Dolf van der LindenBorn: June 22nd, 1915, Vlaardingen (the Netherlands)
Died: January 30th, 1999, Weesp (the Netherlands)
It was not long before Van der Linden became much in demand as an arranger for dance orchestras, for example those of Hans Mossel and Eddy Meenk. In 1936, Meenk appointed him pianist and arranger of his Decibels Orchestra. The ensemble’s musicians nicknamed him ‘Dolf’, because, like his predecessor Dolf Karelsen, Van der Linden developed the idiosyncrasy of continually adapting the scores, even after these had already been put before them to play. In 1939, one of the national broadcasters, AVRO, took him on as a staff arranger. His main job was to write arrangements for the Groot Amusementsorkest of conductor Elzard Kuhlman, AVRO’s main orchestra. After the German invasion, initially, Van der Linden continued to work as an arranger for national radio. In 1942, however, he chose to leave. In subsequent years, he worked as a freelance musician; in ’44, German singer Evelyn Künneke toured the Netherlands with Van der Linden as her musical director. Shortly afterwards, he was captured and forced to do hard labour on a railway track near Bielefeld, Germany. He escaped to the Netherlands and, helped by friends, went into hiding until the war ended.
After the country’s liberation in May 1945, Dolf van der Linden was commissioned by Radio Herrijzend Nederland, the provisional radio network, to contract a grand light music orchestra for radio broadcasts, consisting of the pick of Dutch musicians. He invited professionals from all over the country, amongst whom violinist Benny Behr, clarinettist Kees Verschoor, and pianist Manny Oets. It cost him months to compile a suitable group; in the meantime, he performed with a dance band in the Park Lane Club in Hilversum. It was in this society reserved for Canadian and English military, that he first played his most famous composition, ‘Park Lane Serenade’: the signature tune of his orchestra-to-be was born. Finally, in November ’45, the new Metropole Orchestra premiered on Dutch national radio; being 39 men strong, it was the biggest entertainment orchestra ever in the Netherlands. Initially, Van der Linden wrote all arrangements himself; later, he was helped in this respect by his close collaborators Pi Scheffer and Bert Paige. From the very beginning, the versatility and sheer quality of his ensemble – uniquely consisting of a symphonic group, a complete big-band, and an additional rhythm section – received praise from critics and audience alike. One English reviewer even described it as the best light entertainment orchestra in Europe.
Van der Linden and his orchestra performed in productions of all Dutch national broadcasters, ranging from radio plays to variety shows such as ‘Steravond’, ‘De showboat’, and ‘Plein 8 uur 13’. The cream of Dutch vocalists performed with the orchestra, amongst others Wim Sonneveld and Tonny van Hulst, and, later, Corry Brokken, Greetje Kauffeld, Frans Halsema, and Herman van Veen. American soprano Wanda Cochran was a regular soloist with the orchestra too. Quickly, Van der Linden’s success resulted in guest appearances, first with the London Promenade Orchestra (1950), and later with other European radio orchestras in England, Belgium, France, West Germany, and Scandinavia. In ’60, the Israeli broadcaster commissioned Van der Linden to hand-pick a radio orchestra; to this end, he spent a couple of months in Tel Aviv.
From 1956 onwards, the Metropole Orchestra frequently performed on Dutch TV, as well, one of the most important programmes being the preselection shows of the Eurovision Song Contest. Van der Linden composed the music to the TV news bulletin (1956) and ‘Round Europe’, an international entertainment programme with ten EBU countries participating. In the 1960s, his orchestra accompanied several editions of the Grand Gala du Disque, an annual award show organized by the Dutch recording industry and broadcast live on national TV, giving him the opportunity to accompany such international guest stars as Marlene Dietrich, Caterina Valente, and Petula Clark. In 1969, 1970, and 1975, the Metropole Orchestra performed at the Holland Festival, one of the country’s most important cultural manifestations.
Due to the orchestra being extensively engaged in its work for national radio and TV, opportunities to enter the recording studios were few and far between. From the 1950s onwards, though, Van der Linden frequently recorded music for English and American TV and film productions; sometimes, parts were released as commercial records in Britain and the USA under various pseudonyms, such as Nat Nyll and Van Lynn; confusingly, releases of his were published under different names, but his best-known include ‘Top drawer’, ‘Tour de France’, ‘Bachelor’s Apartment’ and a ‘Rhapsody for piano and orchestra’. Besides his incredible number of arrangements, Van der Linden produced a string of compositions of his own as well, the total number exceeding the two-hundred. These include soundtracks for motion pictures (‘Sterren stralen overal’, ‘Willem Parel’, ‘Kleren maken de man’, etc.), music for radio plays, operettas, and a number of symphonic and semi-classical ‘mood music’ compositions (‘Concertino’, ‘Humoresque for strings’, etc.), which were much in demand with foreign orchestras and London’s music libraries. He was the musical director of the Dutch version of the Broadway musical ‘My fair lady’ (1960).
Dolf van der Linden was the regular Dutch conductor for the Nordring Festival, an annual manifestation in the 1970s and 1980s in which each participating country submitted a radio programme; usually, he collaborated on the Dutch Nordring entry with Jerry van Rooijen (1929-2009), one of the Metropole Orchestra’s staff arrangers. In 1973 and 1974, when Nordring was held in the Netherlands, he was its musical director. In 1977, the Dutch team, which, apart from Van der Linden, consisted of (amongst others) Ack van Rooijen and Joanne Brown, won the Nordring Festival in Copenhagen. Moreover, the musicians of the DR Orchestra awarded Van der Linden with a special, unofficial prize for best conductor. Meanwhile, he tried to rejuvenate the Metropole Orchestra by bringing in young musicians, most prominently violinist Ernö Olah and alto saxophonist Piet Noordijk. In 1980, when Van der Linden was of pensionable age, he was – much to his own chagrin – relieved of his work for the orchestra and succeeded by Rogier van Otterloo. A farewell concert was organized, conducted by Van der Linden himself, in which harmonica player Toots Thielemans was the main guest.
Dolf van der Linden continued to work for the Metropole Orchestra as a guest conductor for the next five years. Besides, he was a member of the Dutch team which won first prize at the 1981 Nordring Festival, held in Jersey. On his 80th birthday in 1995, he was offered a surprise concert by his former orchestra. Later that same year, he was awarded a Golden Harp for his outstanding achievements for entertainment music in the Netherlands; at the ceremony, he conducted the orchestra for the last time in a moving rendition of ‘Park Lane Serenade’. Dolf van der Linden died in 1999, aged 83. He once summarized his views on music in the sleeve notes of one of his American releases: “My great love is my orchestra and I envisage music as being a combination of wonderful colours. I like the natural sound of the instruments – I detest technical tricks – and only music that comes to you healthy and clean can speak directly to your heart. This is language without words."
Dolf van der Linden in the Eurovision Song Contest
Van der Linden liked this aspect of his work on the Eurovision Song Contest best, judging by his recollections: “I was fond of the guys with whom I worked on this. Dick Schallies played all songs, one by one, whilst Piet, Gijs and I listened carefully. If a given song was not to our liking, we mutually shook our heads – we nearly always agreed – and I grabbed the stove-poker, which was in a copper box next to my chair, and rattled it violently. For Dick Schallies, this was the sign to stop playing and begin the next entry. We took note of all aspects of a song. Gijs Stappershoef, for example, mainly focussed on the lyrics – the words of course had to match the music in one way or another. I mainly listened to the melody, the harmonies and the chords. Plagiarism was another thing we concentrated on. Often, we asked the pianist to repeat the song in order for us to get a genuine impression of it. This was the situation of the earliest years of the contest. It always was a lengthy process, but very pleasant nevertheless. Unfortunately, from the 1960s onwards, more and more people got involved in the selection process, especially from record companies. After all, it did not take long before they discovered that good money was to be made from a participation in the contest. The result was that songs and artists were more or less forced upon us.”
Quite probably, the broadcast of the very first Dutch Eurovision preselection on April 24th, 1956, was the first time that Dolf van der Linden’s Metropole Orchestra – until then a radio ensemble pur sang – performed on nationwide television. In it, three artists competed, presenting eight songs. The entries which were selected by the TV audience to represent the Netherlands were ‘Voorgoed voorbij’ (sung by Corry Brokken) and ‘De vogels van Holland’ (by Jetty Paerl). In newspaper articles, the Metropole Orchestra was widely praised for its performance; for example, a reviewer of De Telegraaf wrote: “Without a shadow of a doubt, all songs were stylishly presented by Dolf van der Linden and his orchestra”, while Algemeen Dagblad commented: “We very much enjoyed listening to the magnificent Metropole Orchestra, which makes an even greater impression when seen as well as heard”. Similar comments can be found in the following years: opinions of the quality of songs varied, but the performance of the orchestra always met with praise. The role of the Eurovision Song Contest in the popularity of the Metropole Orchestra in the Netherlands can hardly be overestimated.
When, one month later, the first international final took place in Switzerland and Jetty Paerl and Corry Brokken represented the Netherlands (each country submitted two songs that year), Dolf van der Linden was not there to accompany them. Contractual obligations kept him in the Netherlands: “When we heard that the international show in Lugano would be held on the 24th of May, it was clear: I couldn’t go. There was this appointment to perform with the Metropole Orchestra in a matinee for the marines in Loosdrecht. They had very much looked forward to watching us perform and I simply did not want to cancel that show.” Thus, Van der Linden missed the opportunity to become the conductor of the first song ever in the contest; after all, ‘De vogels van Holland’ had been drawn first. Swiss host conductor Fernando Paggi stepped in for both Dutch entries.
In 1957, Corry Brokken again won the right to represent her country in the international contest, which this time was held in Frankfurt, West Germany. She sang ‘Net als toen’, which – although sung in Dutch – has the sound and feel of a chanson. This time, Van der Linden was there to conduct the entry, while an instrumental solo was performed on stage by one of the Metropole Orchestra’s violinists, Sem Nijveen. The result was a landslide victory for the Netherlands, although the persons involved clearly had not anticipated this. Van der Linden recalled: “I was backstage reading a newspaper, when the floor managers came running up to me to tell that we were leading. I was astonished when we won it.” Corry Brokken: “After we had performed, Sem Nijveen said: ‘Well, that was that, I’m off to pack my violin’, and I went back to the dress room to change. Then all of a sudden Dolf entered the room with the message that we had won.” One of the other contestants of that year, Patricia Bredin from the UK, remembered the Dutch team when she was interviewed in 1997: “I recall how caring the conductor from the Netherlands was for Corry. That really impressed me, because I only had Eric Robinson and I was of no concern to him – he was only looking for famous people to impress.”
The 1957 victory meant the Netherlands were now invited to organize the Eurovision Song Contest in the year after. Once more, Corry Brokken was chosen to be the Netherlands’ representative, this time with ‘Heel de wereld’. The international final was held in Hilversum, home of Dutch radio and TV. Of course, Dolf van der Linden was the musical director of the show. Apart from ‘Heel de wereld’, he conducted no fewer than four other entries (from Belgium, West Germany, Luxembourg, and Sweden). Once more, the orchestra made a good impression, especially by virtue of its rendition of ‘Wedding Dance’ (from Jack Press’ symphonic suite ‘Hasseneh’), which was played as an instrumental break half way through the competing entries.
In a 1985 interview, Van der Linden recalled how he experienced the rehearsals in ’58: “A tough job it was, especially for my musicians, who had to adapt to foreign conductors. Nevertheless, they enjoyed every bit of it. When speaking about the festival in general, it was nice meeting up annually with the same people: the producers and the directors from all European broadcasters… they more or less formed one big Eurovision family. It was extremely pleasant to be with them, have a chat, and exchange ideas.” Moreover, Van der Linden struck up a friendship with Danish conductor Kai Mortensen. This resulted in mutual invitations to perform as guest conductors of each other’s orchestras in other projects, and even in visiting each other during holidays.
In 1959, the Dutch preselections were won by ‘Een beetje’, a cheerful shuffle composed by Dick Schallies, the new pianist of the Metropole Orchestra; in the end, Teddy Scholten was chosen to perform it in the international final in Cannes, France. An article in newspaper Het Vrije Volk testifies that Van der Linden had a hard time with the French orchestra during rehearsals: “Van der Linden could not hide his dissatisfaction with the orchestra offered by French MD Franck Pourcel. To his ears, it was far below par: ‘Did you hear those violins? They made me want to cry!’ It did not take long before finally the truth came about: this was not Pourcel’s real ensemble. He had been able only to bring along some of his brass players and the rhythm section from Paris. It would have been unaffordable to hire the entire orchestra. The others, amongst whom fifteen classical violinists, who had never played together before, were drummed up from all over the Riviera. Van der Linden started working on the restoration of the damage done. He was given half an hour and was able to improve the sound considerably.”
It will always remain unclear if Van der Linden’s toiling during rehearsals made the difference, but, nevertheless, Teddy Scholten’s rendition of ‘Een beetje’ was rewarded with first prize – the second victory of the Netherlands in three years. Van der Linden was heaped with praise by an unknown Dutch journalist: “True, Teddy performed ‘Een beetje’ charmingly and enjoyably. What was more surprising, however, was the music. With Dolf van der Linden conducting, it seemed as if different musicians were playing. All of a sudden, the French orchestra had a wantonly radiant sound and played with inspiration.” After the victory, Van der Linden, making a pun on the titles of the two victorious Dutch entries, said: “Het is weer een beetje net als toen” (It is a bit like the days of old all over again).
One year later, in 1960, the winning entry of the Eurovision heats in the Netherlands, ‘Wat een geluk’, a song in the then popular bossa nova style, was again written by Dick Schallies. Rudi Carrell, later to become a major star in German show business, was chosen as the most suitable vocalist. In the company of his wife, Dolf van der Linden travelled to London, where that year’s festival was held, five days before the broadcast. A journalist of Dutch newspaper Algemeen Dagblad was present at the first orchestra rehearsal: “Nine o’clock. We rush into the festival hall. Dolf van der Linden is in the middle of the orchestra musicians’ desks, making their acquaintance. Subsequently, he plays ‘Wat een geluk’ twice in its entirety with them. ‘Stop!’, he says, ‘that saxophone there made a mistake four bars before that A. Meanwhile, Rudi Carrell, present in the hall, has gotten up. He is dancing to the music. Pi Scheffer’s orchestration sounds lighter and livelier than during the heats in Hilversum.” Although Van der Linden himself admitted to the same journalist he had high hopes for a good result, Rudi Carrell did not deliver and finished second-last.
During the period 1961-1968, Dolf van der Linden conducted seven of all in all eight Dutch entries, only missing out in 1963, when his musicians were on strike for higher wages and he wanted to show he supported them. Much to the regret of the singer which represented the Netherlands that year, Annie Palmen, his replacement, the English host conductor Eric Robinson, played the intro of her song too slowly; she blamed him for the zero points with which she was awarded for her interpretation of ‘Een speeldoos’. “If Dolf van der Linden had been there, this would not have happened”, she complained afterwards.
To be fair, with Van der Linden, the other Dutch entrants of those years hardly fared better, the best score being six points and an tenth spot in 1961 with ‘Wat een dag’, performed by Greetje Kauffeld; in 1962 and 1968, the Netherlands came (joint) last. Unlike in the 1950s, some critical remarks were made about Van der Linden’s work. The contestant in 1964, Anneke Grönloh, was upset he and his arranger Bert Paige had replaced the electric guitar of the record version of ‘Jij bent mijn leven’ for strings, which, according to her, resulted in the song sounding less up to date than it originally did. 1968 representative Ronnie Tober, on the other hand, complained afterwards that the percussion was far too loud during his rendition of ‘Morgen’ in the international final in London; this, however, seems to have been the error of a sound engineer rather than of Van der Linden. It seems unlikely Dolf van der Linden was personally hurt by the disappointing results of those years, which sharply contrasted with the successes of the previous decade. His daughter Anneke on this: “He was perfectly serious about the contest, but he was not the man to be down-hearted about things like that. He never took it personally.”
In 1969, Dolf van der Linden had no part in either the local song selection process or in the international final. Both nationally and internationally, he was replaced by Frans de Kok, under whose direction Lenny Kuhr won the Eurovision Song Contest in Madrid (jointly with entrants from three other countries) performing ‘De troubadour’. But why did Van der Linden decline participating that one year? One newspaper article claimed that Van der Linden had had enough of the contest, while in another it was held that he was unable to attend due to other commissions. Daughter Anneke sheds new light on the question: “I suspect it was because the contest was in Spain that year. He detested the Franco regime. Don’t forget he had had a hard time during the war and… well, Franco was certainly no Hitler, but my father felt there was little difference. He was quite rigid in things like this; we went on holiday each summer, sometimes to Southern France, very often to Italy, but absolutely never to Spain. Father was no member of the Social Democratic Party, but he certainly sympathized with its views; to him, Franco was simply out of the question.”
Lenny Kuhr’s victory in Madrid had one very pleasant consequence for Dolf van der Linden: the 1970 Eurovision Song Contest was to be held in Amsterdam and, for the second time in his career, he became the musical director of the show. Twelve countries competed for the trophy. One newspaper followed Van der Linden’s preparations during the rehearsals: “He and his orchestra have been preparing for some weeks ‘to give all songs their ground-colour’, to use Van der Linden’s own words. On the Monday ahead of the Saturday broadcast, work in the RAI Hall in Amsterdam started. On Wednesday, the guest conductors arrived. In between, Van der Linden just managed to see his favourite football team Feyenoord take on Vorwärts Steyr”. Asked by a journalist of Het Parool, whether he liked working on this festival, he answered: “Well, as a conductor you will never find one-hundred percent artistic satisfaction working on music like this, but it is very pleasant nevertheless. Moreover, there is a chance to meet up with people from abroad in whose countries I have worked before.”
In Het Rotterdams Nieuwsblad, Van der Linden commented on the quality of Eurovision entries in general: “The best entries are from the francophone countries. To my ears, France, Monaco, and Luxembourg usually submit subtle, refined entries. For me, England can be identified by show music with a lively beat. The Germans keep coming up with material that is hardly palatable, while Italy is still synonym with sentimentality up to the point of becoming ridiculous.” Let’s hope Italian contestant Gianni Morandi never read these comments. On the 21st of March, Van der Linden conducted two entries: of course, the Dutch song ‘Waterman’ (which came seventh), but also ‘All kinds of everything’, performed by Dana who represented Ireland. The Irish had not sent along their conductor Noel Kelehan, because there had been a disagreement between him and the Irish broadcaster over the payment of his services. ‘All kinds of everything’ blew the other competing entries away and for the first time in history, Ireland won the Eurovision Song Contest. After ‘Net als toen’ and ‘Een beetje’, this was the third time Dolf van der Linden conducted a winning entry.
It turned out that 1971 was the last year when Dolf van der Linden was involved in the contest as a conductor. He was the musical director of the Dutch national final in which duo Saskia & Serge performed six songs. Subsequently, he travelled to Dublin with them to conduct the chosen entry ‘Tijd’, a highly original ballad with a fado feel to it, written by Joop Stokkermans and Gerrit den Braber. The song ended a very respectable sixth in a field of eighteen competitors, in spite of technical problems on the big night. Saskia recalls: “It turned out that my microphone had not been correctly adjusted, which resulted in a loud feedback. Because of this, the first lines which I sang could not be heard at all. We feel very honoured to have worked with the great Dolf van der Linden – no mistake about that – but we wish he had told the orchestra to do a restart of the song. That way, we would at least have attracted a lot of attention, with all of Europe watching.”
In 1972, Dolf van der Linden was still one of the members of the selection committee which weighed the compositions submitted for the Dutch preselection; nothing pointed to his not being involved again as the conductor. It was at this point, however, that Philips, the record company of duo Sandra & Andres (they were chosen to sing all entries in these heats), demanded that he would be replaced by a younger person, more specifically the company’s proper conductor and arranger, Harry van Hoof. In the end, the Dutch broadcaster gave way. Van Hoof was to become the regular conductor for the Netherlands in the Eurovision Song Contest for the years to come. In a 1985 radio interview, Van der Linden commented on the events in 1972: “The record companies wanted their conductor to do the contest. I can’t say that I had sleepless nights, because over the years the festival had developed in a direction which was not entirely to my personal liking; to my mind, the quality of the songs had decreased since the 1950s. As a result, I did not feel involved as much as in the early years. What really annoyed me, though, was the way in which the decision came about. Never in my life was I ditched in such an inelegant way. I learnt of it by reading my morning newspaper, without having been informed by a telephone call from NOS or a note – nothing!” Dolf’s daughter Anneke added in a 2009 interview: “He genuinely felt hurt. Remember, the Eurovision Song Contest had in a way been his child in the 1950s. Now, this child was brutally wrested from his hands.”
Dolf van der Linden’s overall record in the Eurovision Song Contest is quite impressive: he conducted eighteen entries (making him number four on the imaginary list of conductors participating in the contest: only Noel Kelehan, Franck Pourcel, and Ossi Runne did ‘better’), amongst which thirteen Dutch efforts and the winning songs of 1957, 1959, and 1970. During the remaining years of his leadership of the Metropole Orchestra, the ensemble was twice more called upon to provide the accompaniment to an international Eurovision final staged in the Netherlands, but on both occasions Van der Linden declined being the musical director of the show, leaving the job to Jan Stulen (in 1976) and Rogier van Otterloo (in 1980).
In 1971, coincidentally the last year Dolf van der Linden took part in the Eurovision Song Contest, singer-songwriter Frans Halsema recorded a comical song about the old maestro’s involvement in the festival, honouring him as the person who made sure there was at least any artistic credibility left in the show. Van der Linden held Frans Halsema in high esteem anyway and daughter Anneke assured us he thought the song was very funny. Young arranger Jan Theelen was commissioned to write the orchestration to it: “Gerrit den Braber, who was Frans’ producer at that time, explicitly asked me to include the Eurovision tune by Charpentier in the arrangement. He wanted an arrangement that evoked the atmosphere of the real Eurovision Song Contest. A girl had been hired for the spoken introduction. We recorded it in the Phonogram Studios in Hilversum and Frans did a terrific job, as usual.” Halsema's song can be listened to here, with an English translation of the original Dutch lyrics:
Other artists on Dolf van der Linden
Greetje Kauffeld is another artist who performed with Van der Linden and his orchestra on many occasions. She participated for the Netherlands in the 1961 Eurovision Song Contest. In the 1970s, Van der Linden accompanied her in jazz concerts and the Nordring Festival. Kauffeld thinks highly of him: “It was always very pleasant to work with him – Dolf was an elegant conductor with a passion for music which was quite unsurpassed. Never in my career have I performed with a conductor, who made me feel so secure on stage. I never had to worry about when to start singing, for he used to give me a sign which was exact to one-hundredth of a second. In situations where there is little time for rehearsing with often fairly complex orchestrations, this was most important. The same was true of the Eurovision Song Contest, of course.” (2010)
Thérèse Steinmetz sang the Netherlands’ entry in the 1967 Eurovision Song Contest, ‘Ring-dinge’. Her comments on working with Dolf van der Linden on this festival: “I’m happy to have been given the opportunity to work with Dolf van der Linden as my musical director in the contest. He was every inch a great conductor, an extremely professional guy. His character was friendly, but at the same time he had an earnest authority over others.” (1985)
Van der Linden’s reputation extended beyond the confines of his native country. He worked quite extensively in England in the 1950s and 1960s, as former BBC conductor Harry Rabinowitz remembers well: “I frequently heard BBC radio programmes which he conducted. The music he played was pretty advanced and required a lot of technical expertise from the conductor. He was very good at that sort of thing. I also knew him from the ‘mood’ recordings he made for the British market. You have to realize that recording music is very different to conducting a concert or a radio programme, but Dolf had the ability to do both. Although I never met him, I knew his reputation; in the business here in England, he was a very well-liked chap.” (2009)