Klaas Jan Mulder (1930-2008), was a Dutch organist with a career spanning decades. For his 25th anniversary as a concert organist, he made recordings at César Franck’s organ in the St. Clotilde in Paris. Fifteen years later, he travelled to Toulouse for the Festivo music label, where he performed on the then recently renovated Cavaillé-Coll organ of the Eglise Saint-Sernin.
Although Klaas Jan Mulder became known because of his reputation as a concert organist, he was as a young man more fascinated by the piano. “My father was a minister in Langerak. From there we moved to Hattem, where Gradus Wendt gave me lessons for piano and organ. I was completely consumed by playing the piano, which is why I chose it as my major subject. It fascinates me that you only have your fingers to affect the sound with. The advantage of the organ is that, very easily, you can create beautiful sounds.
The organ was my minor subject, not my major. I studied with Jacob Bijster and Simon C. Jansen and must admit that the organ as a subject did not interest me much: I wanted to become a pianist. I did receive several offers but most of them were for piano concerts on Sundays, so that was a problem for me and the reason why I became more and more dedicated to the organ.”
After his degree for Piano Solo (awarded an A with special distinction for virtuosity), Mulder was allowed a grant by the then Department of Education, Arts and Sciences, to study abroad for one year. Following the advice of his teacher Jan Odé, he studied with the Spanish pianist Eduardo del Pueyo, who was a teacher at the Conservatory in Brussels. “Del Pueyo was a fantastic artist. On the one hand, he had an enormous accuracy, on the other hand he knew how to create atmosphere… an ideal combination of technique and musicality. He was a great pianist, but also a modest person. Del Pueyo taught me how important it is to use your fingers independently from one another. In fact, this is more a psychological than a technical matter. That was new to me.”
“After my study with Del Pueyo I began to study direction of orchestra with Piet Ketting. He had the Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra at his disposal for three weeks. During that time I learnt how to deal with an orchestra. Apart from organ and piano, orchestral music has always fascinated me. Especially the romantics, like Tchaikovsky and Brahms, have always appealed to me. Even now. And that is what I try to communicate in the music I play. People have criticized me for that: it would be improper use of the organ. For many people playing orchestral music at the organ is a contradictio in terminis.”
“I have no preference for one specific type of organ. With German organs you can do much, but I also like French and British organs, and our own Dutch historical organs of course. For me, the main issue is to get the sound in a certain harmonious balance. (…) I like a musical line, breath. (…) Jeanne Demessieux had this line, she inspired me enormously. In a way, Jean Guillou too, I think he is a genius. When I heard this man play eight measures, I knew it: this is it! His technique is miraculous; he has a fantastic accuracy, yet not academic, like so many other organists have, that you get stuck with the scores.”
Although Klaas Jan Mulder never avoided the popular repertoire, he intended to ‘educate’ his public in a musical sense. “I know what the public wants, but in the course of time, they should also know what I want. There are people who used to come to a concert for my improvisations, but eventually ended up coming for Max Reger. I am glad that reached those people.”