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Aafje Heynis (Contralto)

Born: May 2, 1924 - Krommenie, the Netherlands
Died: December 16, 2015 - Huizen, the Netherlands

When the Netherlands were liberated in May 1945, the jubilation in the Zaan region (North Holland) reached the same unsurpassed level as everywhere else. A man hit on the idea of wheeling his old, brown piano out on to the street. He sat down and began to play a patriotic song, naturally, with bystanders joining in with utmost emotion. Suddenly someone in the crowd cried:"There's a real singer living just near by. She must join us."A few minutes later some bystanders brought a young lady, somewhat thin, smiling shyly, for she was shy by nature: Aafje Heynis. There were cries of "sing, sing!" Standing by the old piano she began to sing George Frideric Handel's "Dank sei dir, Herr". It became completely still, and people began to weep. Aafje's beautiful timbre, her own emotion, the splendid melody, the greatness of the occasion (freedom after five years of German occupation), all these cast a spell on the dozens of witnesses. "Never again have I been able to sing Handel quite like that", the famous contralto was later to say.

Five years earlier Aafje Heynis has been "discovered". On the advice of the conductor of the choral society in her native town of Krommenie she auditioned for the teacher Jo Immink in Amsterdam with an arrangement of the "Pilgrims' Chorus" from Wagner's Tannhauser. After that from 1946 to 1949, her singing teacher was the great Aaltje Noordewier-Reddingius. She then benefited from the good advice of Laurens Bogtman, the great oratorio singer, and finally Roy Henderson, Kathleen Ferrier's teacher, told her that although her voice did not resemble that of the famous English singer she was still destinated for a great future because of her unique voice. She quickly established her reputation, to begin with in the field of oratorio. With her performance in Johannes Brahms' Alto Rhapsody with the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra under the direction of Eduard van Beinum, she attracted wide attention. Concerts in churches, Lieder recitals, numerous performances of J.S. Bach's St. Matthew Passion (BWV 244), spirituals, opera- her interests were broad, even as the demand for this unaffected singer was great. For the Philips label she made a whole series of recordings of works by J. Brahms, J.S. Bach, G.F. Handel and Felix Mendelssohn. But Monteverdi, L.v. Beethoven, Schubert and Frank Martin also belonged to her repertoire. Aafje Heynis showed a particular preference for Gustav Mahler, one consequence of which was a legendary recording of G. Mahler's Symphony No.2 with the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra conducted by Bernard Haitink. The soprano part was sung by Elly Ameling.

Aafje Heynis had never thought of becoming a professional singer. To be sure, she started singing while still young, but everyone sang in her family: the father, the mother and the two daughters. No one minded if one person had a finer voice than the other, the most important thing was the enjoyment of singing. At the age of 17 Aafje herself aspired to become a nurse and was also inclined towards fashion, but it never occurred to her to become a singer. However, the alertness of the local choral director and the initiation of lessons with Aaltje Noordewier-Reddingius steered her in a completely different direction. At first Aafje Heynis wanted to be admitted to the choir of the Netherlands Bach Society and applied for that purpose to the director, Dr. Anton van der Horst. The latter, tired from countless rehearsals, believed he was dealing with the umpteenth would-be choir member, a routine matter that could be dispatched quickly. However the choir members and conductor were quickly impressed by the splendid contralto and she was admitted to the choir immediately. Not only did she acquire the necessary experience as a choir member, van der Anton van der Horst also worked with her intensively on solo parts from great works. It was not long before Aafje Heynis was able to take contralto solos of various works, and so began the gradually developing career of this unpretentious singer, whose life was entirely dedicated to music.

Aafje Heynis performed with the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra on countless occasions, not only with Eduard van Beinum and Bernard Haitink, but also with Eugen Jochum and Otto Klemperer. In 1961 she was awarded the highly prestigious Harriet Cohen medal for her "outstanding artistry". In 1966 she took part in performances in Berlin and Amsterdam of the Requiems of W.A. Mozart and Verdi and L.v. Beethoven's Missa Solemnis. Aafje Heynis also sang in several of G.F. Handel's oratorios and works by Alphons Diepenbrock for Netherlands radio and television. Antal Doráti, Igor Markevitch, Erich Kleiber, Angelo Ephrikian, Hans Gillesberger, Charles Munch, Szymon Goldberg, Kurt Thomas, Kurt Redel and Frits Rieger have all had the pleasure of working with this singer. Besides the many concerts she gave in the Netherlands, she could be heard in Belgium, Germany, England, Ireland, France, Switzerland and Austria; she also undertook an ambitious tour to India and Indonesia.

After her retirement from singing, Aafje Heynis lived in Blaricum, the Netherlands and worked as a singing teacher (1989).

" all modern recordings Miss Heynis's is undoubtly the finest. The phrasing, the long sustained curves, the difficult crescendos and diminuendos of this most lovely work are movingly realised..." - Gramophone, November 1958.
"... This alto touches you , brings on a deep emotion by means of here voice and brings music very close ..." - Reformatorisch Dagblad

Source: Dutch Divas Website
Contributed by
Aryeh Oron (May 2001); Manfred Krugmann (Dates & Photo 11, December 2015)

Aaafje Heynis: Short Biography | Recordings of Vocal Works under her name | General Discussions

Recordings of Bach Cantatas & Other Vocal Works




Hans Gillesberger


Arias from BWV 108 (x2), BWV 244, BWV 245, BWV 248

Szymon Goldberg


BWV 170

Anthon van der Horst


BWV 169, BWV 244 [2nd]

Unknown conductor


Aria from BWV 232

Links to other Sites

Dutch Divas: Aafje Heynis, contralto


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