Aafje Heynis is recognized as one of the greatest singers of the Netherlands. In the 1950s and '60s she was renowned for her interpretations of Brahms, Bach, Handel, Mendelssohn, Beethoven and Mahler. Heynis has been labelled a Christian oratorio singer, but she has rejected that, saying that she can sing ...
Mentioned in the biography of
Biography Aafje Heynis
Aafje Heynis is recognized as one of the greatest singers of the Netherlands. In the 1950s and '60s she was renowned for her interpretations of Brahms, Bach, Handel, Mendelssohn, Beethoven and Mahler. Heynis has been labelled a Christian oratorio singer, but she has rejected that, saying that she can sing a much broader repertoire: “I became known for my oratorio work, and so I got that label […], but I have sung so many other works. Mahler, Brahms, Schubert, lied repertoire from the late-Romantic era and the beginning of this century.” (Mens en Melodie, 1996, p. 236). As a singing teacher, she has had many students, among whom the well-known soprano Charlotte Margiono.
1924 - 1944
On May 2, Aafje Heynis is born in Krommenie, North Holland, the daughter of a bus driver. Though as a youth, she sings in a children's choir, she has no intention of pursuing a musical career. At 15, she works as a housemaid for a well-to-do family, and at 17 she considers studying nursing, until Jan Mienes, the conductor of a choral society in Krommenie, has her audition for singing teacher Jo Immink in Amsterdam. Immink recognizes her talent and gives her lessons, but Heynis is forced by the war to stop.
On May 6, amid the Liberation celebrations, Heynis sings Handel's 'Dank sei Dir, Herr' accompanied by a piano brought out onto the street. With this spontaneous open-air performance, her career begins.
1946 - 1949
Heynis receives lessons from the celebrated (and by then 77-year-old) Aaltje Noordewier-Reddingius. She begins singing in the choir of the Netherlands Bach Society. The conductor, Anthon van der Horst, plays an important role in her development. The bass Laurens Bogtman and soprano Jo Vincent are also very supportive. Heynis receives her diploma in 1948 through a state examination. Hereafter she has lessons with Laurens Bogtman, Bodie Rapp, Roy Henderson in London, and Frederick Husler in Switzerland.
A review is published under the headline: “Aafje Heynis: the contralto of the future”. The reviewer wrote: “Contraltos are dreadfully hard to come by, and of the younger generation, I know not one of this quality.” (Mens en Melodie, 1996, p. 234). The comment is typical of the enthusiasm in the 1950s for Heynis's ability. She performs with the conductors Eduard van Beinum, Eugen Jochum, Bernard Haitink, Antal Dorati, Otto Klemperer, Malcolm Sargent and Charles Mackerras. Her repertoire includes Johannes Brahms' 'Alto Rhapsody', orchestral lieder by Gustav Mahler, and oratorios. She performs in Austria, Belgium, England, France, Germany, Ireland, and Switzerland, and makes concert tours of India and Indonesia. Heynis stands out not only for the warmth and lovely timbre of her voice, but also for her modesty and reservation: “A star's existence was not for me. I have always found it cold and standoffish. […] It doesn't fit with my personality. I was too uncertain for that. […] I have always been uncertain: uncertain about my knowledge; uncertain that I really sang well enough.” (Mens en Melodie, 1996, p. 236) Heynis is frequently compared to the English contralto Kathleen Ferrier, a comparison that she doesn't quite agree with.
Heynis retires from performing at the peak of her career, giving her last concert on December 19. During this period, her husband is seriously ill. At his insistence, she begins teaching, first at the Arnhem Conservatory, and later only privately. Among her hundreds of students is the soprano Charlotte Margiono. Typical of her thinking is the quote: “The text and the notes are sacred ground. […] As singers, we have to bring across what is in the score as precisely as possible.” (Luister, 1997, p. 14)
The documentary 'Aafje Heynis, stem van de ziel' [Aafje Heynis, voice of the soul] is broadcast on television, renewing interest in her singing in the late 1990s.
2009 - 2015
Aafje Heynis suffers from Alzheimer's disease, which has severely impaired her memory. She dies December 16th at age 91.
In the discography you will find all recordings that have been released listed chronologically. We restrict ourselves to the title, the type of audio, year of publication or recording, label, list of guest musicians, plus any comments on the issue.
Audio/Video Aafje Heynis
No audio- or video material is yet available.
Add audio or video