Bernard van Dieren

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Bernard van Dieren
Bust of Bernard van Dieren.jpg
Bust of Bernard van Dieren, by Jacob Epstein
Background information
Birth name Bernard Hélène Joseph van Dieren
Born (1887-12-27)27 December 1887
Rotterdam, Netherlands
Died 24 April 1936(1936-04-24) (aged 48)
London, England
Occupation(s) Musician, writer

Bernard Hélène Joseph van Dieren (27 December 1887 – 24 April 1936) was a Dutch composer, critic, author, and writer on music, much of whose working life was spent in England.


Van Dieren was the last of five children of a Rotterdam wine merchant, Bernard Joseph van Dieren, and his second wife, Julie Françoise Adelle Labbé. Details of his education are unknown but it seems that his early training was as a scientist, as a research assistant in a laboratory. Gifted in science, extremely intelligent and with a phenomenal memory, he was also well-versed in literature as well as an able violinist and amateur artist. His career as composer began when he was twenty when some of his early works were published in the Netherlands. His early music was influenced by Delius.

In 1909 he relocated to London with his wife-to-be, Frida Kindler (1879–1964), a very gifted concert pianist whom he married on 1 January 1910. By this time he had decided to study music seriously. A son, Hans Jean Jules Maximilian Navarre Benvenuto Bernard van Dieren (1910–74), was born the same year.

He was largely self-taught, though he spent 1912 in Europe[clarification needed] where he met the composers Busoni and Schoenberg. His early contact with the music world was as a musical correspondent for several European newspapers and periodicals. During the First World War he was for a short time involved in secret service in the Netherlands, as a cypher expert in the Intelligence Department.

He suffered most of his life from ill health and had numerous operations for kidney-related complaints. To relieve the recurring pain, morphine was prescribed, and it is thought that in later life he became addicted to the drug. Because of these recurring bouts of illness, his wife, a former pupil of Busoni, supported the family by teaching the piano and by giving recitals. They also relied on financial support from a group of admirers and friends, which included notable personalities such as Jacob Epstein, Osbert and Sacheverell Sitwell, Augustus John, Philip Heseltine (the composer Peter Warlock) and Cecil Gray. The latter two were especially drawn by his charismatic and powerful personality and gave untiring support for his cause by prompting performances and publication of his works. Heseltine made van Dieren his heir in his will, inspiring claims by Heseltine's son Nigel that van Dieren had murdered Heseltine.

In 1925 van Dieren worked for the Philips electrical company but recurring illness forced him to resign the following year. Some of his works were published in 1927 and in the same year his fourth string quartet was performed at the Frankfurt Festival. In 1930 he completed his opera 'The Tailor'[1] (begun in 1916 at Heseltine and Gray's request). He also wrote a book on Epstein (1920)[2] and published a collection of controversial essays entitled Down Among the Dead Men (1935).[3] Eventually two of his more important works were broadcast by the BBC: Diaphony in 1934 and the Chinese Symphony in 1935. He died on 24 April 1936 in London, and is buried on the edge of the graveyard of St Laurence's Church, West Wycombe.

Van Dieren was influenced by the early 20th century atonal composers. His writing is characterised by extremely complex contrapuntal elements. His compositions include a wide variety of works which have yet to be rediscovered.

Constant Lambert claimed that the theme for the opening movement, "Palindromic Prelude", from his 1938 ballet Horoscope, was dictated from beyond the grave by van Dieren.[4]

Lyrita Recorded Edition has recorded van Dieren's Chinese Symphony for release on CD in October 2016, along with several other shorter works by the composer.


  1. ^ Gazzoni, Giovanni and John Goss (1930). "Bernard van Dieren's 'The Tailor'," The Musical Times, Vol. 71, No. 1053, pp. 999–1000.
  2. ^ Van Dieren, Bernard (1920). Epstein. London: John Lane, The Bodley Head.
  3. ^ Van Dieren, Bernard (1935). Down Among the Dead Men and other Essays. London: Oxford University Press.
  4. ^
  • "Bernard Van Dieren". In: Jonathan Cronshaw, Carving a Legacy: The Identity of Jacob Epstein. (Ph.D. Thesis, University of Leeds, 2010).
  • Smith, Barry, Dieren, Bernard Hélène Joseph van (1887-1936), in Oxford Dictionary of National Biography online (subscription only) accessed 2 May 2013.

Further reading[edit]

  • Chisholm, Alastair (1984). Bernard Van Dieren: An Introduction. London: Thames Publishing.
  • Davenport, John (1955). "Bernard van Dieren," The Musical Times, Vol. 96, No. 1346, pp. 188–190.
  • Davies, Hywel (1987). "Bernard van Dieren (1887 - 1936)," The Musical Times, Vol. 128, No. 1738, pp. 675–678.
  • Davies, Hywel (1988). "Bernard van Dieren, Philip Heseltine and Cecil Gray: A Significant Affiliation," Music & Letters, Vol. 69, No. 1, pp. 30–48.
  • Davis, Edgar (1938). "Bernard van Dieren," The Musical Quarterly, Vol. 24, No. 2, pp. 169–175.
  • Williams, L. Henderson (1931). "Philandering Round' Mr. Van Dieren's Quartets," The Sackbut, Vol 9, pp. 325–329.
  • Riley, Patrick Robert (1985). The String Quartets of Bernard van Dieren. Ph.D. diss. University of Iowa.

External links[edit]