Rom Kalma | As if it was yesterday
|Rom Kalma II
In Oratorio & Sared Music
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|Rom Kalma III
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|Rom Kalma IV
In Popular Music
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Text: Annelies van der Veen / René Seghers
Based on: documents from Rom Kalma's legacy, an interview with Rom Kalma by Aukelien van Hoytema, the 401DutchDivas.nl archives and the recollections of Annelies van der Veen, Ronald Dijkstra and Annett Andriesen.
Special thanks to: Wieger Wielinga and Tatiana Kirillova.
Bass-baritone Rom Kalma (April 16, 1921 Ferwerderadiel – July 14, 2007, Hilversum) briefly started out as a teacher during World War II. His teaching career ended in 1945, when he joined the NCRV-Vocal Ensemble. Five years later he won a First Prize at a Vocal Competition for Young Singers in Frankfurt am Main. In 1955 the Dutch National Opera House offered him a contract, but Kalma preferred a free lance career. He sang frequently in Germany and The Netherlands. He sang 500 times in Bach’s St. Matthew’s Passion, appeared all over Europe, and later became a teacher at the Utrecht Conservatory, the Zwolle Conservatory, and the Institute for Church Music. In vocal terms, Kalma was a genuine bass-baritone, with a low C at the bottom of his voice and an upwards extention to high F, G. His strength was the mix of an oiled legato with a clear diction. His voice was marked by a warm, resonant timbre, a natural, large volume and a distinguished rolling ‘rrrr’.
Being from the Dutch province of Friesland, Kalma had to deal with the prejudice that ‘Frisia non cantat’. Kalma reversed this, claiming that Fries was a veritable singer’s language:
‘Fries is very nasal, which is good for a singer. Take words such as ben, doan, dean, gean, they resound naturally. My Friesian roots also proved most helpful in Russian songs, such as Mussorgsky’s ‘Songs and Dances of Death’, which I sang in o.a. German, French, English and Russian. Russian language has the same sounds as Fries, which has no hard ‘g’s, nor the true ‘ij’, or ‘i’. Yes, Friesian is a language in which you can sing with ease. I remember very well that a colleague once said to me: ‘When I hear you sing, I always see its wide skies and green meadows with cows in front of me. I considered that a great compliment. However, I was raised bilingual, at home we spoke Fries, outside Dutch. That was another great advantage, since I easily learned languages because of this.’
Rounding up his plea for Fries as a singer’s language, Kalma further pointed to the fact that the famous Dutch baritone Henk Smit was also from Friesland. Although Kalma sang frequently in his native language, the only thing that remains of these performances in Frisian is n etremely rare privately released 45RPM vinyl single, which features Kalma singing a large medley of Frisian folk songs. When this vinyl disc came into our posession, we could finally start this article, which has been over a year in the making, with Kalma in Frisian! The single was privately recorded in 1963, on behalf of the jubilee of the Cooperative Frisian Condens Factory and given to employees and business relations. Kalma appears here with the Leeuwarder Bach Ensemble and the Frysk Orchestra under conductor Alfred Salten. below you can hear an excerpt of this release, taken from our download Rom Kalma in Popular Music (DD201604).
Child of psalms and religious song
Kalma did not grow up in a musical environment, although his family actively practiced psalms and religious songs. Kalma remembers that he rejoiced in testing his voice against the mighty sound of the organ, yet the family never regarded singing as a possible profession and Kalma therefore trained as a teacher, ending up with a teaching post in The Hague. There he joined the youth church choir, whose director immediately singled Kalma out, saying: ‘You need to take singing classes’. Since Kalma had already made his choices in life, he took private lessons, and never attended a conservatory. Kalma:
‘My studies in teaching had already provided me with a good basis in music, since musical theory and reading scores were basic ingredients of that training. Therefore I never felt myself less than any conservatory trained singer. During my brief teaching career I also had ample opportunity to live out my love for singing. Any change in the schedule was celebrated with a song. That is the wonderful thing with children: at first they look at you as to a madman, then they rejoice in it and start singing along. Using this infective power of music has always been my key card. On the other hand I felt locked up in the secluded class room, and I was happy to find an opportunity to move on after the war. My basic skills and the singing lessons paid off when I won that First Prize in Frankfurt, which launched my career as a concert singer.’
Professional singer with the NCRV RAdio Ensemble
Around the end of 1947, Kalma’s mother forwarded him a telegram in which he was invited to audition for the NCRV Broadcasting Corporation, which was about to start a professional ensemble. Kalma:
‘NCRV Choir was then the name. They had initially invited Laurens Bogtman, but he was way too busy with his prospering solo career. Laurens then suggested them to invite me, since he remembered me from the lessons he had been giving to me during the war. Thus I came to join the NCRV Choir, effectively their Radio Ensemble.’
Kalma was hired on the spot at ƒ 50 (€ 20) per week. At the time he was still attending private classes in Amsterdam three times a week, among them with the Norwegian singer Valde Serene, who worked with him on his breathing technique. Kalma never stuck to one teacher but worked with a number of teachers:
‘In the later years I even worked with the famous and very old Miss. Aaltje Noordewier-Reddingius. She had just been operated on her eyes and kept telling me that it was so strange that the pianos of the day were round! She was 80 years then, but she still produced a radiant high C and had a great personality.’
Kalma may have been born into the world of protestant church music, yet he soon discovered the world of light music as well as the operas of Richard Wagner:
‘Until I discovered Wagner, I only listened to light music. Every afternoon I made sure to return home by 4PM, because the BBC then broadcasted their BBC Dance Hall Orchestra. However, one day in August I came home to find the scheduled broadcast canceled. Instead I heard the first measures of the Grals-Erzählung from Lohengrin with Franz Völker – a true revelation! In my ears Völker always remained one of the most splendid German tenors of the Century, with his warm, rounded voice. His diction was immaculate, in this respect he was my example par excellance. I always strived to make every word stand out in the auditorium.’
The only document that reminds us of Kalma's affinity with Wagner's music is his recording of Wolfram's song to the Evening Star in Tannhäuser, which is part of our download Rom Kalma in Opera, Concert & Musical.
First Prize Winner in Frankfurt
Kalma’s victory in the prestigious Vocal Competition in Frankfurt materialized after he had auditioned with the Dutch impresario Maaike Schild. She organized a concert appearance for Kalma, and then offered to enlist him for the International Vocal Competition of the German Radio in Frankfurt. The year was 1949 and when Kalma heard that the famous baritone Gerhard Hüsch was among the jurors, he decided to give it a try. Kalma:
‘Of course I didn’t go there thinking to grab the First Prize. When it was announced that I was the winner, I almost fainted for shame. I had heard so many fantastic voices there that I was intimidated. A juror later told me that he was won over by my singing of the opening measures of Schubert’s ‘Fremd bin ich eingezogen’ from‘Die Winterreise’. He was professor in Munich’s Hochschule and offered me a scholarship. I accepted this offer and applied for additional scholarship of the Dutch Ministry of Culture. That request was denied though. I was told that there was nothing I could learn in Germany that I could not also learn here.’
Dissapointed, Kalma then continued his career in The Netherlands. His victory had landed him a number of fine engagements so there was enough to look out for, but a severe car accent prevented him from honoring most of those engagements, which resulted in a set-back for his career.
The Dutch National Opera
Regardless these misfortunes, Kalma managed to build his career to the point where he was invited to audition for Alexander Krannhals, conductor of the Dutch National Opera. It was 1955, and Kalma sang the two monologues from Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg and an enthousiastic Krannhals exclaimed: ‘I just heard our new Hans Sachs!’ Kalma was offered a contract on the spot, but in the end he declined the offer:
‘The Dutch National Opera demanded from its soloists that they were available 24 hours per day. You had to cancel literally everything. My colleague, Annette de la Bije, told me that in her first contract year she had only been given one small comprimario part, the second soprano in Fidelio. I found these terms surrealistic, and therefore declined.'
Although Kalma never regretted declining this particular offer, he did regret that it barred him from a major operatic career, which had always been his ambition. Regardless, he did appear in opera from time to time, because The Netherlands then also harboured various smaller ensembles, such as The Dutch Chamber Oper under Marcel Doorn. With them he sang among others in Wolf-Ferrari’s Suzanna’s Geheimnis and in Cimarosa’s Il matrimonio Segreto. Later Kalma and some co-singers founded their own minor chamber opera-ensemble, Opera Piccolo Amsterdam (OPA). Kalma:
‘Opera Piccolo gave performances at schools in a very unusual way. An opera like Così fan tutte only needs 6 soloists and the choir is insignificant. We recruited a small ensemble from the Radio Chamber Orchestra, which was conducted from the piano. The arias and ensembles were sung in Italian, the recitatives were spoken in Dutch. We had good response on this approach. People told us that they had attended Così fan tutte in Salzburg, but that they only understood what it was about after they had seen it with us. At youth concerts and school performances we also provided introductory lectures on the performances.
Our downloads program has Rom Kalma in various operatic excerpts. These give insight mostly in his concert and radio repertoire. There are arias and duets from German Spieloper (Lortzing’s Der Wildshütz, Nicolai’s Die lustigen Weiber von Windsor), Smetana’s Die verkaufte Braut, and Wolframs ‘Wie Todesahnhung’ from Wagner’s Tannhäuser. There is a duet from Porgy and Bess with Laura Cormonte. In addition there is the Mozart concert aria ‘Mentre ti lascio, o figlia’, and a unique recording of a 1976 parody on modern opera, Der Barbier von Darmstadt by ‘JaJa’ (Humphrey Searl), a piece that is both relevatory and shocking in its easy imitation of what certain experimental serialists at the time proclaimed was ‘the eternal fruit of genius’. Searl, Kalma and Willy van Hese prove here that most of it was exactly as revolutionary as the next Rossini tralalala piece: the fruit of craftsmanship and routine. All these excerpts are included in Rom Kalma in Opera, Concert & Musical (DD201603). From the world of musical we offer the duet 'Wunderbar' from Cole Porter's Kiss me Kate, with once again soprano Laura Cormonte.
Smetana Die verkaufte Braut 'Komm, mein Söhnchen... Weiß ich doch eine, die hat Dukaten’
Schubert, Wolf, Mahler & Fons Jansen
Throughout his career, Schubert and Wolf remained the focus points of Kalma’s career, which is reflected in his recordings of various Lieder from Wolf’s ‘Mörike Lieder’ and Schubert’s ‘Die Schöne Müllerin’, as well as by no less than four performances of Die Winterreise, spanning no less that fifty years between the first one in 1952, and the last one in Amsterdam, 1992 (which constitutes Kalma’s only preserved performance on video. An excerpt is featured here with the text, the complete video is available in our downloads program DD201605V). For Kalma, Lieder became a surrogate for opera. The three different parts in what he dubbed Schubert’s mini-opera ‘Erlkönig’ were perhaps his best ‘parts’. His volume and his ability to nail such songs to the wall, made it sound almost easy. A challenge were Mahler’s ‘Kindertotenlieder’ and ‘Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen’, especially since they were written in a rather high tessiture. Kalma:
‘You had to sing them in a different manner. You had to let go of all the rest. This sense of ‘mini opera’ was perhaps the strongest in Hugo Wolf. There, each song is a scene, a tale with a history and a future, you are caught in the crossfire of time. I could really throw myself in these songs with heart and soul. Yet, at the end of such an evening, I could also rejoice in throwing in a few popular tunes, such as ‘Daar boven uit het vensterken’ (From the window above), or ‘Des ‘s winters als het regent’ (When it rains in Winter time). Following such a Lieder evening I was once visited in my dressing room by a famous Dutch cabaret performer, Fons Jansen. He asked me to teach him how to sing these folk songs, specifically regarding the intonation. Since then I always attended his try-outs, in order to coach him here and there.’
Thanks to Rom Kalma’s personal recordings archives in possession of 401DutchDivas, the core of his achievements in Lieder has been preserved, largely in fine sound quality, recorded by Kalma himself. Apart from the mentioned exploits in Schubert and Wolf, there are also Mahler’s ‘Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen’, and songs by Schumann, Richard Strauss, some fascinating songs by Loewe (‘Die Glocken zu Speier’, and ‘Graf Eberstein’), Mendelssohn (‘Frühlingsglaube’), but also by Ravel, Chabrier, Mussorgsky, Barber and Beethoven.
A very special place in his output is held by the Lieder of the little known contemporary of Schubert and Schumann: Robert Franz. Apart from ‘Aus meinen grossen Schmerzen mach ich die kleinen lieder’, ‘Mädchen mit dem roten Mundchen’, ‘Du liebes Auge wilst dich tauchen’, ‘Im Herbst’, and ‘Tanzlied im Mai’, Franz also composed his own setting of ‘Dichterliebe’. Of this cycle Kalma recorded ‘In wunderschönen Monat Mai’, ‘Ich habe im Traume geweinet’, ‘Im Reim in hellen Ströme’, ‘An leuchtenden Sommermorgen’, ‘Hör ich das Liedchen klingen’. These recordings were then groundbreaking and briefly resulted in a renewed interest in Franz’s music.
Another great rarity are the two ‘Rispetti’ by the Dutch composer Henk Stamm. Not only do they have great depth, but they are also very moving in musical terms, and emotionally charged. Ultimately we must also mention Rudolf Mengelberg's song cycle ‘Chamber Music’, another composition that fell into oblivion until our release unearthed it through Kalma's voice, for those interested in post WWII song repertoire. All these recordings are present on Rom Kalma in Lieder and Song Vol. 1-3 (DD201601).
As pointed out, religious music has been a key ingredient in Kalma’s life from early on. As a singer active in The Netherlands he appeared in numerous performances of the great works by Bach (according to Ronald Dijkstra Kalma’s nickname in Dutch musical circles was ‘Christ’, because he appeared as such in so many St. Matthew’s Passions), but also the masses, requiems or stabat maters of Fauré, Verdi, Pergolesi and so on. Our downloads program Rom Kalma in Oratorio & Sacred Music has his solos from Bach’s Weihnachtsoratorio, ‘Magnificat’ and ‘Hohe Messe’, as well as large exerpts of the requiems by Verdi and Fauré. In addition it features excerpts from Haydns Die Jahreszeiten and Gretchaninovs ‘Credo’. More audio samples and the complete program can be found on the download page Rom Kalma in Oratorio & Sacred Music (DD201602).
The German Radio Archives must hold an array of Kalma recordings, among them in Beethoven’s ‘Symphony Nr. IX’. However, Kalma did not just appear in Germany, but also in Paris, The United Kingdom, as well for the BBC (Mahlers ‘Kindertotenlieder’) as in many a local Lieder evenings.
By the end of the 1986 to 1989, the then retired Kalma spent four summer holidays in Bedoin, near Arles in France, where former hobo player of the Dutch National broadcasting Corporation Simon Koeten had a farm. Since nearly eight years this musician organized summer concerts there with students and graduates. The recipe: fourteen days of rehearsals which then culminated in a concert that was taken on tour through the province. They played in Churches, halls, rooms or the open air, whatever was available. The tours always began with with a festive open air concert in Bedoin, and the concluding gala concert took place in the church there. Because Kalma has himself recorded these concerts on cassettes, we can give an impression of them here. Kalma’s own performances there are featured in our Rom Kalma downloads (among them the Rigoletto quartet with his wife at the time, Annett Andriesen, and the Pearl Fishers duet with a student tenor. We can hear Kalma solo in Sarastro’s ‘In diesen heil’gen Hallen’ from Mozarts Die Zauberflöte). These provisory recordings are added as a bonus to our download program Rom Kalma in Oper, Concert and Musical (DD201605).
From Fritz Wunderlich and Montserrat Caballé
On a number of occasions Kalma sang with national and international celebrities and those concerts became cherished memories to our bass-baritone, such as a St. Matthew’s Passion in the Concertgebouw with Aafje Heynis and Elly Ameling. In Germany he sang among others with Fritz Wunderlich in Stuttgart, in an unauthorized, German translation of Frank Martin’s Golgotha. Kalma:
‘That composition was very dear to me, it is sort of a modern day St. Matthew’s Passion. Wunderlich sang the tenor part. This ends before the break with a long aria that can be compared with Bach’s ‘Ich will bei meinem Jesu wachen’. Martin composed an aria there that has a similar message. It ends a capella, to a mesmerizing effect. During the rehearsals Wunderlich kept asking us if he did it right? He was very insecure of himself. According to him he was just an opera singer and he regarded us as the professionals. Mind you, that was but a year before he died as one of the World’s most famous tenors…’
At a certain moment, Kalma was invited to a festival near Santiago di Compostella, following a Lieder recital he gave in Diligentia, The Hague. Montserat Caballé gave there a master class in Spanish recitative, yet Kalma’s most cherished memory there was his encounter with guitarist Andrés Segovia, with whom he had long conversations. Then Kalma was invited to sing at the opening of the University Year in Vigo, singing some Maria Mysteries in duet with Montserrat Caballé. Kalma:
‘We had to begin at 7.30 PM, following a brief intro by a local professor who enlightened us in the Maria cult and the Spanish soul… he went on and on and ended his lecture only at 9.30 PM…’
In his radio years with the NCRV Ensemble as well as privately and in concert, Kalma relished also in lighter music. Some of these songs may be regarded as ultimate kitch, such as the operette-like ’Flüsterndes Silber, rauschende Wellen’, the bittersweet ’Herzliebchen mein, unterm Rebendach’ and the over-the-top melancholic ’Drausen in Walder der Träume’. These songs may be seen as the German equivalent to, say, ’O sole mio’ and the like. Another irresistable piece of ear-candy is ’Das Heidegrab’, a song in which soldiers romanticism and tragedy go hand in hand, culminating in an anonymous deserter's grave on they hey, on top of which a red rose blossoms... Regardless the beauty of Kalma's serious Lieder, his religious music and the taxing opera arias, these lighter songs were the ones that touched me most. Kalma sings them so ardently, with such 'schmelz' and charm, that they lure people into a whirlpool of emotions and honeyed sentiment. They are veritable nostalgia even for those who, like me, weren't even remotely born at the time these songs played out as the schlagers of their day. That also goes for ’Het dierbaar ouderhuis’ (Dear House of my Parents), the direct predecessor of Wim Sonnevelds ’Het dorp’ (The Village).’ The main difference is of course that 'Het dierbaar ouderhuis’ is an authentic Dutch song, reflecting authentic Dutch sentiments, whereas 'Het dorp' merely a cover of Jean Ferrat’s ’La montagne’ (proving that some sentiments are apparently as universally Dutch as, say, Chinese).
Apart from these songs and Toselli’s ’Serenata’, Kalma also recorded Negro Spirituals as ’Deep river’, ’Go down Moses’ and ’I want to be ready’. On our download he sings these complete with a gospel choir and he audibly relishes in imitating Paul Robeson's legendary interpretations of these songs. It is here, where Kalma is able to use effects that can never be employed in more 'serious' music, that his love for singing shines through in its more pure form. Kalma was a stylish singer, pure in pure music, yet he had a pleasant open mind regarding different styles and genres.
In 1992 Kalma returned from semi-retirement in order to perform Schubert's 'Winterreise' one more time in the Good Shepherd Church in Buitenveldert, Amsterdam. He was urged to give this performance by his pupil and friend Ronald Dijkstra, who was conductor in that Church:
'Following the three years I took lessons from him, Rom and I became good friends. The teacher-pupil distance had dissolved and years of joint trips to Italy, dinners, concerts, evenings full of talking and listening followed. 25 years to be precise. All those years I have been urging Rom to perform 'Winterreise' one more time. He was famous for it. The Good Shepherd CHurch where I conducted provided a safe environment for Rom to do so and ultimately he agreed. He performed there with pianist Hans Broekman accompanying him. I was impressed with his interpretation. The way he handled the lyrics, and how he brought the full meaning to the fore. Never before or after have I heard anyone so convincing in the first word, 'Fremd'. The years of experience in singing and life were sipped into it. Of course, Rom was no longer in his full vocal powers at that time, but he had his tricks and technique to get around that as well.'
At the time the concert was provisorily videotaped. Although it is a veritable amateur recording which has a little too much zooming in- and out, we have nonetheless decided to offer it in our downloadsprogram as download DD201605V, simply because this is the only video footage of Kalma (there was also a VHS with a short appearance snippet from Bedoin, a few years earlier, but that VHS proved wasted upon playing and must be considered lost).
In his residence Hilversum, for twelve years Kalma conducted also the choir of the Protestant Foundation and taught at the Conservatories of Utrecht and Zwolle, as well as at the Institute for Church Music. The side courses singing were more interesting to him that the main singing courses, says Kalma:
‘Someone who has singing as his main subject has his path clear in front of him. Those who have singing as a side course are less sure of what they want. When someone like that discovers his voice, you can see the world opening up in that person. I have seen this happen in a few students and helping people discover themselves and their voice has always been a trememdous enrichment of my own life.’
See below our full Rom Kalma catalogue, linking directly to the download pages where more audio samples can be found.
|Rom Kalma II
In Oratorio & Sared Music
Download: € 6.99
|Rom Kalma III
Download: € 6.99
|Rom Kalma IV
In Popular Music
Download: € 6.99