cover of garden whre the brassband played

S. Vestdijk - Dutch author

The Garden Where the Brass Band Played by S. Vestdijk.
As this Dutch novel begins, Nol, the central character, is a small boy who is exposed to the joys of music. As a judge's son, Nol enjoys a privileged life, but he is not immune to disappointments and hard-earned lessons ranging from resentment of an older brother to rejection by the girl he loves. 1950.
Braille book review

Information in English About Ivory Watchmen (Ivoren wachters) - Tragedy of errors.
About The garden where the brassband played.

About The future of religion (Toekomst der religie)

Published in English

Rum Island, John Calder, London 1963, transl. B.K. Bowes
The garden where the brass band played, New York 1989, transl. A. Brotherton
The Stone Face, transl. by Roy Adams, ed. Modern stories from many lands, New York 1963
The Stone Facce, transl. by Richard Huijing, ed. The Dedalus Book of Dutch Fantasy, 1993
Edge of myself - Zelfkant transl. by Cliff Crego, 2001
Town at the Wadden - poem translated by Henk de Kruyff

Article by Rein Bloem in the Winkler Prins encyclopedia, 7th ed. 1975 (amended and expanded). Translated by Paul Vincent.

The Dutch author Simon Vestdijk was born in Harlingen, Friesland on 17 October 1898. Both his father, a gymnastics teacher, and his introverted, protective mother were musical and forested an early love of music in their only child.

After studying medicine (qualifying in 1927 at the University of Amsterdam) and music (1926), he worked for some time as a ship’s doctor, before devoting himself, from 1932 onwards, to a full-time literary career.

In 1939 he moved to Doorn near Utrecht, where he lived in relative seclusion until his death on 23 March 1971. He was survived by his wife, whom he married in 1965 and two children, a son and a daughter.

After publishing a number of poems and stories in student almanacs, Vestdijk made his professional debut as a poet in the magazine De Vrije Bladen (The Free Folia), coming into contact with the influential writers Edgar du Perron and Menno ter Braak and later joining them as an editor of the literary periodical Forum.

Vestdijk’s first novel, a manuscript of nearly 1,000 pages, Kind tussen vier vrouwen (Child Between Four Women) was rejected for publication and appeared only after the author’s death, in 1972. The manuscript was a seedbed where many later novels, stories and poems germinated. Its main character is an isolated, anxious child who seeks both to identify with and to free himself from a number of female figures who represent mother, sister, earthly sweetheart and unattainable love (in the shape of Ina Damman) – or are possibly merely facets of a single fascination – so that he can finally find his own way. These romantic themes underlie almost all Vestdijk’s writings, and after their documentation and conscious description in such books as De toekomst der religie (The Future of Religion, 1947) they assume the character of a personal mysticism: an individual caught in a status quo situation, suddenly becomes conscious of his plight (often against the catalytic background of a natural setting, preferably a mountain landscape), breaks free of the ties constricting him and focuses on a future ideal. This takes the form in the first instance of a superego, a guide, and subsequently of an ineffable experience of eternity, with residual female elements, which can reach consummation only in death. Moments when present and past coincide and eternity is glimpsed within time (especially in dreams, ecstasy or flights of imagination) are outnumbered by situations where these two principles conflict. This almost always gives Vestdijk’s protagonists, of which the eponymous hero of the Anton Wachter cycle is the closest autobiographically to his creator, something tragic and irreparably lonely; their male and femal models, be they opponents or allies, invariably remain beyond reach. Vestdijk gave shape to this mythology of an ambivalent way of life, driven by regressive and progressive desires, in numerous contemporary, historical and futuristic novels and stories, using psychological charts derived from astrological theories – not out of belief in astrology, but because they produced an interaction between characters which enabled him to put flesh on the bones of his basic plot patterns.

The same mythology operates, though with fewer psychological constraints, in Vestdijk’s twenty books of poetry, published posthumously in three volumes as Verzamelde Gedichten (Collected Poems) and supplemented in 1986 by a substantial collection of Nagelaten Gedichten (Posthumous Poems). His highly plastic poetry, in which ideas are often given more weight than sound and rhythm, repeatedly expresses the fundamental impossibility of identification with a ‘higher’ ideal or of integration of the past in the present. The most impressive example is the series of 150 sonnets, Madonna met de valken (Madonna with Falcons) from the collection Gestelse Liederen (1949), written during his detention as a hostage in St.-Michielsgestel in the Second World War. A great deal of material on the mythical nature of his work is also provided by his essay collections, notably De toekomst der religie (The Future of Religion) and Essays in duodecimo of 1952, and the unsubmitted doctoral thesis Het wezen van de angst (The Nature of Fear), published to mark Vestdijk’s seventieth birthday in 1968.

His novels, like his poetry and essays, are written in a dense baroque style with many interruptions, asides and qualifications, which is more an indication of a basic uncertainty and a tendency to camouflage emotion than of the cerebrality of which the prolific Vestdijk is often accused. His huge, multi-facetted oeuvre, in which his original publications on music form a chapter apart and which maintains a consistently high standard, was honoured with a host of prizes (including the Prize of Dutch Letters in 1971, received posthumously by his wife). From 1956 until his death he was the Low Countries’ candidate for the Nobel Prize for Literature, on one occasion achieving third place in the ballot. Only after his death did the diversity and unity of his work begin to receive adequate and systematic critical attention. An important step in this process was the foundation of a Vestdijk Circle with its own periodical, the Vestdijk-kroniek.

Supplement 1992

The author’s literary estate has been administered since his death by his widow. Under her supervision all the novels were reset and republished from 1978 to 1984. Vestdijk’s ten volumes of music criticism were republished in full and a start has been made on the publication of several volumes of correspondence. A critical edition of the Nagelaten Gedichten appeared in 1986. The Anton Wachter novels have been adapted for radio, and five other novels have been filmed. The novel Het vijfde zegel (The Fifth Seal) has been turned into a television play in both Poland and Czechoslovakia. Translations of a significant portion of Vestdijk’s work have appeared in a total of twenty languages, including an English version of De toekomst der religie, which appeared in the United States and an English version of the novel De Koperen Tuin (The Garden where the Brass Band played), which appeared in the United States and in the United Kingdom.

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last page update - march 2005