Cornelis Dopper was born Feb. 17th 1870 in Stadskanaal; he died Sep. 18th 1939 in Amsterdam. He was a composer, conductor and music teacher. He studied piano and violin at the Conservatoire of Leipzig (1888-1890). His most important teacher was Oscar Paul, who lectured on history of music (especially ancient Greek music) and musical aesthetics.
Dopper returned to the Netherlands in 1891 and settled in Groningen. In 1892 he composed his first opera De blinde van Castel Cuillé (The blind girl of Castle Cuillé) after a story by J. Jasmin (English translation: H.W. Longfellow) and his First Symphony ‘Diana’ (1896), based on Heinrich Heine’s story Die Götter in exil.
In 1897 he went to Amsterdam, where he became a violinist and later a choir master and assistant conductor at the Nederlandsche Opera (Dutch Opera Company), until this company dissolved in 1903. Dopper worked another season at the Lyrisch Tooneel, where his fourth and last opera Het Eerekruis (The Cross of Honour, 1904) was performed. Parts of his second opera, Frithjof (1895) were only performed in concert form. His third opera William Ratcliff (1900) was performed in Weimar in 1909 under Peter Raabe. He wrote his First symphony ‘Diana’ in 1896 after Heine’s Die Göttin Diana. In 1904 he finished his Second Symphony (‘Scottish’ symphony).
During two seasons (1906/7 and 1907/8) Dopper became one of the conductors of the travelling Henry Savage Opera Company in the United States. He also visited Canada and Mexico with this company and conducted the first performances of Puccini’sMadama Butterfly.
In 1906 Willem Mengelberg performed Dopper’s Third symphony (‘Rembrandt’, rev. 1904) with the Amsterdam Concertgebouw Orchestra and in 1908 Dopper was nominated as second conductor of this famous orchestra under Mengelberg. He introduced not only Debussy’s La Mer and Ibéria in Amsterdam, but also a lot of other new compositions of composers of his time, i.e. Elgar, Ravel, and the music of many young Dutch composers. In his role of Mengelberg’s assistent he practised for the first time works like Strawinsky’s Sacre du Printemps and Mahler’s Seventh Symphony with the orchestra.
Dopper stayed with the Concertgebouw Orchestra for 23 years. During that time he composed his Fourth Symphony (‘Sinfoniëtta’, rev. 1909), his Fifth Symphony (‘Sinfonia epica’, 1908) on a text of Homerus Ilias; a Sixth Symphony (‘Amsterdamse’, 1912) and a Seventh Symphony (‘Zuiderzee’, 1917). In this last symphony he neatly combines melodies from Valerius’ Gedenckclanck (1626). Only three of Dopper’s orchestral works (‘Zuiderzee’ Symphony, Ciaconna gotica and Oud-Nederlandse Danssuite) have been published.
Besides four opera’s and seven symphonies, Dopper wrote a lot of vocal works: songs, choir music, a Requiem and chamber music (Sextet, Klankstudie, String quartet ‘Pallas Athena’, Sonata for violin (or violoncello) and piano). His complete works (more than one hundred) are preserved in the Nederlands Muziek Instituut (Dutch Musical Institute), Royal Library, The Hague. Most of Dopper’s compositions are orchestral pieces, most of them performed by the Concertgebouw Orchestra. Often played were his Concerto for violoncello and orchestra (1910) and Concerto for orchestra, trumpet and timpany (1910). His most popular, world wide known orchestral composition is theCiaconna gotica (1920). This work was performed in the famous concert halls throughout the world under outstanding conductors.
Dopper introduced youth concerts in the Netherlands in 1923. As a composer he was not an innovator, but possessed a great instinct for orchestral colouring. His interest in Ancient Greek music is apparant from works such as the Sinfonia epica and the orchestral studies Päân I & II. But above all Dopper was a Dutch composer, as shown by the titles of his symphonies.