Jan RIjken

RijkenPortraitThe name of Jan Rijken is best remembered as a pianist, organ player, and teacher. Since 1880 he conducted the Deventer Male & Mixed Choir, and later on he became director of the Municipal Music School there. His study on Heller’s ‘Études’ was much used in piano teaching. Less known is that he also composed a lot of songs, and no less than four operas. Among his operas, one stands out for the daring title alone: Norma! Indeed, it follows the same plot as Bellini’s masterpiece, which Rijken obvioulsy judged fit for an update, in order to bring the story in line with the musical taste of the time. Rijken’s Norma therefore is a late romantic work, with Wagnerian influences, such as can be expected from an opera composed in 1890. Norma's moon aria 'Keusche Göttin' and the final duet between Norma and Sever shall be performed during the very first 401NederlandseOperas live concert of April 26, 2015, in Hoog-Keppel. Sopraan Jolien De Gendt shall sing there Rijken's Norma, tenor Denzil Delaere sings the part of Sever. They will be accompanied from the piano by Pieter Dhoore.

Text: René Seghers

Jan Rijken (Rotterdam, October 1, 1857 – Deventer, April 9, 1921) studied music at the Music School of Rotterdam, where he took theory classes with Theodoor Verhey, composition classes with Frans Gensheim, piano with Johan Sikemeyer, and organ with Samuel de Lange. In 1876 he was assigned principal organ player with the German Evangelist Community Rotterdam. A year later he was also appointed as piano teacher at the Tonal Arts School Schiedam. It was a short tenure, since he left the same year for Brussels, for further studies with Louis Brassin. In 1879 he returned to The Netherlands and became conductor of the Winterswijk department of the Society in Stimulation of the Tonal Arts (Maatschappij ter Bevordering der Toonkunst). In 1880 he also started conducting the Deventer Male and Mixed Choir, which came to full bloom under his guidance. In 1882 Rijken was also appointed piano teacher at the Deventer Music School, where he soon became principal director. He was a key figure in the development of musical life in Deventer, and a renowned teacher.

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The opera composer Jan Rijken: Norma

By 2015, the time of writing, Jan Rijken’s name was forgotten, along with his scores, until I rediscovered his operas in the archives of the Nederlands Muziek Instituut, among them his opera Norma, fearlessly composed to a German language libretto by Paul Haase (oddly enough not mentioned in the libretto). The libretto closely follows Felice Romani’s libretto for Bellini, and therefore has the same characters, although Pollione is here mentioned by his German name, Sever[ius]. How self confident Jan Rijken was at the time, is clear from his inclusion of a ‘Keusche Göttin’ aria, as pendant to Bellini’s crown jewel ‘Casta diva.’

Rijken composed Norma in Deventer, between 1886 and 1888. Originally, the work had a ‘Vorspiel,’ which he replaced on March 12, 1889, by an Overture.
Since this overture was titled, ‘Ouverture zur Oper Ada(l)gisa,’ I suspect that the composer ultimately realized that it was a mission impossible to compete with Bellini, perhaps he hoped to get the work performed under the new title, Adalgisa. We currently know no performances of either Rijken’s Norma or Adalgisa.

Rijken's Norma at the first 401DutchOperas concert on April 27, 2015

At our first 401DutchOperas concert on April 26, 2015 in Hoog-Keppel, we will present the ‘Keusche Göttin’ aria (including the recitative), and the large-scale final duet Norma-Sever, ‘Du bist in meinen Händen.’ Soprano Jolien de Gendt shall create Norma, and tenor Denzil Delaere shall create Sever. Pieter Dhoore accompanies them at the piano

Rijken's other operas

Rijken’s second opera, Der Falsche Czaar (later also titled Caesar Falsus), was a historic-romantic opera in three acts, again to a libretto by Paul Haase. Rijken composed and orchestrated the opera between June 1890 and December 28, 1892. In 1906 a copy was made – perhaps for a (planned) performance? Between August 26, 1907, and 1910 Rijken composed the grand scale dramatic opera De Heilige (The Holy One). This is an opera in one act to a Dutch text by Marie Metz Koning, after the novel by Clara Viebig. The work was eventually translated into German, as Der Heilige. (Rijken reworked the score in 1910 into the mystical opera in one act, Het Beeld (The Statue), to a ‘poem’ by Joséphine Lulofs and ‘stage sketch’ by Benno Vos. The story was now after Thomaliens’ Zegenende Christus (The blessing Christ).

Het Beeld(The Statue)

To date, Het Beeld is Rijken’s only opera from which we have performance details, thanks to Ger van Tang’s unpublished biography of Cornelis van der Linden. On page 52 he mentions the private opera company of Dutch soprano legend Cornélie van Zanten, who in 1911 became principal director of the Conservatory of The Hague. When she left her post because of differences of opinion with the staff, she founded her own singing academy at Laan Copes van Cattenburg. Part of her singing school was maintaining a real opera ensemble, which gave, among others, the Dutch premiere of Verdi’s Falstaff on April 25, 1917, in the Royal Theatre of The Hague. A year earlier, in 1916, Van Zanten’s ensemble had given Rijken’s Het Beeld in a double bill with De Bron van Badrah of Bernhard van den Sigtenhorst Meyer, conducted by Henk van den Berg.

Rijken’s operatic ambitions ended with Het Beeld. Apart from his operas, dozens of songs, incidental compositions, and arrangements, made by him, have been preserved. Among them are settings for ‘Ases Tod’ and ‘Morgenstimmung’ from Grieg’s Peer Gynt.

Jan Rijken and the world of song

Among Jan Rijken’s song repertoire, I mention the Heinrich Heine songs ‘Sie haben dir viel erzählet’ (1876), ‘Hör ich das Liedchen klingen’ (1878), and ‘Mädchen mit dem Rossen Mündchen’. Then also ‘Twee Avondliedjes’ (1893, to Mrs. van Essen (English words by J. K. F.), ‘Abendfeier in Venedig’ (1899, poem E. Geibel), In de Kathedraal (1901, poem by Mevr. L. Haverkotte-Nagel), ‘Natuurstemming’ (1901, gedicht van / Dr. E. B. Koster), ‘Ik dwaalde door stille straten’ (to Anna Blaauw, poem by Mr. C. Vosmaer), ‘Ständchen’ (text by T. von Kotzebue), Roos en Nachtegaal, Goede Nacht (poem by J. N. van Halle), and ‘De Lelien van het Mummelmeer’ (Mr. I. A. Bogaers, after A. Schnetzlers ‘Mummelsee’).

Rijken & De Lange, piano dealers in Rotterdam


o these days, Jan Rijken is perhaps best remembered as one of the founding fathers of the illustrious Rotterdam based piano dealers Rijken & De Lange, which exists to these days. Jan founded the dealer shop in November 1852, together with his brother George Rijken, at the Posthoornsteeg in Rotterdam. The time was right, since the piano and its repertoire were about to take wing and conquer the world of music on the wings of Robert Schumann, Franz Liszt and Johannes Brahms, says the website of the company. There, we also read that the capital of the brothers largely consisted of a surplus of enthusiasm and knowledge, which reaped them many friends in Rotterdam’s music scene.

RijkenBroersPianosVleugelsBy1860, the famous composer Daniel de Lange, organ player of the Great or St Laurens Church, became a partner, which resulted in the current name, ‘Rijken & De Lange.’ The company prospered, and in 1888 Rijken & De Lange moved to a great new location at the Gedempte Binnenrotte. The bombing of Rotterdam in May 1940 then destroyed the company. From the rebuilding of Rotterdam onwards, the company was located at the Korte Lijnbaan. The composer’s son, Jan F. Rijken jr., and his son rebuild the company, which soon became one of the most successful piano dealerships in The Netherlands. By August 1989 they moved to the musical heart of Rotterdam, Schouwburgplein 56, next to the Concertgebouw de Doelen. Following the crisis, by October 2006, they moved to ‘De Vlasfabriek’ at the Overschieseweg 10b, Rotterdam. The dwindling demand for acoustic pianos forced them to close the dealership, but they continue to renovate and do maintenance.


Jan Rijken passed away in Deventer, on April 9, 1921. We provide here the obituary from Amersfoorts Dagblad / De Eemlander of April 15, 1921:

‘Under great public interest, the composer Jan Rijken was carried to his final resting place. A plenitude of flowers covered his sarcophagus. Mrs. E. Smit of Deventer’s Male and Mixed Choir, G. van Nyburg for the Deventer Music School held a speech in memory of the composer. The Male Choir, conducted by W. van der Beld, then sang a song from ‘Geistliche Gesänge’ by Mendelssohn-Bartholdy. A brother of the deceased, George Rijken from Rotterdam, thanked all for their interest.’

Jan Rijken: NormaGrosse Oper in 3 Akten 

Pollio (Sever), römischer Proconsul in Gallien (Tenor)
Orovist, Haupt der Druiden (Bass)
Norma, dessen Töchter, Oberpriesterin (Sopran)
Adalgisa, Priesterin bei der Irminsäule (Sopran)
Clotilde, Norma’s Freundin (Sopran)
Flavius, Pollio’s Begleiter (tenor)
Zwei kinder, Sohne Pollio’s und Norma’s
Druïden, Barden, Tempelwächter, priesterinnen, Gallisches Kriegsvolk