Biography of Felix van Lamsweerde (1934–2021)
Felix van Lamsweerde at his residence in the Netherlands (2018)
Felix van Lamsweerde (1934–2021) was a Dutch ethnomusicologist, music collector, curator and sound engineer. Van Lamsweerde’s passion for the music of India led him to study, travel and record diverse musical, theatrical and dance traditions across India from the late 1950s to early 2000s. His collection includes original audio and video recordings, commercial records, books, journal issues, photographs and slides. The Musicology department at the University of Göttingen hosts most of this collection.
Born and brought up in Amsterdam, Felix van Lamsweerde grew up in an artistic family and was fascinated with music from a young age. He was particularly struck by Hindustani music when he heard the sarangi on All India Radio as a young boy, bedridden with tuberculosis. He remained an admirer of Indian music in the years to follow that shaped his vocation as well as academic work.
Felix van Lamsweerde completed his school and higher education in the Netherlands. From 1956 to 1962, he worked at the Royal Tropical Institute (Koninklijk Instituut voor de Tropen) as a research assistant under Dutch musicologist Jaap Kunst. Kunst was one of the most significant influences on Van Lamsweerde, not only for his research proficiency, but also for his warm outgoing personality with a wide range of interests. On Kunst’s advice, Van Lamsweerde majored in cultural anthropology as a stepping stone to ethnomusicology. He completed his pre-doctoral degree in 1962. Parallel to his higher education, Van Lamsweerde also professionally recorded several live performances of Asian music and dance as well as provided background music and effects for several theatre productions.
In 1962, he was offered a postdoctoral position at the School of Oriental and African Studies, London, for six months under the supervision of Arnold Bake, musicologist and collector of Indian music. The postdoc project focused on preparing a fieldwork trip to India together with Bake’s assistant Nazir Ali Jairazbhoy.
Arnold Bake, Felix van Lamsweerde and Nazir Ali Jairazbhoy recording a nose flute player at SOAS, London (1962)
On the basis of a two-year student exchange scholarship (1963-65) from the Dutch and Indian government, Van Lamsweerde went to study at the Benares Hindu University (BHU) in India. In the winter of 1963/64 he joined Nazir Ali Jairazbhoy, whose research focused on the folk traditions of central Indian states as material for a comprehensive book to be published by Oxford University Press. Van Lamsweerde also travelled individually to a number of places to explore his interests in musical traditions based on his early academic study, including Hindustani and Carnatic classical music, folk music, theatre and dance traditions.
(L-R) Nazir Ali Jairazbhoy, Mohammad (the driver), Yakoob Qawwal, Felix van Lamsweerde on their field journey in Andhra Pradesh (1963); Photo credit: Amy Catlin-Jairazbhoy
Felix van Lamsweerde with Nazir Ali Jairazbhoy (left: 1963, right: 2000)
Van Lamsweerde’s fieldwork with Nazir Ali Jairazbhoy was particularly significant as they witnessed and recorded a number of different music, theatre and dance genres across communities, castes and classes. Six months into his study time in India, van Lamsweerde enrolled himself at the Music school of B.R. Deodhar in Mumbai, where he spent his remaining one and a half year. Van Lamsweerde was accepted as a student of sitar by Ustad Vilyat Khan and later Ustad Imrat Khan.
Van Lamsweerde demonstrating the sitar at the Royal Tropical Institute (1968)
On his return to the Netherlands, Van Lamsweerde was appointed as the curator of ethnomusicology, department of Anthropology at the Royal Tropical Institute.
He also collected a number of musical instruments for the collection at the Tropenmuseum.
Van Lamsweerde at the exhibition of musical instruments at the Tropenmuseum (1983); Photo credit: Kors van Bennekom
After his retirement, Van Lamsweerde continued visiting India to attend music festivals, conferences, concerts and to meet his teachers, colleagues and friends. Over the years, he delivered a number of lectures at universities and music venues in different parts of the world. Van Lamsweerde was also instrumental in introducing the most prominent musicians of India in the Netherlands, such as Ravi Shankar (sitar), Nikhil Banerjee (sitar), Dagar brothers (dhrupad), Vilayat Khan (sitar), Bismillah Khan (shahnai) and Hariprasad Chaurasia (bansuri) among many others.