· By Nicholas Stevens

Friends in Low Countries: Erik Bosgraaf at Boston Early Music Festival

On June 11, 2023, recorder player Erik Bosgraaf and harpsichordist Francesco Corti appear at the Boston Early Music Festival. Their program focuses on music circulating in the world of Princess Anne, a student and, later, patron of Handel.

This live performance shares some repertoire with the Brilliant Classics album Unico Wilhelm van Wassenaer & the Recorder in the Low Countries. This project places a brilliant Dutch composer, whose best-known music was long attributed to others and whose recorder music is due for revival, front and center.

Celebrate this festive occasion by reading our interview with Erik, and shop our special collection of some of his greatest Brilliant Classics recordings!


ArkivMusic: You and Francesco Corti recorded a Telemann sonata for the Boston Early Music Festival's Virtual 2021 event. What would your program for that year's Festival have looked like had it occurred in-person?

Erik Bosgraaf: Well, in fact we recorded all sonatas by Telemann for the virtual edition (available on my YouTube channel). For the planned live event we would have performed the program that we will perform this coming Sunday.

AM: Your program for the 2023 Festival pays tribute to Anne, Princess Royal, a student and, later, patron of Handel. How did you learn about this fascinating person, and what drew you to her as a historical figure and fellow musician?

EB: Well as it happens Anne was married to a Dutch ‘stadholder’ who was stationed in Leeuwarden, the capital of the northern province of Friesland, where I hail from. Later on, this Prince of Orange became stadholder of the entire Dutch Republic, taking up residence in The Hague. In addition I knew that she had been Handel’s pupil and that he might have composed his recorder sonatas for her.

Anne employed a modest music chapel, both in Leeuwarden and later in The Hague, and regularly invited foreign musicians. Jean-Marie Leclair worked at her court for three months a year. The Dutch Republic [at the time] was as internationally oriented as the Netherlands is now. So the idea was born to make a program with music that was circulating in that area, with the figure of Princess Anne at the center. We recorded the program earlier for Brilliant Classics, known by many readers as the CD with the archetypical Frisian cow on the cover!

The Handel sonatas were already recorded in 2008, that project marked the beginning of the collaboration between Francesco Corti and me.

AM: Handel's is the best-known name on your program, but you will also present music by Leclair, van Wassenaer, and others. In your opinion, is the early music community still as devoted to spotlighting less-well-known composers as ever? And what do you love about the music of van Wassenaer in particular?

EB: I think all musicians need to find a balance between playing the old warhorses and unknown music. The latter unequivocally has to do with a naturally inquisitive mind, nowadays a lot of unknown music is simply found online, very often in manuscript or old prints. Van Wassenaer is an incredible composer. He was a very talented amateur  and could therefore operate outside the constraints of a court. He seems to have had an inclination towards more of a personal style, although heavily influenced by the Italian baroque.

Let there be no misunderstanding, however: he is not that unknown. In 1979 the Dutch musicologist Albert Dunning discovered that he was the composer of the six famous Concerti Armonici, previously attributed to Handel, Vivaldi, Pergolesi, Vivaldi. Just saying...! His recorder sonatas are much less well known, wrongly so.

AM: You have performed and recorded extensively with Corti. What about his harpsichord playing makes him such an ideal collaborator for you?

EB: It's difficult to explain; I feel like he is a "kindred soul." We follow our intuition and each and every session feels like a fresh improvisation.

AM: Is there anything you wish more members of the music-loving public knew about the history and capabilities of your instrument?

EB: I think knowledge is not a prerequisite for enjoying music, although it can certainly help. All I wish for is an audience that is open to new experiences. It is our task as musicians to provide a profound musical experience that reflects all aspects of life and unites us over geographical borders.

AM: You've been known to chat with audience members after concerts. Should your audience in Boston come prepared with their own thoughts and questions?

EB: It is true that I enjoy hearing from the audience very much. Contrary to what many musicians think, a concert is not a "conversation" or even "communication" but a one-way street from the stage to the audience, so hearing something back is nice!

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