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Aafje Heynis, Dutch Contralto

By September 27, 2023No Comments

Aafje Heynes started her musical life early, singing at her father’s harmonium from the age of four. She auditioned for teacher Jo Immink with an arrangement of the “Pilgrims’ Chorus” from Wagner’s Tannhauser, and also had dealings with Kathleen Ferrier’s teacher, Roy Henderson. She performed mainly on the concert and oratorio stages, becoming an admired interpreter of Handel, Bach, Mendelssohn, but it was the works of Mahler which caught her imagination, and for which she is most remembered.

This was a great, great voice. The sound production is beautiful, and the timbre is unearthly. I hope that you will listen to the selections below all the way through.

Aber abseits wer ist’s?

Aber abseits wer ist’s?
Im Gebüsch verliert sich der Pfad.
Hinter ihm schlagen
Die Sträuche zusammen,
Das Gras steht wieder auf,
Die Öde verschlingt ihn.

Ach, wer heilet die Schmerzen
Des, dem Balsam zu Gift ward?
Der sich Menschenhaß
Aus der Fülle der Liebe trank?
Erst verachtet, nun ein Verächter,
Zehrt er heimlich auf
Seinen eignen Wert
In ung’nugender Selbstsucht.

Ist auf deinem Psalter,
Vater der Liebe, ein Ton
Seinem Ohre vernehmlich,
So erquicke sein Herz!
Öffne den umwölkten Blick
Über die tausend Quellen
Neben dem Durstenden
In der Wüste!

Alto Rhapsody

But who is that apart?
In the underbrush his loses his way.
Behind him
The shrubs beat together,
The grass stands up again,
The wasteland engulfs him.

Ah, who heals the pain
Of him, for whom balsam became poison?
Who drank hatred
Out of the abundance of love?
First despised, now a despiser,
He secretly depletes
His own worth
In inadequate selfishness.

If there is in Thine Psalter,
Father of love, one note
To his ear audible,
Then refresh his heart!
Open his clouded gaze
To the thousand springs
Next to the thirsting one
In the desert!

Richard Straus, “Morgen”, Op.27, 4

Und morgen wird die Sonne wieder scheinen
Und auf dem Wege, den ich gehen werde
Wird uns, die Glücklichen, sie wieder einen
Inmitten dieser sonnenatmenden Erde

Und zu dem Strand, dem weiten, wogenblauen
Werden wir still und langsam niedersteigen

Stumm werden wir uns in die Augen schauen
Und auf uns sinkt des Glückes stummes Schweigen

Richard Strauss, “Tomorrow”, Op. 27, 4

And tomorrow the sun will shine again,
and on the path I will take,
it will unite us again, we happy ones,
upon this sun-breathing earth…

And to the shore, the wide shore with blue waves,
we will descend quietly and slowly;

We will look mutely into each other’s eyes
and the silence of happiness will settle upon us.

J.S. Bach from Matthäus-Passion, bwv 244 “Erbarme dich, mein Gott”

Erbarme dich, mein Gott,
Um meiner Zähren Willen!
Schaue hier, Herz und Auge
Weint vor dir bitterlich.
Erbarme dich, erbarme dich!

J.S. Bach from St. Matthew’s Passion bwv244, “Have mercy, o God”

Have mercy, my God,
for the sake of my tears!
Look here, heart and eyes
weep bitterly before you.
Have mercy, have mercy!

Aafje Heynis
May 2, 1924 – December 16, 2015

When the Netherlands were liberated in May 1945, the jubilation in the Zaan region (North Holland) reached the same unsurpassed level as everywhere else. A man hit on the idea of wheeling his old, brown piano out on to the street. He sat down and began to play a patriotic song, naturally, with bystanders joining in with utmost emotion. Suddenly someone in the crowd cried:”There’s a real singer living just near by. She must join us.”A few minutes later some bystanders brought a young lady, somewhat thin, smiling shyly, for she was shy by nature: Aafje Heynis. There were cries of “sing, sing!” Standing by the old piano she began to sing George Frideric Handel’s “Dank sei dir, Herr”. It became completely still, and people began to weep. Aafje’s beautiful timbre, her own emotion, the splendid melody, the greatness of the occasion (freedom after five years of German occupation), all these cast a spell on the dozens of witnesses. “Never again have I been able to sing Handel quite like that”, the famous contralto was later to say.

Five years earlier Aafje Heynis has been “discovered”. On the advice of the conductor of the choral society in her native town of Krommenie she auditioned for the teacher Jo Immink in Amsterdam with an arrangement of the “Pilgrims’ Chorus” from Wagner’s Tannhauser. After that from 1946 to 1949, her singing teacher was the great Aaltje Noordewier-Reddingius. She then benefited from the good advice of Laurens Bogtman, the great oratorio singer, and finally Roy Henderson, Kathleen Ferrier’s teacher, told her that although her voice did not resemble that of the famous English singer she was still destinated for a great future because of her unique voice. She quickly established her reputation, to begin with in the field of oratorio. With her performance in Johannes Brahms’ Alto Rhapsody with the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra under the direction of Eduard van Beinum, she attracted wide attention. Concerts in churches, Lieder recitals, numerous performances of J.S. Bach’s St. Matthew Passion (BWV 244), spirituals, opera- her interests were broad, even as the demand for this unaffected singer was great. For the Philips label she made a whole series of recordings of works by J. Brahms, J.S. Bach, G.F. Handel and Felix Mendelssohn. But Monteverdi, L.v. Beethoven, Schubert and Frank Martin also belonged to her repertoire. Aafje Heynis showed a particular preference for Gustav Mahler, one consequence of which was a legendary recording of G. Mahler’s Symphony No.2 with the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra conducted by Bernard Haitink. The soprano part was sung by Elly Ameling.

Aafje Heynis had never thought of becoming a professional singer. To be sure, she started singing while still young, but everyone sang in her family: the father, the mother and the two daughters. No one minded if one person had a finer voice than the other, the most important thing was the enjoyment of singing. At the age of 17 Aafje herself aspired to become a nurse and was also inclined towards fashion, but it never occurred to her to become a singer. However, the alertness of the local choral director and the initiation of lessons with Aaltje Noordewier-Reddingius steered her in a completely different direction. At first Aafje Heynis wanted to be admitted to the choir of the Netherlands Bach Society and applied for that purpose to the director, Dr. Anton van der Horst. The latter, tired from countless rehearsals, believed he was dealing with the umpteenth would-be choir member, a routine matter that could be dispatched quickly. However the choir members and conductor were quickly impressed by the splendid contralto and she was admitted to the choir immediately. Not only did she acquire the necessary experience as a choir member, van der Anton van der Horst also worked with her intensively on solo parts from great works. It was not long before Aafje Heynis was able to take contralto solos of various works, and so began the gradually developing career of this unpretentious singer, whose life was entirely dedicated to music.

Aafje Heynis performed with the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra on countless occasions, not only with Eduard van Beinum and Bernard Haitink, but also with Eugen Jochum and Otto Klemperer. In 1961 she was awarded the highly prestigious Harriet Cohen medal for her “outstanding artistry”. In 1966 she took part in performances in Berlin and Amsterdam of the Requiems of W.A. Mozart and Verdi and L.v. Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis. Aafje Heynis also sang in several of G.F. Handel’s oratorios and works by Alphons Diepenbrock for Netherlands radio and television. Besides the many concerts she gave in the Netherlands, she could be heard in Belgium, Germany, England, Ireland, France, Switzerland and Austria; she also undertook an ambitious tour to India and Indonesia.

After her retirement from singing, Aafje Heynis lived in Blaricum, the Netherlands and worked as a singing teacher (1989).