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WALTER MAAS (1909-1992): DRIVING FORCE OF CONTEMPORARY MUSIC IN THE NETHERLANDS

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Gaudeamus was founded by Walter Maas: a Jewish textile engineer who fled from the nazis, and who grew to be a passionate advocate of young composers and their work. A man whose willfulness is part of Gaudeamus’ DNA to this day.

The Jewish textile engineer Walter Alfred Friedrich Maas (1909 – 1992) fled the rise of nazism in Germany in 1933. From 1941 on, he and his parents lived in the villa called ‘Huize Gaudeamus’ in Bilthoven, where they rented out rooms for guests. When The Netherlands started to be unsafe for Jewish people as well, the family went on the run again. Maas embarked on a difficult journey from safe house to safe house, including a stitch of three months in hiding once again at Huize Gaudeamus, in a hidden nook in the attic. During this rough period, at one point he told himself: if I survive this, I will do something in return for The Netherlands.

Shortly after the war, Maas once again returned to Huize Gaudeamus. There he received a visit one day of Julius and Johannes Röntgen, the sons of composer Julius Röntgen, who had build Huize Gaudeamus in 1924. They wanted to give a concert in Huize Gaudeamus. That concert happened on Sunday afternoon, 4 November 1945. It was a smashing success and more concerts followed. After Maas met the young composer Henk Stam at one of those concerts, Gaudeamus started to focus more and more on the work of young composers. Gaudeamus and Maas had found their purpose.

The English-German accent of the internationally oriented Maas was not always easy to understand – listen for yourself below. Yet one motto of his was always clear: ‘Ich hab’ das Meine getan, tut ihr nun das Eure.’ (‘I have done mine, now you do yours.’) What that meant, people would find out at the ungodliest of hours. He was not afraid to call his employees and others in the middle of the night. Maas was an inescapable advocate for young composer. He drove government institutions ‘mad’ with the many phone calls they received from him. But this way, he also unlocked many fundings for concert programmes. This meant a lot for the cultural scene. All the work Maas did, was ‘paid off’ with many awards for musicians and composers, whose works would later prove to groundbreaking.

Interview

Huize Gaudeamus became a second home for many composers, and some of them even came to live there for an extended period, including Henk Stam. During an interview with Han Reiziger towards the end of his life, Maas explains the value Huize Gaudeamus could have for composers.

In that same interview, using the example of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, he explains how contemporary music could become commonplace. “If only people would really listen to it. But they never dare to cross the threshold.”

oorkondes Walter Maas

Walter Maas stayed the director for Gaudeamus until 1981, but after that, he simply continued to fight for young artists with his new Maas-Nathan Foundation, up to his death in 1992. For his never ending work, he received many distinctions during his life.

Walter was an eccentric who got everyone fired up. A phone dictator, that’s what he was.
Composer Peter Schat (quoted in the book ‘Eeuwige jeugd: Een halve eeuw Stichting Gaudeamus’)
His strength was that he was never fazed by the establishment. He just pushed on through everything.
Composer Ton de Leeuw (quoted in the book ‘Eeuwige jeugd: Een halve eeuw Stichting Gaudeamus’)
I found it an unpleasant man, there in the woods of Bilthoven. But he could support you immensely.
Composer Henk Stam (quoted in the book ‘Eeuwige jeugd: Een halve eeuw Stichting Gaudeamus’)

There are many, many stories about the stamina and frequency with which Walter Maas used the telephone. If he thought he needed someone, he would go to extreme lengths to speak to that person. Ton de Leeuw had once retired to a small French village to be able to work without being disturbed, when the local mailmen rang the doorbell with the message that there was a phone call for him in the city hall from The Netherlands. “It was Walter and it wasn’t important at all. But that’s how he was when he wanted to speak to you. He was unstoppable then.”

Quoted from: Peter Peters, Eeuwige jeugd: Een halve eeuw Stichting Gaudeamus

Huize Gaudeamus

Huize Gaudeamus, the villa in Bilthoven from where Walter Maas ran the Gaudeamus Foundation, is nowadays the property of the Walter Maas Foundation, who still organise concerts in it and also rent out the house for meetings, workshops and more. Go to the website of Huize Gaudeamus for more information on the history and the present of this remarkable national monument.

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