The Funeral for Gustav Leonhardt

January 22, 2012

There has naturally been curiosity about the funeral arrangements for the great Dutch musician who died last week — and certainly about what music will be included. The service will be on Tuesday the 24th. Many people had, like me, assumed that it would take place where he has been the titular organist for many years, the nearest Dutch equivalent to Westminster Abbey, the Nieuwekerk, which is also very near his house. But the Nieuwekerk now has divine service only on royal and other state occasions (including coronations) and at the moment is occupied by an exhibition on Judaism that, by contract, may not be interrupted.

The other church with which Mr. Leonhardt was long associated (and where he gave me my organ lessons) is the Waalsekerk, which is on the other side of the Dam from his house and the Nieuwekerk,

and the Waalsekerk has a magnificent organ.

But it is too small for the crowd that is surely anticipated and, besides, holds its services in French. Presumably the funeral will be in Dutch, though I wonder how many people ever heard the man utter a single Dutch word besides Sweelinck! (He was content to teach in English, French, German, or Italian, but an American friend who took pains to learn Dutch was told that lessons were not to be in Dutch. Even the notice on the doorbell of his house to “speak distinctly” into in the intercom was in English.)

Thus, the funeral will be conducted in Mr. Leonhardt’s own parish church, the Westerkerk, pictured at the top of this post (which has also pinch-hitted for the Nieuwekerk for royal occasions when the latter was under restoration). It has generous proportions,

contains two organs,

is centrally located,

and is even said to have been designed by the same architect who built the Leonhardts’ great palace on the Herengracht:

We can hope that there will be a way of hearing the funeral on the Web. If it is available, I’ll post an update here (and will of course be grateful to hear from anyone who has early news of such a Webcast).

Looking up at the larger organ in the Westerkerk

6 Responses to “The Funeral for Gustav Leonhardt”

  1. Thanks for the update and the anecdotes, Roger. I didn’t know that you’d studied organ with Leonhardt. I remember two extraordinary organ concerts he gave in Basel and Arlesheim in 1976 or 1977. For one of them, I could catch his reflection in a mirror from the organ loft and noted that he was swaying back and forth animatedly, moving with the music in a way that one never saw when he performed as a harpsichordist.

  2. rogerevans said

    Yes, Erik, I once turned pages for the first half of an all-French recital in the Waalsekerk (first half organ; second half harpsichord), and his demeanor could not have been more different in the two halves. For one thing he started the first piece with a caramel in his mouth, having first offered me one!

    Testimony like yours is valuable, since his ascetic appearance at the harpsichord sometimes misleads people.

  3. The Westerkerk is indeed a beautiful church with a large, handsome organ. I liked even better than the Nieuwekerk because when I visited the latter church, the doors on the front of the organ were closed.

  4. Terri O.A. said

    Such wonderful photos!

  5. Décidément, je n’ai pas envie de mourir…

  6. Bert Shudi said

    The funeral was not recorded and cameras were not allowed.

    I have, however, written a short blog post myself at

    Nice post, by the way.

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