Pop/Rock Dance Hiphop Jazz World Classical Contemporary Stage Festival Genre tree


Summary | Biography | Discography | Photos | Audio/Video

willem breuker


04-11-1944 - 23-07-2010


basklarinet, componist, composers, contemporary classical music, improvised, jazz, klarinet, music theatre, score, sopraansaxofoon, tenorsaxofoon


Website BV Haast
Website Willem Breuker

Willem Breuker

In the early sixties Willem Breuker (Amsterdam, 4 November 1944 – Amsterdam, 23 July 2010) embarks upon a tempestuous career, both in the Netherlands and abroad. Initially he latches on to the American free jazz, but he then develops completely new forms of composing, making music and musical theater. Characteristic ...
Full biography


basklarinet, componist, klarinet, sopraansaxofoon, tenorsaxofoon

Mentioned in the biography of

1960   Dick van der Capellen
1961   Han Bennink
1965   Arjen Gorter
More results Less results

Biography Willem Breuker

In the early sixties Willem Breuker (Amsterdam, 4 November 1944 – Amsterdam, 23 July 2010) embarks upon a tempestuous career, both in the Netherlands and abroad. Initially he latches on to the American free jazz, but he then develops completely new forms of composing, making music and musical theater. Characteristic for his work is the combination of composition and improvisation, the synthesis of genres and styles hitherto considered irreconcilable, and incorporating spectacular visual elements – all of this seasoned with large doses of irony, satire and humor. It also shows from the titles of his pieces: Tussen de Dijen van een Mokkel (Between the Thighs of a Broad), Driebergen-Zeist (the name of a railway station), De Vuyle Wasch (The Dirty Laundry – in an archaic spelling), Aanpakken en Wegwezen (Take On and Get Out). Breuker composes and arranges music for small and large ensembles – including symphony orchestras, concert wind bands, mandolin orchestras – but also for carillon, barrel organ and ships' horns. He writes soundtracks for films and incidental music for the theater. In 1967 he is co-founder of the Instant Composers Pool. In 1974 he starts his own record label, BVHaast. The same era also sees the formation of the Willem Breuker Kollektief, which he will continue to lead for 36 years. Breuker is a highly original concert promoter and programmer. For years he takes up various positions in Dutch music life: chairman of the Stichting Jazz In Nederland (Dutch Jazz Foundation), co-founder of the Bimhuis, member of the board of the Nationaal Jazz Archief (later Nederlands Jazz Archief – Dutch Jazz Archive- now part of the Muziek Centrum Nederland) which he helped to found. The critical acclaim for his music shows from a series of number one positions in the International Critics Poll of American jazz magazine Down Beat (1986-1991), a dozen awards, including the Wessel Ilcken Prijs 1970, the Boy Edgar Prijs 1993 (the two major Dutch jazz awards), and the Ehrenurkunde der Deutsche Schallplattenindustrie (2005). In 1992 Françoise and Jean Buzelin's biography 'Willem Breuker' is published in France, followed by a Dutch edition two years later: Willem Breuker: Maker van Mensenmuziek. His curriculum vitae and his oeuvre are both so extensive (over 500 works, over 100 albums) that a complete survey is out of the question here.

Played in

Misha Mengelberg / Piet Noordijk Kwartet   altsaxofoon, basklarinet, tenorsaxofoon
Orkest de Volharding   klarinet, saxofoon
Willem Breuker Kollektief   componist, klarinet, saxofoon

1944 - 1965

Breuker grows up in the east of Amsterdam, a part of the city where he will continue to live for the rest of his life. He is fascinated by city noises: barrel organs, the cries of street merchants, fire engines, street cars, carillons, neighbors' arguments. He is both interested in jazz and contemporary 'classical' composers like Edgar Varèse, John Cage, Charles Ives, Arnold Schönberg and Willem Pijper. At the Amsterdam People's Music School his clarinet teacher is Ab van der Molen. He develops fast and soon starts improvising and composing. From 1963 he is a regular at the city's various jazz competitions, where he draws the attention of jury members like Michiel de Ruyter, Theo Loevendie and Misha Mengelberg. A number of times he is awarded first prize as best soloist. In 1965 his group Free Jazz Incorporated – featuring pianist Piet Kuiters – takes part in the Loosdrecht Jazz Competition, eliciting violent reactions from the audience, the jury and the organizers (headed by popular singer Max van Praag).

Theo Loevendie


Drummer and free jazz pioneer Pierre Courbois brings Breuker into contact with the German multi-instrumentalist Gunter Hampel, a key figure in a European network of avant-garde musicians. Hampel includes Breuker in his quartet; it marks the beginning of a lengthy collaboration. In July they undertake an international tour, taking them to Tunisia and Belgium (the Comblain-la-Tour Jazz Festival). Pianist Misha Mengelberg and drummer Han Bennink, both members of the successful Mengelberg/Noordijk Quartet (post bop), show great interest in the young musician who operates in total freedom. They occasionally ask him to sub for altoist Piet Noordijk, or have him play as the fifth member of the group. The mounting tension within the band eventually leads to Noordijk's and bassist Rob Langereis's departure from the group. The resulting triumvirate of Breuker, Mengelberg en Bennink will soon cause a stir in the Dutch jazz world. In July Boy Edgar invites Breuker for a guest appearance with Boy's Big Band at the Holland Festival. In the same month Breuker participates in the Loosdrecht Jazz Competition for a second time. He assembles a large orchestra to perform his composition Litany For The 14th Of June, 1966. The texts recited in the composition are taken from newspaper clippings concerning the riots in Amsterdam on 14 June 1966, known in the Netherlands as the 'Telegraaf revolt'. In the finals the orchestra plays Breuker's Time Signals And Sound Density, performed by 23 musicians, divided into various groups. Just like Litany the music is partly written and partly improvised. The style of the written parts is close to contemporary classical music. The spectacular piece contains groups of musicians provoking and opposing each other, people running to and fro, police whistles, planned chaos and disturbances. These scenes, hitherto unknown in Loosdrecht, broadcast live on television, establish 21 year-old Breuker's name. In September Breuker makes his recording debut as a guest soloist on the album Finch Eye by Boy's Big Band. Some weeks later he records his debut as a leader: Contemporary Jazz From Holland: Compositions and arrangements by Willem Breuker played by his Orchestra '66 and his Quintet (Relax 33004). Four pieces for orchestra (including Time Signals and a third version of Litany) and four played by a quintet featuring Breuker, Mengelberg, Victor Kaihatu and Dick van der Capellen (double bass) and Pierre Courbois (drums). The quintet pieces resemble American free jazz. The large orchestra includes both jazz musicians and musicians from the world of classical music. The music is a combination of atonal composition - not related to jazz - and freestyle improvisations. Breuker comments on this: 'To me composition and improvisation are two sides of the same coin.' (1). In December 1966 the German jazz critic Joachim E. Berendt produces a recording of pianist Alexander von Schlippenbach's orchestral work Globe Unity. The orchestra features Breuker alongside the frontrunners of European improvised music: Gunter Hampel, trumpeter Manfred Schoof and the saxophonists Peter Brötzmann and Gerd Dudek. The title of the ESP album Assemblage – Music From Europe (recorded on 21 December 1966) clearly reflects the awakening self-awareness of the European avant-garde, turning away from American examples. On this album Breuker performs with leader Gunter Hampel, bassist Piet-Hein Veening and Pierre Courbois. A Film For Lucebert marks the beginning of a long-term collaboration between Breuker and filmmaker Johan van der Keuken.

Boy's Big Band Han Bennink Misha Mengelberg Pierre Courbois

1967 - 1973

In the summer of 1967 Mengelberg, Bennink and Breuker found an interest group for improvising musicians, also being the first independent European record label: the Instant Composers Pool, ICP. The first album they release is New Acoustic Swing Duo (December 1967), named after the eponymous Breuker/Bennink duo. The Lunchconcert voor Drie Draaiorgels (Lunch Concerto for Three Barrel Organs; August 1967), performed at the Amsterdam Dam Square causes quite a stir. Breuker's specially composed barrel organ music goes against all conventions and expectations connected with the popular street instrument – a method that will remain unmistakably his own. Meanwhile his international network of improvisers keeps extending. He works with trombonist Willem van Manen, the bassists Maarten Altena and Arjen Gorter, guitarist Derek Bailey, and the reed players Evan Parker, John Tchicai and Peter Brötzmann. He is featured in the Peter Brötzmann Octet which records Machine Gun (May 1968), an album that goes on to achieve cult status in the area of European free improv. Breuker develops a totally new form of musical theater. The musicians also perform as actors, all kinds of musical genres are incorporated and treated without any hierarchy, the stage-setting is spectacular and highly original, humor, satire and irony are important elements. Often the subject matter is related to (musico-) political and social subjects. Sometimes Breuker writes his own scripts, but he also collaborates with various writers and directors, as well as with the production house De Theaterunie. Thus we see Het Leven van Wolfgang-Amadeus Mozart (The Life of WAM, 1969), The Message (1970), Kaïn en Abel (1972), Het Paard van Troje Gaat op Vakantie (The Trojan Horse Goes on Holiday, 1973) and Oltre Tomba (1973). He also writes incidental music for Aristophanes's The Knights (1968) and Bertolt Brecht's Baal (1973). Filmmaker Johan van der Keuken can also count on Breuker to write scores for his new films. In 1972 Breuker provides the personnel for the 'alternative' and 'political' orchestra De Volharding, founded by composer Louis Andriessen. The musicians – mainly wind players, including Breuker himself (until late 1974) – stem from heterogeneous backgrounds and perform the music, which defies categorization, and is specially written or arranged for them, at various unusual locations, preferably not on regular concert stages. Late 1973 Breuker quits the ICP, because of a continuing clash of opinions and characters between himself and co-founders Mengelberg

Arjen Gorter Maarten Altena Orkest de Volharding Willem Van Manen

1974 - 1998

In the course of 1974 Breuker forms the Willem Breuker Kollektief (WBK), a ten or eleven piece band, consisting of winds, piano, bass and drums. Working with this stable, increasingly homogeneous ensemble becomes Breuker's core activity, in addition to a great number of other pursuits. Bassist Arjen Gorter, drummer Rob Verdurmen, trumpeter Boy Raaymakers and trombonist Bernard Hunnekink are mainstays since the start of the band until Breuker's death. Pianist (until 1980) is Leo Cuypers, with whom Breuker also performs as a duo. In 1974 the two start a new, independent record label, BVHaast. Over the next decades BVHaast builds an impressive catalogue with a great variety of music, featuring both contemporary and older, improv based and composed music. Breuker's taste and interests are the only criteria for releasing albums. A small sampling: Misha Mengelberg, Louis Andriessen, Konrad Boehmer, Bruno Maderna, Greetje Bijma, Boy Edgar, Toon van Vliet, Conlon Nancarrow, Hanns Eisler, Alphons Diepenbrock, George Antheil, Igor Stravinsky, Charles Ives. In 1975 the WBK undertakes its first foreign tour. The fulltime orchestra's agenda grows steadily, averaging some 85 concerts each year, geographically spread over all continents. The regular American tours turn out to be highly successful: 'In concert the music of the Willem Breuker Kollektief defies description in its beauty, its hilarity, its mad vitality, its power to compel [...] one rarely encounters European jazzmen who are able to use their own roots so thoroughly and effectively' (3). In the WBK concept the following elements play a role: the alternation between written ensemble parts and improvisation; the combination of all imaginable styles from present and past, not only within the program of one concert, but also within one piece; contrastive gear changes and surprise effects; audio as well as visual spectacle, albeit less so in later decades; a high speed with no breathers – pieces often segue into one another with no further introduction; humor and irony. Apart from compositions by Breuker himself – and occasionally by other members of the Kollektief – the repertoire features works and arrangements by established composers: Kurt Weill, Gershwin, Ferde Grofé, Sweelinck, Rameau, Ravel. The artists with whom the WBK collaborates in projects reflect the flexibility of Breuker and his orchestra: the vocalists Greetje Kauffeld, Loes Luca, Denise Jannah, Gisela May, Hans Dorrestijn; The Hague Percussion Ensemble, Mondriaan Strings; the cabaret performers Albert Mol and Freek de Jonge; entertainer Toby Rix; oboist Han de Vries; cellist Yo-Yo Ma; whistler Geert Chatrou. The WBK explicitly does not limit itself to a select audience of musical gourmets in an established genre. There is an openness thanks to a lack of highbrow pretentions and by the style average in the music, in which the so-called light musical genres - tango, Schlager, march, circus noise – play an important role. This is what Breuker likes to call 'people's music'. Kurt Weill is a continuous source of inspiration to him, both in his musical vocabulary and in his attitude towards the audience. Breuker is also a specialist in performing Weill's compositions: 'Niemand spielt Musik von Kurt Weill so gut wie der Holländer Willem Breuker' (4). In 1976 Breuker organizes his first Klap op de Vuurpijl, an annual music festival spread over several days between Christmas and New Year's Eve. In typical Breuker fashion the WBK, jazz bands, contemporary classical music, world music and all kinds of vaudeville acts make for a varied program. Within a few years De Klap becomes a popular Amsterdam tradition, lasting well into the 21st century. A typical Breuker stunt is De Wonderbaarlijke Optocht (The Miraculous Parade, 1985). In this musical parade through Amsterdam we see some 1500 participants, including acrobats, horses, majorettes, a senior citizens' choir, a workers' choir, and personnel of the city's cleansing department. The grand finale at the Dam, where Breuker conducts the crowd from a tower wagon, is witnessed by the Dutch prince consort Claus.

Boy Raaymakers Han de Vries Leo Cuypers Rob Verdurmen

1999 - 2010

On the occasion of the 25th anniversary of the WBK in 1999 the book Willem Breuker Kollektief Celebrating 25 Years On The Road (BVHaast) is published. This album of photographs plus commentary gives an idea of the musical theater performances, the tours and concerts, and contains two CDs with an anthology taken from the band's oeuvre. In 2003 Breuker organizes and programs the three day festival Nederlandse Muziekdagen in Utrecht. The program reflects his interest in lesser known Dutch composers like Peter van Anrooy, Jan Mul, Robert Heppener. One of the participating musicians, pianist Tomoko Mukaiyama, is asked to perform in… the goods elevator. The WBK's existence is threatened in 2008 when the Dutch government decides to withdraw its subsidy for the fulltime orchestra after 35 years. The WBK's last production featuring its leader is a 2009 Dutch theater tour featuring guest performances by actor/singers Annet Malherbe and Kees Prins, cabaret performer Hans Dorrestijn, writer Kees van Kooten, singer Loes Luca and whistler Geert Chatrou. The joyful, festive program bears the title: Nog Lang Niet Jarig! Breuker has been suffering from health problems for a number of years, and in 2007 he receives a liver transplant. Sometimes he is physically unable to perform; in that case the Kollektief plays under Bernard Hunnekink's leadership. Having been diagnosed with lung cancer Willem Breuker dies on 23 July 2010, at the age of 65. His international fame is confirmed by obituaries in many foreign newspapers, including The New York Times, The Guardian, Libération, Le Monde, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung en Süddeutsche Zeitung.

Bernard Hunnekink

Discography Willem Breuker

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.

Photos Willem Breuker

Audio/Video Willem Breuker

Video Willem Breuker

de platenkast van Willem ...
de platenkast van Willem Breuker (jr, music scene 26, 1994)
Willem Breuker Kollektief...
Willem Breuker Kollektief | Nog Lang Niet Jarig | deel 01 | Sitefilms
Does this page contain inappropriate material? Click here to report this.
Willem Breuker Kollektief | Nog Lang Niet Jarig | deel 01 | Sitefilms

All videos

Add audio or video

Muziekencyclopedie.nl on Facebook Muziekencyclopedie.nl on Twitter