Following the example of Batavia, art societies were founded at Java and in the outlying districts. In 1916 these societies became an association: the Bond van Kunstkringen [Association of Art Societies]. To mount, fund and organise art exhibitions proved a difficult task; concerts and theatrical performances on the other hand were much easier to realise. Moreover, in many places people preferred such performances to exhibitions. In much earlier times music had proved indispensable to the [Dutch East India] Company itself; fresh troops from the Netherlands entered the Castle accompanied by music; conquerors were welcomed in the council chamber with music; music added lustre to festive occasions or at least contributed to an atmosphere of celebration. To servants of the Company or civilians in general music was of the utmost importance. They played musical instruments and among the slaves were violinists, cellists and harpists, so that house orchestras could be formed. Soon after his arrival in Batavia in 1686 the Reverend François Valentijn, an amateur flutist, engaged in musical activities with Abraham van Riebeeck, who played the double bass, and a Batavian notary public. The clergyman stayed with a colleague and upon leaving for his post he gave his hostess a finely decorated 'harpsichord' to thank her for her hospitality, not without sadly remembering how much it had cost him.Valckenier had a house orchestra consisting of fifteen slaves and in 1756 a troop captain of the civilian cavalry had a music dome built at Molenvliet Oost, where he is presumed to have conducted an orchestra.
Thus a preference for music among the public in the Dutch East Indies had developed over many years. As a result music came to dominate community life in the big cities. In 1837 Batavia already boasted an amateur dramatic society and a Théatre Français, the first opera company, directed by M. Minard. For the first time women appeared on the stage as professional actresses and singers. People were drawn by music, the theatre was popular too but above all it was opera that remained a major attraction. Singer and scene painter Van Kinsbergen is known to have arrived with an operatic troop in the Dutch East Indies in the 1840s. He never returned and continued throughout his long life to further Batavian music life. Operas were performed in the theatre, concerts were given in the building De Stem van het Oosten [Voice of the East], the military band played in the Sociëteit Concordia. In the home, too, there was much music-making and many music lessons were given (singing, piano, violin, cello). There were excellent amateur musicians.
From a book written by Otto Knaap and published in Batavia in 1899 it emerges that there was a concert society called 'Caecilia' in Surabaya in the mid-nineteenth century, that a certain Mrs H. van den Steen began staging opéras bouffes in the same city by the end of the century and that Batavia had an 'Opéra-club' and a choral society 'Toonkunst Aurora'. Semarang and Djokjakarta played a minor role in this respect.
Violinist and music critic Otto Knaap was of Indian descent but had undoubtedly received a European education. In his book he assesses music life in Batavia in a way that seems well-founded and his judgement reveals a throrough musical knowledge. Prominent musicians he mentions are the excellent violinist and conductor Joza S'rogl, the pianists Mrs Schröder and Mrs Mulder, violinists Charles Meyll, Twijsel and Fusella, cellists Melia, Van Dinter, Merck, Belle, vocalists Meyboom and Hans van de Wall and, with emphasis he repeats the names of Mrs Witbols Feugen and Mrs Lange-Rijkmans, who were teachers and whose voices and vocal abilities are praised by Otto Knaap.
Already in the 1890s vocal and instrumental artists came to Java, for example Maeth Piazza (Marie Storm van 's Gravesande; she had been to Java on earlier occasions, she may have been a native of the East Indies), the pianist De Kontski, who was believed to have been taught by Beethoven. He played on a Stradivarius according to Knaap. His wife sang. She had a loud, booming voice. Violinist Ovide Musín toured Java; his wife was a singer too. However, apart from all these achievements Knaap also speaks of a 'dire dilettantism', that made too little use of the ample opportunities for music study in Batavia and knew no self-criticism.
The Batavian Art Society was much motivated to build on this rich musical past. A Muziek- en Toneelverbond [Music and Drama Association] was founded in 1914. Before long this organisation, which operated on an independent basis, proved to be in a better position than the Batavian Art Society itself because of the great musical talent and the many experienced amateur actors and actresses present in Batavia and on the island of Java. Moreover, during the war years many artists were invited to come over from the Netherlands, and, later, from other European countries as well. The Association of Art Societies, too, had in fact changed its policy and now concentrated primarily on music and drama, art forms that were much easier to engage in. Tours were organised throughout the East Indies, which was much to the advantage of the art societies. In 1927 the Batavian Art Society followed suit, and merged with the Music and Drama Association.
Among the artists who came to the East Indies on the invitation of the Association of Art Societies many were world famous: Godowsky, Vera Janacopoulos, Zimbalist, Paul Weingarten, Kindler, Tansmman, Friedmann, Smeterlin, Feuerstein, Szigeti, Iturbi, Heifetz, Rubinstein, Hubermann, Brailowski, Piatigorski, Slobotskaia, Andrès Segovia, Lili Krauss, Szymon Goldberg, Nicolaï Orloff, Maréchal, Eugenia Wellerson, Lola Bobesco, the Sakharofs, Chenkine, Anna el Tour, Ruth Draper and others; the Dutch artists Charlotte Köhler, Darja Collin, Maria Last, Zalsman, Gerard Hekking (de Nancy), Antonietti, Wiemand, De Groot, Van der Pas; the Dresdner, Budapester and Guarneri quartets; authors and scientists such as Louis Couperus, Johan Huizinga, Professor Colebander, architect Berlage - and many others.
Many artists were engaged without mediation from concert agencies. The Association of Art Societies itself acted as concert agency and impresario for the Dutch East Indies, naturally without receiving any payment. The board-members of the art societies acted as hosts and the artists became so impressed by their reception and by the beautiful surroundings that they provided the best possible propaganda for the Association and for the country whose European audiences were highly musical.
The Association was assisted in its efforts by the Dutch East Indies railways, the tax and customs offices, the shipping companies and various hotels. Thus in only a few years an organisation came into being capable of playing a managerial and protective role towards both the public and the artists. Immediately after their arrival at Priok the cellists and violinists would be taken to Mr Belle at Petjenongan, a well-known repairer of stringed instruments, who had developed a kind of glue which withstood the humidity of the tropics that was so detrimental to the instruments. After the long journey the instruments would already be affected by the atmospheric conditions. Godowsky travelled with two grand pianos. He came in the early 1920s and was highly praised. Later the Knies Company - sellers of sheet music and musical instruments - would provide an excellent concert piano which was transported to the theatres whenever a concert was due to take place. A tuner remained on standby throughout the performance. Alexander Brailowski played for the Batavian Art Society and for the Association on numerous occasions. In the interval the artists received many visitors, which they found, on the whole, pleasant. When in later years we attended a concert by Brailowski in Paris, we went looking for him after the concert and finally found him alone in a room somewhere backstage. He recognised us immediately, knew our names and remembered the tour during which we had met: 'Java, oh, ce pays merveilleux!' ['Java, oh, that marvellous country!']. And yet these great artists who appeared everywhere on the big concert stages had to endure quite a degree of discomfort when performing on our stages, and that includes Batavia. Initially the concerts took place, as was the case with the exhibitions, in halls that were 'borrowed' for the occasion. Later the upper hall of the Art Society's building was used, but it soon proved too small and too hot. Membership of the societies could suddenly rise substantially when famous artists were announced, for example Rubinstein in June 1935. Then the large Dierentuinzaal would be hired or the Concordia Association's building.
The Art Society, however, preferred the concerts to take place in the old, congenial theatre. Designed in 1821 by the Engineering Corps and built with the help of both private persons and the local authorities, who took charge of the demolition of buildings in the old quarter, in downtown Batavia, the theatre was situated between Passar Baru - where the Chinese shops were - and the Waterlooplein: a spacious, wide and airy location. There were verandas on the sides with louvred doors that were closed during the concert and quickly reopened when the intermission began. These slatted doors allowed the sound of the instruments and the wonderful voices to carry right across the grounds of the theatre and beyond. Many members of the audience would seat themselves on the steps in the open air during the performance. Due to the light, airy construction, however, sounds from the outside would also be audible inside the building: the din of dogcarts moving swiftly and lively on the other side of the river, along the south side of Passar Baru. Often the coachmen would have a little bell attached to their toes. Most performers took it for granted, albeit perhaps with pain in their hearts, but Bonislav Hubermann was among those who suffered deeply and visibly. After entering the stage with his pianist and bowing while the applause rang out - silence ensued... The violin approaches the chin, the fingers are placed on the fingerboard ... tinkle-tinkle-tinkle ... tick-tock-tick-tock ... A shadow comes over the artist's face. The violin is lowered ... tinkle-tinkle-tinkle .... He waits ... then there is silence. The violin is once again placed under the chin, the bow ... tinkle-tinkle-tinkle .... he waits ... silence ... another dogcart ... he mutters 'Straszenlärm' and looks angry and hurt. Such were the acoustic problems of the concerts in the theatre!
Hubermann must have had mixed feelings when looking back on that 'pays merveilleux de Brailowski', for in the late 1930s the plane in which he was travelling to Singapore crashed in the jungle of Sumatra, near Palembang. He survived, but his hands were injured and it took a long time for his fingers to be 'konzertreif' again.
Meanwhile local music life was once again thriving. Amateurs would be taught by Dutch and other musicians, many of whom took up residence in the cities; Paul Schram, for example, Eugenia Wellerson, Frits Kok and others. A private initiative in Batavia led to the establishment of a symphony orchestra and Mr and Mrs Constant van de Wall founded a small music school. Mrs C.W.Y. van Meurs-Focke was one of its music teachers. Each year the Vereniging tot bevordering der toonkunst [Society for the promotion of music] in Malang, which was founded by Kitty Ament, awarded professional diplomas to those having passed the piano examination. Two ballet schools were founded, one in Malang by Gertrud Leistikow, and one in Batavia, by Puck Santhagens. Concerts given by local people - for instance Mr and Mrs Wertheim-Gijse Weenink and the youth concerts given by Mrs Barbas-van Koetsveld - alternated with concerts by musicians from abroad and performances by theatre companies from Holland (Cor Ruys). Viennese operettas were rehearsed and performed in the inner Indies by a professional named Poldi Reiff and his wife.
From 1914 until 1924 Mrs Schumann-van den Bos, a pianist, was on the board of the Music Association. In addition she and her husband - chairman of the Volksraad - would have artists as their guests in their home, for longer periods of time, if the need arose. For Queen Wilhelmina's jubilee in 1923 Mrs Schumann wrote a cantata which was performed in the Dierentuinzaal.
In view of this festive occasion friends and acquaintances of the Schumanns joined forces in copying the score. Together with Mrs Schumann my friend Jan Vos also contributed to the rapid flourishing of the Music Association and the Association of Art Societies. Jan Vos was secretary for many years and later became chairman. A loyal, humorous man, he was greatly dedicated to the work he so loved, and also showed considerable understanding which led to his efforts, together with those of Ir. Sitsen, to bring back into focus the original aim of both the Association of Art Societies and the Batavian Art Society: the visual arts. In 1930 their efforts resulted in the visual arts being furthered by one board.