Like-minded souls and their passion to collect sheet music

“If Bart were still here, he would never let me go through his sheet music and take what I want,” I said to his widow after spending hours looking through the densely packed shelves downstairs and upstairs.

Bart’s Steinway

I might have gone up to his room once the entire time I knew him. Or maybe not at all.

Whenever I visited him in his 19th century house in The Hague, he would have already prepared a pile of sheet music to sightread with me either on his black Steinway grand or also on his light brown Bluthner upright. Our breaks for a drink, a snack, or a delicious meal cooked by his industrious wife were considered unwanted interruptions to our flow.

There was simply too much music to play.

When I learned in July of his passing, I was struck by how little I knew of his other life. I knew he spoke many languages fluently, for it was in Paris that I first met him. I knew he travelled for his work. And he was a naturist.

Collecting sheet music and sightreading it with others was his passion. When he travelled, he would stop at a music shop to get sheet music. When he spotted a piece he knew someone else was looking for, he’d call that person and ask, “Just tell me yes or no, do you want me to get it?”

I was the same way, except I collected music for myself.

A tiny subset of Bart’s entire collection

By the time I visited his home in early September, nearly a year after his passing, most of his sheet music had already been designated and taken by the Quatre Mains Club and various instrumentalist-friends of his. Still, it took me an entire afternoon and the subsequent morning to extract music to completely fill two boxes.

I was surprised that his collection overlapped mine only in the mainstream repertoire. But a few composers were visibly missing. Where was Elgar? Les Six? Mompou? Solo transcriptions of famous piano concerti? Perhaps these were already claimed.

When most of my sheet music had to be reduced four summers ago, I took solace that maybe I’d compensate the void through the collection of my friends. I was reluctant to give away or sell even one piece of music, for every single one was purchased or obtained with intent. I treated myself to such sheet music expeditions everywhere I went. These shopping sprees were more satisfying than Boxing Day sales at Laura Ashley’s in London.

Little did I expect that Bart would leave so soon. I regret not moving my Steinway to his house as we had originally planned. He made space for it the summer of 2012 when everything in the monument house had to be emptied. He would have been able to sightread music for three pianos. Had I followed through, I’d learn much earlier that he was seriously not well. My Steinway would probably still be here, rather in some unknown place.

Such is my loss. I would have been able to say good-bye.

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