Separation of Spheres





I like to think of myself as a 'creator' - just as Stravinsky did (with an apology for the comparison). All my life I 've worked first and foremost with sounds (as a composer and pianist), and gradually more with words (as a writer) and images (as a designer). The remaining senses (of smell and touch) I used only privately - to cook a meal or to make love.
I was born in 1935 at Utrecht, a traditionally conservative city in the middle of the Netherlands.


My (rather rare) name SCHAT is the same word people use daily for their beloved ones - meaning 'treasure', or 'darling', at least in Dutch. (Not in English: my brother in the American army was often called Shit.)
My father was a 'master-baker' (everyone called him 'meester', including us, his children) who had inherited the bakery from his father, who built the house - my birthplace - in the middle of a working class area on the outskirts ('Abstede') of the city. It was demolished in the seventy's of the last century.
My dear grandfather ('witte opa', as we called him)
was the head of a firmly protestant family of eight children.
My mother came from a family of seven (the Albers family),
and I come from a family of six.
My parents married in 1932, while Hitler rose to power in neighbouring Germany. The marriage was as strong as it was protestant, but not a very happy one. It lasted 45 years when they (already naturalized Americans for twenty years) broke it up, in 1978.
When we were still a family of three
my parents moved us to a farmhouse near the old fortress of Rhijnauwen, south of Utrecht. The following day, 10 may 1940, World War Two broke loose over the roof - an experience I'll never forget. It was certainly formative for the rest of my days.
But life on a farm during the war also saturated me with an enduring love of nature,
and some knowledge of the working field of farming (I'm standing in the middle):
Every day we had a five mile walk to our protestant school on the Malibaan at Utrecht - a healthy exercise we hated, just as we did the long boring school days. But it doesn't show on our happy faces:
In the third grade of that school I had to fill in a questionnaire about the profession I intended. I hardly dared to return the form, because I'd written 'composer'. (Had I already known Stravinsky - or myself, for that matter - I'd written 'creator'. But of course I didn't even know what a 'composer' was.)
Forty years later, the most popular teacher we then had (he is in the center of the picture; I'm on the top row, third from the right) still remembered my answer to that questionnaire, as his son told me when I met him in a bar recently. (So maybe that paper still exists somewhere in an archive…)

The protestant schools I went through for twelve years were as boring as they were dogmatic. The biology teacher for instance (I realised only later) wasn't allowed to talk about evolution - he was confined to the creationist story and that takes no more than a week, doesn't it, and it has no cohesion whatsoever. So only after I left school, heaving a deep sigh, could I discover my intense love for natural history. The best things I learned at those Christian schools were languages: English, German, French, and of course Dutch. But apart from that I still feel a resentment for those lost dogmatic years. Till the present day - because Darwinism then was already a century old.

But in 1952 I began breaking away from the oppressive and stuffy atmosphere of provincial Utrecht. The first thing I did was a trip to Rome, hitchhicking, discovering the world. What I discovered, standing in front of Michelangelo's Pieta at St Peter's basilicum, and admiring as much as desiring Jesus' divine body, was that I was gay. This was however a discovery one couldn't proudly come home with - it is hard to imagine today the depth of the taboo in those days.
But 'home' soon dissolved: my parents emigrated to America (escaping from the Russians, as they thought - quite understandably) and taking with them all their children except me. (For music, one should stay in Europe, I guessed, and I never regretted my choice). The farewell party at the harbour in Rotterdam was as poignant as it was a relief. (I'm standing behind my mother).
  My father, with his wife and sons, created from scratch a new and very successful bakery in Bishop,California, where the water is pure and the baking good. (Here he is with my youngest brother.)



I'd gone that year (l957) to the destitute local conservatory to receive piano-lessons from the much revered Jaap Callenbach. But according to him I spent too much time composing to become fit for the rostrum, and he was right. With endless patience he worked on my toucher, and I graduated with Pictures of an Exhibition and works of that technical level - it was sufficient, but not brilliant.
Composition took most of my concentration, to Callenbach's dismay. But I'll always be grateful for the way he taught me how to make music out of the notes on paper. It made me understand the performer, without really being one myself. For that reason I think that every composer should play an instrument, preferably the piano (for harmonic control).
Learning to play the piano convinced me of the existance of an underlying triadic structure of musical life, the 'separation of powers':
the Executive (the performers),
the Legislative (the composers) and
the Judicial powers (the critics).

One should carefully avoid mixing up these spheres, and I - by now a member of the Senate in music - rarely did.

The piano in my attic accompanies me since those days in the early fifties. I then bought this little Schiedmayer with the money I'd earned in my father's bakery, and it has served me well, throughout the years. It is certainly not a beauty, but it is strong enough to survive my punishments. It was hoisted to this attic by a huge crane when the roof was open for repair, and it can never be removed.

My piano, my dear little donkey, though often neglected, helped me obligingly through all those years to write my name in music. And when you want to now how to write your name in music

see at nine o'clock


I followed some composition lessons in Utrecht from Henk Stam, friend of Walter Maas, the founder of the famous Gaudeamus Foundation.
See also the Epitaph I wrote when he died in 1992. It is the last chapter of The Tone Clock.
There in Utrecht I made my debut with the Passacaglia and Fugue for organ, which was premiered in 1954 in the Dom cathedral. At the Gaudeamus Music Weeks I met all the serial big shots of those days: Stockhausen, Kagel, Ligeti and many more. But not Boulez - his work had been rejected by the Dutch jury…

In the same year Kees van Baaren became director of the Utrecht conservatory and invited me (after he'd heard a bit of a sonata for two piano's I was working on at the time) to become his pupil. Thus I became the first member of a composition class which would dominate Dutch musical life for a generation.

In that for me crucial year 1957, just after my family had left for America, I was conscripted. This was a terrible waste of time, which I had tried to avoid by all possible means, all in vain. But again my muse saved me: my Septet was premiered at Gaudeamus and that got me out of Austerlitz, the nut-house of the army I'd been send to.
See also under SCORES: Septet.

foto met waterpijp I followed Van Baaren to the Hague, where he had become director of the conservatory in 1958, and I concluded my studies with him (classical counterpoint and harmony, and Viennese dodecaphony) the next year, to go West, to London. I wanted to study with Matyas Seiber, whom I had met in a Gaudeamus Music Week. (I didn't want to go to Paris, because that's what everyone did. Besides, I was too much of an anglophile.)


Since 1958 I followed the summer courses in Darmstadt where I saw Pierre Boulez at work, admiring him very much (as I still do.) So when he announced to start a masterclass in Basel in 1960, I went there - with trembling knees - and stayed for two years, living in a sort of monastic village near Basel, where nothing could happen to distract me. There I wrote the Entelegies I and II, and Signalement. Entelegy II in particular, is a mobile composition on loose sheets (inspired by Mallarmee's Le Livre),
I consider as my thesis on boulezian musical thinking.
Boulez told us - the seven students of his master class - that he considered making an opera together with Jean Genet, which filled us with great excitement. Every ambitious young composer wants to write an opera, and I was no exeption. So I started to prepare a large scale musical-theatrical work, which I called Labyrinth - a very boulezian concept.

But back in Amsterdam, in 1962, I realised that serialism wasn't a very fortuitous vocal style for the stage (and it is telling that Boulez never wrote his Genet-opera - or any other, for that matter.) So I had to look for a more suitable technique, concentrating on boulezian 'heterophony': layers of quasi-autonomous musical events. I expanded this concept to all the elements involved in musical theater: texts, actions, choreography, film, (electronic) sounds, musicians, singers, actors and creators. The result was premiered, after a lot of 'brouhaha', at the Holland Festival 1966 in Carre, Amsterdam: Labyrinth - a sort of opera.
My mother came back from America to see it.

In the same year Marina Schapers and I discovered the old house I still live in. We set up a commune with others, since founding a family was no option for me, and I never married. In 1970 she gave birth to my son Sebastian, which was the happiest event in my life.







At the end of the sixties I made two trips, guided by Harry Mulisch: one to Fidel Castro, the other to Albert Speer.
Both were very misleading



The most tragic event in my life was the death of Marina Schapers in an accident in Greece, in 1981, which inspired Hugo Claus to write a poem:


The first movement of my second symphony is my personal reaction to this traumatic event

I'm not a particularly good teacher, as far as I'm concerned, but nevertheless I had a composition class at the conservatory in The Hague for nine years, though I never had the desire to form a 'school'. I'd grown out of any 'group'. As a sort of farewell I once explained the tone clock in Darmstadt.

Teaching helped me in discover the principles of chromatic tonality, but whether it helped anybody else remains questionable. Besides there was no real demand then, no inner need among the younger generation for the things I could offer. So I decided to put it down on paper, for later - and that's how my books came about. Everyone interested in truly musical rules (and there weren't many of them those days) could now study my proposals, and I could end my rather futile classes - which I did in 1983.

For the rest: all mayor events in my curriculum are inseparably linked to my work and its premieres, as you can see under the second Hour in Artefacts. When you follow that path, you follow my life.


At 66 , at the beginning of my third 'Jesus-life' (see for this also Atonism under the first Hour) I am now linked to the Internet - an exhilarating thought! I can now speak directly to you, with no expert or priest, or politician, or manager, or musicologist, or critic in between - in the anarcho-democratic context of the web. I feel like a neuron that is suddenly connected with the whole brain (if you can imagine such thing.) And above all, I can now receive umpteen silent visitors to my attic and to my work without being disturbed.
Indeed, Ruhe und Freiheit, Rest and Freedom,
is all one needs - as Beethoven put it.


Ever since I knew about the 'triune brain' (the concept of evolution biology about the triadic structure of our brains - see also The Tone Clock, chapter 7 -VI) I wondered what our fourth brain would be. Because, why should evolution ever stop? So I regard the Internet as our Fourth Brain, our collective brain, that I'm now linked to with all my fingers.

In a thousand years, when we have colonized the solar system, a Fifth Brain may emerge, and a Sixth when we walk the Milky Ways. Most science fiction, by the way, makes the miserable mistake of isolating the new brain and scaring people with 'the dictatorship of the Computer' and the like - all utter, fashionable nonsense. So let's go back to Earth - to Heaven, as I see it.

I'll try to use this privileged situation - the omniconnection of a website - to express the opinions boiling inside me. Because I regard opinions as far more interesting than the indiscretions that are so popular in the media. It's public knowledge in Holland that I'm gay, and I feel quite natural about it. I feel, on the contrary, very unnatural not to have been married in the seventies to my great love, because he was from a faraway land, and the homo-marriage has only recently been legalized, in this blessed country. (Which was also the first to legalize abortion and, recently, a humane and dignified end to life when asked for - all the legal fruits of the separation of church and state.)


When a celibate pope declares my love to be 'against nature' (as he did, celebrating the third millennium) whereas homosexuality is quite common in the animal kingdom, and when he calls euthanasia (which is meant to make a gentler death possible) a 'crime', I can't help remembering the two thousand years of aggressive disrespect the Church instinctively showed against the laws of nature, as discovered by free science. One can ask Galileo Galilei about that. Or Isaac Newton, who knew about gravity and cast a mighty stone of rationality at the Church, even if he didn't intend to.

Small wonder that more and more people (at least in Europe) are unwilling to believe the 'six impossible things before breakfast', as Alice in Wonderland was asked to do. Indeed, institutionalized faith is drowning rapidly these days:
and the face of the messiah is reconstructed by the BBC as just one of those immigrants we fear so much,
whereas we'd learned at our Sunday schools that the messiah at Judgement Day would look more like the Satan of the
11th September.

One should heartily applaud and strongly support the recent attempts of the European Parliament to withdraw the extraordinary political status of the Church of Rome.
The Vatican is Europe's last one-party state, knowing no separation of powers, no 'trias politica'. Democratic relations with such states are per se impossible and certainly hypocritical.
Vatican City is an arrogant Father-Christmas-state, where 756 males with pinched parts dream of an immaculately cloning mother-virgin goddess, who can, without help of a single soldier, bend a bullet's trajectory - as the present pope deeply believes, praying to Maria Fatima. It is a sweet, infantile dream that would perfectly fit in the magnificent kingdom of art. But not in the domain of science or - indeed - politics.


Separation of Spheres

To me these are the three archetypal disciplines of our spiritual habitat: Politics, Science and the Arts. Religion is a form of Art . See also the chapter God is Kunst -God is art - in Het componeren van de Hemel'.
A fruitful spiritual debate on the human condition is only possible, it seems to me, when this Separation of Spheres the Trias Spiritus: Politics - Science - Art is just as firmly established in our mind as the 'separation of powers' is in a modern democracy.

That's the conclusion I've come to in my curriculum:
Art is no Science is no Politics - and vice versa.
And I'm not a politician, or a scientist. I'm just a composer.


© Peter Schat info@peterschat.nl
© design pietje@nnw.nl