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Music lecturer launches biography on Arnold van Wyk
Author: Wayne Muller
Published: 05/08/2014

​A unique biography on the South African composer and pianist Arnold van Wyk was launched on Saturday (2 August) in the Fismer Hall at Stellenbosch University's (SU) Conservatoire.

The biography, titled Nagmusiek, was written by Prof Stephanus Muller, a lecturer in Musicology at the Conservatoire. Van Wyk also taught at the SU Conservatoire.

The book consists of three volumes in 916 pages, and is the most comprehensive biography of a South African composer yet.

Van Wyk was born on 26 April 1916 on a farm near Calvinia. He started playing piano as a child, later went to school and studied in Stellenbosch, before he left for studies at the Royal Academy of Music in London.

There he began to make a name for himself as composer and wrote music for a wide range of instruments. Along with Hubert du Plessis (1922–2011) en Stefans Grové (1922–2014), Van Wyk is considered as part of the first generation of South Africans who composed Western art music here.

Two honorary doctorates were conferred on Van Wyk – from the University of Cape Town in 1972 and from SU in 1981. He died on 27 May 1983.

In his biography, Prof Muller combines fact and fiction: He created a fictional biographer named Werner Ansbach, who plans to write a book on Van Wyk.

The first volume of the biography is a complete catalogue and working list of Van Wyk's music and manuscripts. Volume 2 consists of 806 endnotes, which are footnotes to the texts in Volume 1 and 3, while Volume 3 consists of 98 fragments which can be seen as chapters. Among them are three chronologies and three academic papers.

According to a press release the book is not only about Van Wyk's life and work but is also a meditation on the art of biography, on South African classic music during Apartheid, and the relationship between life and fiction.

At the book launch on Saturday, a friend of Prof Muller, pianist Daniel-Ben Pienaar, performed Van Wyk's piano work Nagmusiek, after which the book is named. Prof Lou-Marie Kruger of SU's Department of Psychology presented a discussion with Pienaar, Prof Muller and the publisher of the book, Bronwyn Law-Viljoen of Fourthwall Books.

Prof Muller is also Head of the Documentation Centre for Music (DOMUS) at SU.

  • Photo: Denvor de Wee / Die Burger