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Lou Lichtveld

Lodewijk "Lou" Lichtveld was born on 7 November 1903 in Paramaribo (Suriname, at that time still a colony of the Netherlands). His father was of both Dutch and Creole heritage, worked as a senior official at the Suriname tax collection agency and so the family belonged to the nonwhite elite class. At the age of 11 Lou Lichtveld is sent to the Netherlands to attend the first seminary at the Kapel in 't Zand in Roermond. He finished the education in 1916 and returned to Paramaribo and continued school. Additionally Lou Lichtveld received music lessons by Frater Anselmus (birth name: Carel Bonten) in piano, harmony, composition, flute and organ and by Rene Chalut in violin and orchestration. At the age of 17 Lou Lichtveld became organist at the local cathedral and wrote his first compositions. In 1922 he moved to Amsterdam and started to compose music seriously. He found his place in the circle of musicians in Amsterdam, in 1927 Lou Lichtveld even married Helena Mengelberg, the niece of the renowned conductor Willem Mengelberg.


Beside his musical composition Lou Lichtveld also wrote texts which he published under different pseudonyms, but mostly under his best known pen name Albert Helman. His first book "Zuid Zuid West" about the exploitation of Suriname by the Dutch colonizers is released in 1926. And in contrast to his musical compositions this became an immediate success. So Lou Lichtveld more and more focussed on writing prose, essays, lyric and other sorts of texts and his musical compositions became less and less. The result is that he is better known today under his pen name Albert Helman than under his birth name Lou Lichtveld.


After 1930 Lou Lichtveld lived a highly political life. In 1932 he moved to Spain and fought on the side of the Republicans in the Spanish Civil War against the fascists under General Franco. After Franco's victory Lichtveld fled to North Africa and Mexico and finally returned to the Netherlands in 1939. After the German invasion of the Netherlands in 1940, Lou Lichtveld became a part of the resistance, forged personal documents and published anti-Fascist slogans and books. In 1949 he returned to Suriname, where he was the Minister of Education and National Development and Minister of Health until 1951. After his resignation as Minister, he still held various other offices. He was chairman of the Court of Audit of Suriname and director of the office folk reading. In 1961 he was appointed to the Dutch Embassy in Washington. And this political life was always accompanied by his writings, in total more than 130 books and hundreds of articles and essays. His most important writings are „Zuid-Zuid-West“ (1926), „Mijn aap schreit“ (1928), „De stille plantage“ (1931), „De rancho der X mysteries“ (1941), „De laaiende stilte“ (1952), „De foltering van Eldorado“ (1983) and „Hoofden van de Oayapok!“ (1984). In 1962 Lou Lichtveld was awarded honorary doctorate of the university of Amsterdam.

After retiring, Lou Lichtveld settled on Tobago, later in Airole (Italy) and finally in Amsterdam, where he died on 10 July 1996.


As mentioned before the composer Lou Lichtveld is nearly forgotten nowadays. Therefore it is difficult to find a work catalogue of his compositions. For this reason I would like to present here a list of his musical creations. My main reference was the important biography on Lou Lichtveld "Rusteloos en overal" by Michiel van Kempen:


  • Omhoog, for voice and orchestra (1921)
  • Ajax-marsch, for orchestra (1921)
  • Kerstlied, for voice and piano (1924)
  • Les vacances du Pantin, for piano (1925)
  • Triptiek, for piano (1925)
  • A song of Kalua, for soprano, bariton and piano (1925)
  • Dat scoonste kint es ons gheboren (1925)
  • Arcadia, for piano (1926)
  • Berusting, for voice and piano (1926)
  • Dismal Sam (1927)
  • Five songs for voice and piano (1929)
  • Cancio mistica, oratorio for soprano, bariton, mixed choir and orchestra (1929)
  • Music for the film "Regen" by Joris Ivens (1929)
  • Dormi, for bariton and piano (1930)
  • Flute sonata (1930)
  • Music for the film "Philips-Radio" by Joris Ivens (1930)
  • Violin sonata (1931)
  • Concertino for piano and orchestra (1932)
  • 26 oude kinderliedjes (1934)
  • Prelude, Romance et Fugue, for piano
  • Quatre morceaux romantiques, for piano

oratorio 'Cancio mistica'


In my possession is the autograph full score of the oratorio "Cancio mistica" by Lou Lichtveld. According to the score it was composed in 1929 and finished on 23 July 1929. It is scored for soprano, bariton, mixed choir and large orchestra. The text is by Juan de Yepes, better known as John of the Cross (1542-1591) in a French translation by Rene-Louis Doyon. This translation was published under the title "Canciones" by the publishing house "La Connaissance" in 1920.

For many years the score was believed to be lost in the Spanish Civil War, but was in the possession of French conductor Walther Straram, and later by his family. But Straram and his orchestra never performed the oratorio and so it still awaits its world premiere.

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