In light of the passing of Angelo Badalamenti last week, I intended to write an article about Laura’s Theme from Twin Peaks and the reasons it works so well, those having to do with concepts of stasis, movement and repetition. Then, yesterday, I received the awful news that Wim Henderickx, my first composition teacher at the Conservatoire of Amsterdam, had unexpectedly passed away.
Wim was one of the most joyful characters of the composition department. When he wasn’t teaching, he was always walking around and talked to every student, whether they were his student or not. In many ways he formed the glue that held the department together. Sometimes he had an almost childlike innocence about him. He was a large figure, tall as he was, and very physical and quick in his movements. He spoke loudly, fast, and laughed a lot.
He taught me the basics of composition. To question yourself, and ask if you are happy with what you’re currently doing. And if you’re not, to do something else. He taught me to look at melodies when writing a chorale, and analyse your harmonies if you’re writing a fugue. His most used phrase was: “`What you need right now…” While he could be very critical, his general character when teaching can be summed up as encouraging. He encouraged you to work on your pieces, if they were imperfect, and keep working on them even if they were good. He himself liked to compose every day, he once told me he felt incomplete if he went a day without composing. One lesson had him playing just two chords, to show the beauty that could be found in simplicity. Those chords were:
(I later stole those).
I once went to a concert of one of his pieces. Entrance was either free or strictly reduced for his students. I saw him at the ticket office encouraging young people to tell the desk staff they were his students. Another time, while he usually visited Amsterdam for just one day a week, he stayed over in a hotel to attend a concert the next day and took the opportunity to have a beer with his students. We learned that he very much liked Tripel Karmeliet, and “as a Belgian, I know what’s good beer!”. Before I went to do my master’s in England, he told me that what I needed right now was to become good at orchestration, because that’s what they are good at, the Englishmen.
I spoke to him once more, when I was thinking to apply for a PhD at Docartes to research time in music. We talked about concepts of stasis, movement and repetition. He showed me sketches for his first symphony, “At the Edge of the World”. The fourth movement of that symphony is a perfect exploration of those concepts.
Wim will be missed. First and foremost by his family and friends of course, but also by his former students, of which I am one. His absence will leave a gaping hole in the composition departments of both conservatoires he taught at – Amsterdam and Antwerp.
Pictured: Wim on the back of the bike of Willem, his colleague in Amsterdam and also my teacher.