Henk Nieland

Hendrik Maarten (Henk) Nieland was born in 1938 in Den Helder, The Netherlands, where his father taught mathematics at the Royal Naval Academy. After the Nazi attack on Western Europe in May 1940 the family fled the town, and eventually settled in Putten, a rural village in the centre of the country. In October 1944 the Nazis raided the village in a revenge action, and deported the adult male population to Germany, where Henk’s father died in May 1945. His first musical experience was the piano playing by his father, who was an accomplished amateur pianist possessing a grand piano and an extensive library of (mainly) piano music. After the war it took several years before he could receive lessons from a qualified teacher. Meanwhile he had mainly taught himself by trying to play from scores in his father’s library. The lessons went on for four years (half an hour a week during the school season), which was all musical education he has ever received. It focused on piano technique, and later on also a little on composition, with which Henk started already at an early age. During his gymnasium years he regularly performed in public, including several late works by Chopin, and wrote various piano pieces, which mostly remained unfinished. After receiving his gymnasium diploma at the age of 15, three years ahead of his age, he went studying mathematics, physics and astronomy in Utrecht, thus initiating a struggle between science and music which lasted for almost fifty years. Already well underway with his Master’s degree in theoretical physics, a crisis set in around 1959, leading to an irregular, bohemian life for three years, devoted to chess, music, literature, etc. This period ended with two years of military service. Musically the main assets of this five-year period were Henk’s acquaintance with the late Beethoven and, above all, Bach’s Wohltemperierte Clavier, which remained a major source of inspiration during the rest of his life. Henk received a PhD in high-energy physics from the University of Nijmegen, and went on a postdoctoral fellowship (1970 – 1972) to Moscow, where he worked at the renowned Lebedev Institute of Physics, and where he met his future wife, a Hungarian economist . There he also studied Russian 20th century poetry. Back in Holland he worked at the University of Groningen (1973 – 1980), the Royal Netherlands Academy of Science in Amsterdam (1981 – 1985), and until his retirement at the Centre for Mathematics and Informatics in Amsterdam (1986 – 2003). Until the 1990s, lack of time restricted his musical activities to incidentally composing pieces, like piano variations, a cello sonata, and songs on Hungarian poems, as well as keeping his piano playing on a professional level. From 1992 onward Henk was able to spend an increasing amount of time on composition. This resulted in, among other things, a string trio, some fifty songs (on poems by Yesenin, Vasalis, Attila József, Peeters, Jonker, and Tsvetayeva), four piano suites, and five operas. Concerts devoted to his work and opera performances were given in Amsterdam, Budapest, Bratislava, Prague, New York, Tokyo and Tel-Aviv. From 2003 he is music director of the Spinoza Theatre in Budapest. Henk is a member since 1980 of the Dutch Composers’ Association GeNeCo. He lives in Budapest and Amsterdam. He is married and has two children, Bence and Daniel.

Back to short biography click here