 ‘Rembrandt’, Symfonie Nr. 7 ‘Amsterdam’, 2002); Hendrik Hachmer, Joop Stam and Erik van der Wal: Cornelis Dopper, componist tussen Mahler en Mengelberg (Veenkoloniaal Museum, 2010); Archives NMI, MCO, TIN.
Partners: Nederlands Muziek Instituut, Kröller-Müller Museum
Tickets 401Concerts 3 for sale via ticketlink

Cornelis 'Kees' Dopper (7 February 1870, Stadskanaal – 18 September 1939, Amsterdam) was raised in the peat moors above Groningen, in Stadskanaal, where his parents owned a small hotel. His musical talent manifested itself at an early age. Cornelis was greatly affected by the death of his father at age 15, followed by his mother a mere two years later. His 31-years-old sister Grietje then married piano teacher Johannes-Kolkman and the latter became his guardian. Kolkman had previously rented a chamber in the guesthouse and even though Cornelis did not get along very well with his governor, the latter tutored him in playing the piano and instilled a deep love for music in him.

Conservatoriumjaren te Leipzig

‘I learned the most from Oscar Paul. He opened my eyes to what music really is.’ (Cornelis Dopper)

In October 1888 Dopper was accepted into the Royal Conservatory of Leipzig. He studied piano, violin, music theory and music history. Among his teachers were Carl Reinecke and Leo Grill, while his piano teacher was Karl Wendling. He took violin lessons from Friedrich Hermann and ensemble play from Benjamin Papperitz. In addition he attended the lectures of Oscar Paul on musical history and aesthetics. Paul took special interest in Dopper and also allowed him to attend his lectures at the University of Leipzig. This contributed to Dopper’s life-long interest in the Greek classic era. This interest is manifested in such compositions as Dopper’s ‘Fifth Symphony’, the so-called ‘Sinfonia Epica’ (1908) and ‘Päân No. 1 and 2’ (1915).


Cornelis Dopper: ‘Päân Nr. 1’ (finale)
Residentie orkest - Matthias Bamert
(2001 CD Chandos CHAN 9884)


Cornelis Dopper: ‘Päân Nr. 2’ (slot)
Residentie orkest - Matthias Bamert
(2001 CD Chandos CHAN 9884)

The blind girl of Castle Cuillé

DopperSL3In these early years in Groningen Dopper’s finances were deplorable. His post with Groningen's Harmony Orchestra hardly paid at all, yet it was most fruitful because he got the opportunity to test his own compositions there. For various reasons it seems that his psychological well-being was also less than desirable. The book on his life by Joop Stam suggests that he suffered from serious depressions in this period, perhaps in part caused by his isolation in the high North of the Netherlands, which was far from the world that he had valued so much in Leipzig. In addition, he may also have felt strong guilt over having abandoned a chambermaid after making her pregnant (as presumed in Stam’s biography), which may have induced his sudden departure to Leipzig. In these early years he was not able to sustain her financially, but once he was, the child started receiving anonymous gifts. From Dopper’s early period we have the compositions ‘Trost im Scheiden’ (1893) and ‘Ich will dich wiedersehen’ (1893).

Perhaps rather unexpected his national breakthrough occurred in 1894, when his first opera, De blinde van Casteel Cuillé (The blind girl of Castle Cuillé) was successfully performed at the Dutch National Opera in Amsterdam (excerpts of the opera can be heard in the video trailer here presented of 401Concerts 3). One would have expected a creative eruption following this enormous success, but instead he fell into another depression and a period of inactivity. In 1895 he left stressed and depressed for Kurort Bad Elms, where Offenbach had once worked for years. Bad Ems was a meeting point for European royalty and nobility. There was much work for musicians, since the fine fleur of Europe liked to have classical music as entertainment during their continuous soirées. While the stressed Dopper found there the peace and inner calm that he had been longing for, his stay in Bad Elms did not bring him the work he had also hoped for.

Sophie Zimmermann

DopperSOphieZimmermannUpon his return to The Netherlands he met Sophie Zimmermann, sister of the famous violinist. She became Dopper’s muse, as immortal as unreachable for him. They were inseparable after he had once met her by chance in the Royal Palace Amsterdam, but the affair did not meet with the consent of her parents. They ordered the girl away to family in Darmstadt and Nykøbing in Denmark, as far away from Dopper as possible, since they judged him too lighthearted. From Darmstadt Sophie intensely corresponded with him until 1900, when her family forced her to also cease this continuation of their affair. They continued to see each other infrequently and, as it turned out after his death, Dopper dedicated all his further composition to her. In the years before his departure to America, Dopper completed his first three symphonies: ‘Symphony Nr. 1 ‘Diana’ (1896), Symphony Nr. 2 ‘Scottish’ (1904) and Symphony Nr. 3 ‘Rembrandt’ (rev. 1904). In addition I mention here the ‘Sonate voor viool (opt. cello) and piano’ (1904) of which the Fourth Symphony (1909) is an orchestral version.


Cornelis Dopper: Symfonie Nr. 2 'Scottish' (Finale)
Residentie orkest - Matthias Bamert
(2001 CD Chandos CHAN 9884)

The long list of compositions with titles that indicated origins in the Dutch landscapes or history rendered him the nickname of being the most Dutch among Dutch composers.

The Rembrandt Symphony

Shortly before his departure to America, Dopper played his Symphony Nr. 3 ‘Rembrandt’ for conductor Willem Mengelberg. The conductor was impressed and promised Dopper to perform the work. On May 24 1906, just before Dopper’s departure, the work was given a tremendously successful première. The press wrote that Dopper had managed to capture in his music the Dutch skies, its landscapes and horizons along with its idyllic silence, just as Rembrandt had captured in his paintings.


Cornelis Dopper: ‘Symfonie no. '3 Rembrandt'' (allegro)
Residentie orkest - Matthias Bamert
(2002 CD Chandos CHAN 9923)

Although not composed for the occasion the Symphony was perfectly in time for the festivities around Rembrandt’s 300th birthday. The success was in fact so big that Dopper was allowed to make his debut as a conductor with the Concertgebouw Orchestra on May 17 1908, performing his own symphony. The felicitous result of this evening marked the course of Dopper’s further life.

Butterfly! Butterfly!

The next highlight in his career was his appointment as conductor of the Savage Opera Company, with which enterprise he toured the USA for the 1906/1907 and 1907/1908 seasons promoting… Puccini’s Madama Butterfly. On September 8 1906, with this purpose in mind, Dopper embarked on SS Statendam heading for New York. Upon arrival rehearsals started, following which he conducted Butterfly almost every other evening for eight months in a row. The tour proved a triumph. The press was soon waiting on the platforms of the various train stations to welcome the locomotive with the seven Pullman wagons filled with costumes and sets which Dopper carried along with him and his entourage as the forerunner of today’s André Rieu. Whether  Dopper had ever dreamed to become the world’s and presumably also history’s greatest specialist in Madama Butterfly is very doubtful. His travelogues, published in De Echo, reveal very little affinity with the American Culture to begin with. During his endless journey from New York to Vancouver, Detroit, San Francisco or Mexico he mainly turned to the overwhelming exotic nature that those places offered abundantly. Apart from his testimonies of such landscapes and museums or cultural manifestations that he attended here and there, he at that time already stated his concern about the tremendous pollution that the industrial revolution brought about. He dubbed Cincinnati ‘a city of rust and smoke’.

Fruitful years with the Concertgebouw Orchestra

DopperAndCo677‘On this critical day for Germany I have played your famous Amsterdam Symphony. The orchestra was outstanding; the performance was a veritable success that could even have been better if the audience had been in a better mood then could be expected at this moment in time. I have tremendously enjoyed your composition and I wish you a great future.’ (Richard Strauss, 8 November 1918, Berlin, on the eve of the German Revolt.)

With his appointment as second conductor at the Concertgebouw Orchestra Amsterdam, Dopper entered the most creative periods in his life. In the span of twelve years he composed another four symphonies, the ‘Sinfonica Epica’ (1908), the Sinfonietta (1909), the famous ‘Amsterdam Symphony’ (1912) and ‘Zuiderzee Symphony’ (1917).


Cornelis Dopper: ‘Amsterdam Symfonie’ (1912) (Adagio finale)
Residentie orkest - Matthias Bamert
(2002 CD Chandos CHAN 9923)


Cornelis Dopper: ‘Zuiderzee Symfonie’ (1917) (Finale)
Radio Symfonie Orkest o.l.v. Kees Bakels
(1999 NM Classics 92060).

The ‘Sinfonica Epica’ is actually more an oratorio, which requires a large chorus and no less than 12 soloists. Impressive, but almost impossible to finance, which has not helped the work’s future. Apart from these Dopper also composed in this period a ‘Concert voor Cello en Orkest’ (1910), a ‘Concertstuk voor Orkest’, with such unusual solo instruments as the kettledrum and the trumpet (1910), two symphonic studies ‘Päân I’ en ‘Päân II’ for large orchestra (1915), and an ‘Old Dutch Suite after 17th century dance movements’ (1915, one of the few works by Dopper that have been officially published). His most important work became the ‘Ciaconna Gotica’, which he dedicated to the Concertgebouw Orchestra. Willem Mengelberg and Otto Klemperer conducted this also abroad, which reaped Dopper European fame.

Apart from these works he composed chamber music, songs, a string quartet that brought him a composition prize, and a string quartet dedicated to the then newly established Concertgebouw String Quartet (1909). Important is also his ‘Requiem’, which he completed shortly before his death in 1939. It was premiered only 70 years after his death, in Stadskanaal, his city of birth. Popular compositions during his life were also his children pieces such as ‘De Wilgen’ (The Willows), ‘De zeven boeven’ (The seven crooks) and ‘Tom en Tim’. In 1923 he also introduced youth concerts in the Concertgebouw. For his work in teaching he was then given a French decoration.  

The ‘South Sea’ Symphony

DopperSL7ZuiderzeeDedicated to Karl Muck, the première of the ‘Zuiderzee’ Symphony took place 18 April 1918, a mere six months before the end of World War I. The idea came to him while sailing along the Zuiderzee coast in the summer of 1917. He made the first drafts on board of the yacht of painter Derk Meelis. The old coastal towns with their characteristic church towers and carillons inspired him, especially those of Hoorn and Enkhuizen, where once the ships of the East-Indian Company docked. Apart from painting the nature of this area, the symphony also expresses its historical identity. It had international success with performances in various metropoles under conductors such as Willem Mengelberg, Karl Muck, Pierre Monteux and Eduard van Beinum.

Henriëtte Siedenburg

DopperhenrietteZiedenburgAfter his appointment with the Concertgebouw Orchestra Dopper found a new muse in the singer Henriëtte Siedenburg, for whom he composed the ‘Henriëtte waltz’. Although the affair started happily including their marriage in 1909, Henriëtte’s larger ambitions casted a shadow over their union from the start. Dopper’s stories about America captivated her and she started pushing him to give up his career with the Concertgebouw Orchestra in order to pursue a career in the USA. There he could concentrate on his own higher ambitions, composing operas, in addition to which she believed she could there achieve a great career as an alto. The marriage lasted until the singer Gantvoort returned from the USA. He had made his fortune there and warbled her head with stories about the great future she could expect there, promising to make her a star. She pushed through and on May 11 1920 the marriage was dissolved. Dopper nonetheless supported his ex-wife until his death, following which she returned to The Netherlands flat broke and impoverished.

Ciaconna gotica


Cornelis Dopper: ‘Ciaconna Gotica’
Radio Symfonie Orkest - Kees Bakels
(1999 NM Classics 92060)

The ‘Ciaconna gotica’ from 1920 was to be Dopper’s most famous composition and de facto it also determines his reputation as a composer to date.  Following his retirement with a farewell concert on 17 December 1931 Willem Mengelberg and his wife Tilly would maintain close contact with Dopper. Mengelberg also continued to programme the ‘Ciaconna gotica’. In 1935 he conducted the work in Geneva, in January 1939 he conducted it in Vienna. The critic Franz Achilles wrote about the composition that the structure of the ‘Ciaconna gotica’ reminded him of the paintings of Pieter Brueghel. Thus he characterized the work as ‘gothic’ in origin, with a deep metaphysical foundation.

The last chord

DopperFuneralOn 18 September 1939, in the night from Sunday on Monday, a cardiac arrest ended Dopper’s life. Death came to him as a release. The Concertgebouw arranged for a public funeral with hundreds of people attending. The trams interrupted their schedules and all major and minor papers reported the event. The ‘Ciaconna Gotica’ and the ‘Zuiderzee Symphony’ had tremendous success during the performances by Mengelberg and the Concertgebouw Orchestra on 9 April and 8 December 1940. Especially the ‘Zuiderzee Symphony’ which, following the German invasion, was perceived as a national statement, met with ovations. Mengelberg’s interpretations of both the ‘Ciaconna Gotica’ and the ‘Zuiderzee Symfonie’ have been preserved for posterity on CD (Audiophile Classics, 2004).

Polemic with Matthijs Vermeulen

During his lifetime Dopper’s fame was far from unchallenged. His greatest opponent was the composer Matthijs Vermeulen who judged Dopper too German in orientation, both as a composer and conductor at the Concertgebouw. This polemic came to an eruption during a performance of Dopper’s ‘Zuiderzee Symphony’ in the Concertgebouw on 24 November 1918. Vermeulen attended and in the silence between the final chord and the applause he shouted, ‘Viva Sousa!’, linking Dopper’s work to the trivial marches of the composer Sousa. For a while Vermeulen was banned from entering the Concertgebouw, but the incident and a second interruption later on have cast a shadow on Dopper’s reputation post World War I. His functions within the Concertgebouw organisation were gradually stripped to a minimum and his fame as a promoter for children’s concerts partially rests on the circumstance that he was banned from conducting subscription concerts. He was forced to limit his activities to people’s, school and summer concerts, to pre-rehearse new works and to stand-in for Mengelberg when he was away. Apparently, in an attempt to make him give up his post, he was humiliated to the point where he had to personally await guest conductors at the Central Station, in order to show them to their hotels. Bcause he Presumably understood the nature of these humiliations and with a sense of realism regarding the necessities of life in financial terms, he accepted his predicament rather than resigning his post. He did however take care of the contacts between the musicians and the management and did much to improve their situation.

Blessed by Willem Pijper

Having said that, Dopper’s career would have been impossible if he hadn’t also had supporters. Among these was Willem Pijper. He bluntly postulated that it was bad luck that had Dopper ending up in the provincial smallness of Amsterdam rather than in a major city in Germany or Austria, where he would certainly have found international grand standing. As it is Dopper’s name is largely forgotten today, apart from a handful of radio-recordings and three cd’s entirely devoted to his compositions. NM Classics recorded the ‘Ciaconna gotica’ and the ‘Zuiderzee Symphony’ in 1995. Chandos released the ‘Rembrandt’ and ‘Amsterdam’ symphonies in 2002.

That his fame of ere ended with his life is easily explained from the essentially 19th century-like programmatic nature of his works, largely inspired by nature, while already during the second part of his life the avant-garde pushed music’s boundaries to newfound lands. Dopper’s ‘Rembrandt Symfonie’ is not very far from the world of, say Dvorak's ‘New World Symphony. There is also a link to Grieg’s world, and one could uphold that he eventually also may have connected with Sibelius. The ‘Amsterdam Symphony’ from 1912 reveals the influence of Mahler. This is beautiful music, accessible, yet founded on a solid ground. At the same time these compositions are never challenging or daringly original, such as the works that reaped his illustrious German colleagues from Strauss to Mahler and Reger or from Zemlinsky to Korngold their fame, to mention but a few.

Dopper as opera composer

DopperPainting677It is not by chance that the four composers mentioned above are opera composers. Regardless of the fact that Dopper’s five operas have been completely forgotten along with his stage music for Faust and Vondel’s Lucifer, the intensity that he devoted to these compositions reveals that his deepest ambitions and his heart are most likely to be found in his operas. One should also be reminded here that it was precisely this ambition that his wife Henriëtte tried to exploit in luring him back to America, where he would finally be able to devote himself to his operas. And yet, as is so often the case with Dutch opera composers, their instrumental works and songs are still revived from time to time, because they are more easy to perform, whereas the works that mark their artistic credo, their operas, remain in the shades largely because performing them is much more difficult in terms of costs. Dopper’s operas had genuine success from early on, and each of them surely merits a recording: De blinde van Casteel Cuillé from 1894 (with a daring closing aria that summarizes the road from Weber to Wagner while still being highly original in its rhythm and declamation) was immediately followed by Fritjhoffrom 1895, William Ratcliff from 1900 and Het eerekruis and the peculiar 'festive music drama' Mei-droom of 1918.

From none of these works even a single note is known today, except for the final aria ‘Krassende raven’ from De blinde van Casteel Cuillé, which was privately recorded in 1983. It is this aria along with Baptiste’s preceding ‘O Margareta’, that 401DutchOperas performed again at 401Concerts Nr. 3 in the Kröller-Müller Museum Otterlo on May 29 2016, which marked the first in the concert series that aims to bring Dopper’s operatic output back where it belongs: before an audience.  Baptiste was sung by tenor Denzil Delaere, Margareta by soprano Jolien De Gendt, accompanied from the piano by Pieter Dhoore. These recordings are downloadable from our 401Concerts 3 download programme.

As their titles already suggest, Dopper’s operas have been composed in the German vein, yet the mentioned madness aria and the dramatic libretti of his further operas reveal that certain veristic coups de theatre also found their way into his theatrical output. I would not mention Wagner here as the prime influence either, but would prefer to say that Dopper’s operas give us a glimpse of how operas by Brahms and Bruckner might have sounded, had these composers had an affinity with the genre. The stage music for Faust from 1914 and even more so the exceptional music drama Mei-droom from 1918 and the stage music for Vondel’s Lucifer from 1929 stir our curiosity. These too will eventually be disclosed in the 401Concert series.

A Dopper revival?

The Dopper revival started very low key in 1983, with the inclusion of Margareta’s final aria from De blinde van Casteel Cuillé in the Theater Instituut exhibition ‘Van Bree to Breuker’, with Anne Marie Dur as soprano and Marius van Paassen at the piano. In 1991 the Foundation Cornelis Dopper was erected. In 1995 the mentioned MN Classics CD appeared with the ‘Ciaconna Gotica’ and ‘Zuiderzee Symphony’ with the Radio Filharmonisch Orkest under Kees Bakels. In 2001 Chandos released a CD with ‘Symphony nr. 2’ and the symphonic studies ‘Päân I’ en ‘Päân II’, played by the Residentie Orkest under Matthias Bamert. In 2002 an extensive biography of Dopper appeared and Chandos released a second Dopper cd, now with the ‘Rembrandt Symphony’ and the ‘Amsterdam Symphony’, again with the Residentie Orkest under Matthias Bamert. In 2004 Audiophile Classics released the historic CD with Mengelberg's performances of the de ‘Ciaconna Gotica’ and ‘Zuiderzee Symphony’ performed by the Concertgebouworkest on April 9 and December 8 1940. In 2005 the Noord Nederlands Orkest gave the world première of Dopper’s 1896 Symphony Nr. 1 ‘Diana’ in Theater Geert Teis in Stadskanaal. The Peat Moor Museum Veendam organized a memorial exposition from September 18 2009 to February 14 2010 to honour Dopper’s seventieth death day. Around the commemoration a festival was organized involving a.o. the Noord Nederlands Orkest and the Farkas Quintet Amsterdam. The highlight of the festival was the première of the 1935 ‘Requiem’ that had long been considered lost. Dopper-biographer Joop Stam rediscovered it in the archives of the Nederlands Muziek Instituut and reconstructed it together with Marinus Degenkamp. On February 13 2010 a Dopper statue was revealed on the Raadhuisplein in his birth place Stadskanaal, made by Loek Bos. On May 20, 2016 401Concerts 3 performed the duet 'O Margareta' and the concluding madness aria ‘Krassende raven’ from De blinde van Casteel Cuillé sung by tenor Denzil Delaere and soprano Jolien De Gendt, accompanied from the piano by Pieter Dhoore.

Download 401Concerts 3 met De blinde van Casteel Cuillé

401COnc3Logo150The recording of our third 401DutchOperas concert in the Kröller-Müller Museum is downloadable via 401Concerts 3. Apart from highlights of De blinde van Casteel Cuillé it also includes highlights from Willem Landré's De roos van Dekama, Daniël de Lange's Lioba, Gerard von Brucken Fock's Jozal, Julius Röntgen's Agnete en De lachende Cavalier, Jan van Gilse's Helga von Stavern, Jan Brandts Buys’ De kleermakers van Marken (Die Schneider von Schönau) and Richard Hageman's Caponsacchi.

Tickets for 401Concerts 3 in the Kröller-Müller Museum

Through the website of the Kröller-Müller Museum tickets for the May 29 2016 concert are available through The concert is part of a special presentation. The price includes catering and a meet & greet with the artists.  By attending you support the project which by its aim to disclose completely new repertoire per concert is more expensive than average concerts that can be taken on tour.