Netherlands Bach Society

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Netherlands Bach Society
Grote of St. Vituskerk.JPG
Grote of Sint-Vituskerk, where the ensemble has performed traditionally
Background information
Native name De Nederlandse Bachvereniging
Origin Naarden, Netherlands
Genres Baroque music
Years active 1921 (1921)–present

The Netherlands Bach Society (Dutch: De Nederlandse Bachvereniging) is the oldest ensemble for Baroque music in the Netherlands, and possibly in the world. The ensemble was founded in 1921 in Naarden to perform Bach's St Matthew Passion on Good Friday and has performed the work annually since then in the Grote of Sint-Vituskerk (Great Church or St Vitus Church). Jos van Veldhoven has been artistic director and conductor since 1983.

In 2021 the ensemble will be 100 years old. In preparation the Society is publishing a new and freely accessible recording every week, including HD video of all 1080 works of Johann Sebastian Bach, performed by members of the ensemble and guest musicians under the title All of Bach.


First years[edit]

De Nederlandse Bachvereniging was officially founded on 13 September 1921. Johan Schoonderbeek was one of the founding members and the first conductor.[1] He had already conducted the St Matthew Passion with the Koninklijke Oratorium Vereniging Excelsior (Royal Oratorio Society Excelsior) in The Hague. The Netherlands Bach Society performed the St Matthew Passion first on Good Friday, 14 April 1922.[1] Following the praxis of the period, the work was not performed completely. Performances of the work became a tradition which has been kept since.[2]

After Schoonderbeek's death in 1927, Evert Cornelis, conductor of the Utrechts Symfonie Orkest, took over and was the first to conduct the complete work. He died in 1931.[1]

Anthon van der Horst[edit]

His successor was Anthon van der Horst, who also was the organist of the church. He established regular performances of the St Matthew Passion and the Mass in B minor from 1931 until shortly before his death in 1965, attracting listeners from the Nederlands and abroad. He studied facsimiles and tried to keep close to the composer's intentions.[1][3] In great contrast Willem Mengelberg conducted regularly on Palm Sunday in the Concertgebouw a shortened version of the St Matthew Passion, in a romantic approach with choirs of 450 singers. Nevertheless the performances in Naarden and Amsterdam were similar at first, because orchestra players of the Concertgebouworkest and soloists were the same.

Charles de Wolff[edit]

Charles de Wolff was the successor of Van der Horst in 1965. During this period the Concertgebouw tradition was continued by Eugen Jochum. The historically informed performance, initiated by Nikolaus Harnoncourt among others, won friends within the Netherlands Bach Society, who pursued performances with smaller ensembles on period instruments. Therefore De Wolff left the Bach Society in 1983, to work with the Bachkoor Holland.[1][4]


Since 1983 the Netherlands Bach Society has a group of instrumentalists and singers specialized on music of the 17th and 18th century. The Bach Society performs about 50 concerts a year, concentrating on works of Bach and his family, his contemporaries and predecessors, such as Buxtehude, Carissimi, Charpentier, Grandi, Handel, De Koninck, Kuhnau, Mazzocchi, Monteverdi, Padbrué, Ritter, Scheidt, Schein, Schütz, Sweelinck, Telemann and Weckmann.

The artistic director since 1983 has been Jos van Veldhoven,[2] who conducts about half of the concerts. Guest conductors have included Gustav Leonhardt, Paul McCreesh, Philippe Herreweghe, Frans Brüggen, Iván Fischer and Masaaki Suzuki. To keep the experience of the St Matthew Passion "fresh not only for himself but also for the players and for audiences", guest conductors have been invited every other year. Some of them conducted the work for the first time in Naarden, such as Ton Koopman and René Jacobs.[1][2] Atzo Nicolai, minister of the Netherlands who regularly attends, stated: "St. Matthew’ during Holy Week is bigger in the Netherlands than Messiah at Christmas anywhere else".[2]


The Netherlands Bach Society has collaborated with schools in a project to create interest in Bach's St Matthew Passion, reaching several hundred students and their teachers. In guest lessons, rehearsals, an interactive CD-Rom and a website, the students are prepared to actually listen to a concert in a well informed way.

List of conductors of The Passion[edit]


The ensemble recorded, among others, in 1998 Bach's St Matthew Passion, conducted by Jos van Veldhoven, with Gerd Türk as the Evangelist, Geert Smits as Vox Christi, Johannette Zomer, Andreas Scholl, Hans Jörg Mammel and Peter Kooy,[5] released on Channel Classics Records.


External links[edit]