Court Singer, Radio Pioneer and Music Director

Cornelis
Bronsgeest

Biography in Progress

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Cornelis Bronsgeest

(Leiden, July 24th. 1878 – Berlin, September 22nd. 1957) is at present nearly forgotten, but was a celebrated baritone of international stature in his time. After a decent education in The Netherlands and Germany, he made a splendid career through the city theatres of Magdeburg and Hamburg. When he was of relatively young age, he was appointed at the Berlin Court Opera (later: State Opera 'Unter den Linden') and decorated by the contemporary emperor Wilhelm II. He toured Europe and did multiple attempts to revitalise the poor standard of the Dutch opera.

What mostly distinguishes Bronsgeest from other famous contemporaries in music, is that he was a founding father of the radio. The Berlin ‘Rundfunk’ developed into a pre-eminent mass medium very rapidly during the 1920’s. Besides radio play, classical music and opera belonged to the most popular items of the programming. Bronsgeest’s star rose fast and he became at least just as famous as a radioman as he had been as a baritone. The Berlin radio became the new platform for discovering and launching stars. For example, the tenor Joseph Schmidt was barred a stage career because he was of small stature. Schmidt became incredibly famous

after his discovery by Bronsgeest who engaged him for broadcasts and recordings.

The radio popularised certain music styles such as opera and operetta, attracted more visitors to the theatres, but also became client of new musical compositions and the reintroducing of forgotten work. Bronsgeest founded two major institutions, the Berliner Rundfunk Orchester and the Berliner Rundfunk Chor (currently Rundfunk-Sinfonieorchester Berlin (RSB) and Rundfunkchor Berlin).

In his professional life Cornelis Bronsgeest joined stage and studio with famous, unforgettable opera singers like for instance: Enrico Caruso, Geraldine Farrar, Jacques Urlus, Johannes Messchaert, Louis van de Sande, Anton van Rooy, Josef Schmidt, Paul Knüpfer, Frieda Hempel, Baptist Hoffmann, Walther Kirchhoff, Erna Denera, Gotthelf Pistor, Ludwig Hofmann et al. Besides he engaged several famous contemporary conductors to perform in his Berlin radio studio’s: Erich Kleiber, Willem Mengelberg, Richard Strauss, Thomas Beecham, Bruno Seidler-Winkler, Siegfried Wagner, Bruno Walter, Otto Klemperer, Selmar Meyrowitz, Max von Schillings, Hugo Rüdel, Leo Blech, Hermann Abendroth et al.

Fragment of Cornelis Bronsgeest as Amfortas in Richard Wagner’s Parsifal (act III).
Berlin State Opera Orchester and Chorus, directed by Dr. Karl Muck (orchester) and Prof. Hugo Rüdel (chorus).
Recorded at the Singakademie, Berlin (1928). CD: Naxos 8.110049-50.

Biography Project

My intention is to write a scientific biography about the life and work of Cornelis Bronsgeest. It should connect music, media and technology history against the backdrop of the ‘big history’ in the Netherlands and Germany. The biography will be written based on extensive literary and archival research and will also concern Bronsgeest’s successive spouses: Bertha Kleen (actress); Charlotte Kant (post-impressionist painter) and Elsa Mehn (secretary).

Besides writing the biography, I resolve to track down, digitalise and restore all music recordings of Bronsgeest (approximately 100 shellac records and wax cylinders), after which these can be made public via this website.

Request for help

In case you have information what so ever of Cornelis Bronsgeest, his respective spouses, relatives and colleagues, please contact me by filling in the contact form below. I’m especially looking for:

  • private and professional correspondence;
  • reviews of performances, gramophone records, radio broadcasts;
  • deeds and documents;
  • memoirs, diaries of colleagues;
  • articles, books, studies, lectures, radio plays;
  • imagery and film footage, gramophone records, wax cylinders, tape recordings.

Thank you very much in advance!

Anton van Kempen

Studied philology at the University of Leiden (The Netherlands) and University of Leuven (Belgium) and is active in scholarly publishing and educational media (e-learning) since 1994. He is especially interested in classical music, cultural and media history and sound technology.

Anton van Kempen