His musical legacy is modest but nonetheless fascinating. Many of his compositions demonstrate social engagement and sometimes are more explicit: e.g. 'Plan Song' for the Dutch Labour Party (SDAP). With his music reviews in the socialist newspaper Het Volk (The People) he hoped to lure the working class into the concert hall and to move them up the social ladder. In addition to composing and writing about music, he was also active as a music editor, organiser, and director. Although nearly forgotten today, he was a distinguished and very productive figure in the pre-war Dutch music industry.
by Claartje Wesselink
All-round musician and political visionary
Paul Florus Sanders was born on December 21, 1891, the son of Rosalie Sanders-Levenbach and Benjamin Sanders, an Amsterdam-based stockbroker. His parents recognised his musical talent early on and arranged for violin lessons, first with Y.C. van Althuis and after some time with members of the Concertgebouw Orchestra, Willem Gerke and Sylvain Noach. The latter, a master violinist and leading pedagogue, encouraged him to start composing.
Sanders initially wanted to become a professional musician, but stricken with juvenile arthritis, he had to give up that dream. His family envisioned a job for him in the banking industry and under gentle pressure arranged an internship in Berlin. However, the effect was counterproductive: in pre-war Berlin, so vibrant and bustling, Sanders became even more convinced that he should devote his life to the arts. It was also in Berlin that his interest in socialism was awakened, confronted by the miserable housing conditions of the working-class population. At the outbreak of the First World War he joined the pacifist movement, which stood empty-handed due to many politicians and citizens’ hunger for war.
After returning to the Netherlands in 1915, Sanders worked temporarily in the family business and also studied music theory and practice with Sem Dresden. He became a member of the SDAP (Sociaal-Democratische Arbeiders Partij, the Dutch Labour Party) and married Elisabeth Herzberg, a performing artist. In 1918, he started working as a music editor for the socialist daily Het Volk (The People). With his articles he tried to instill love and knowledge of music into the working class. He paid extensive attention to music history, but was no less eager in keeping an eye on contemporary developments. The following quote from Het Volk, written in Paris in the summer of 1925, typifies his broad knowledge and open mind:
'The literal meaning of the word Rag-time is a tempo torn to shreds. It indicates an irregular rhythm, a rhythm that goes against the beat. The power that emanates from it has only become clear to me after attending a religious Negro concert. Their prayers are accompanied by harsh, often shocking gestures of the entire body, which gradually turn into a kind of ecstatic dancing. In doing so, the emphasis is always on, what we call, the weak beat. This music reveals a certain affinity with ancient Gregorian church music, which is however, much calmer and more solemn in nature. It is unfamiliar to the beat of our music and completely conforms to the free rhythm of the spoken word.'
In the 1920s, ragtime, and jazz in general, were not yet widely accepted musical genres, certainly not among a classically oriented audience. For Sanders unjustified:
'One cannot shrug this music off and reject Jazz as a modern excess. Those who view it as such, have slept during the evolution of music in our time. Resisting Jazz is as futile and foolish as opposing the radio or the airplane. In essence there is no ancient nor modern art; there is only art.'
He also incorporated his knowledge of music history and theory in books intended for a wide public: Muziek voor de Volksklasse (Music for the Working Class - 1923), Het Strijkkwartet (The String Quartet - 1925), De Piano. Het Instrument en zijn Meesters (The piano. The Instrument and its Masters - 1926), and Moderne Nederlandse Componisten (Modern Dutch Composers - 1930).
The realisation that there was no decent music journal in the Netherlands, impelled Sanders and Willem Pijper in 1926 to start the monthly magazine De Muziek. The international orientation of this magazine was partly due to the large network of the two editors. As a board member of the Dutch branch of the International Society for Contemporary Music (ISCM), Sanders was acquainted with musicians from all over Europe. Surviving correspondence from Sanders with, among others, Alban Berg, Anton Webern, Béla Bartók, Darius Milhaud, Erwin Schulhoff, Ernst Krenek, and Paul Pisk, bears witness to the vibrant European music climate of the interwar years. According to an article in the weekly journal De Groene Amsterdammer (April 20, 2002):
'The magazine De Muziek, which begins publication in 1926, excellently reflects these exciting times. This beautifully designed and content-rich Dutch magazine is undoubtably cosmopolitan. Foreign correspondents report on musical life from every corner of Europe, the latest music is immediately analysed, texts by composers like Berg, Malipiero and Hába are translated into Dutch, along with extensive reviews of the significant international music festivals.'
In addition to the ISCM, Sanders was a board member of BUMA (organisation for music authorship rights), Genootschap Nederlandse Componisten (GeNeCo - Association of Dutch Composers) and one of the driving forces behind Manifestatie Nederlandse Toonkunst (MaNeTo – a festival promoting Dutch music).
Paul F. Sanders as a composer
In addition to his journalistic and organisational work in the music business, Sanders composed in his scarce free time. His surviving works, a part was lost during the war, show that the peak of his compositional productivity was in the 1920s and 1930s. In 1926, Willem Pijper described Sanders as a 'talented young composer, a former student of Sem Dresden, French-orientated in his musical aspirations and, regarding his general artistic preferences, belonging to the avant-garde.’ His music was performed a dozen times; some seven pieces were published. He usually set his music to literary texts, with a strong preference for material containing a political-social message. Examples are the anti-militaristic Klacht van de Garde (Complaint from the Guard - 1924) and Het Lied van de Nachtuil (Song of the Night Owl), on a text by the Dutch writer Multatuli about an owl who is denied marrying the girl of his choice because her father looked down on his descent. A few days after the armistice of 1918, Sanders set Herbst (Autumn), a gloomy poem by Rainer Maria Rilke, to music. The Jewish poetess Else Lasker-Schüler, whom he had met in Berlin, inspired him in 1932 to write his Four Hebrew Ballads. The date is no coincidence: in that same year Hitler’s Nazi party became Germany’s largest political party. Sanders’ songs 'Heimweh', 'Ruth', 'Esther' and 'Mein Volk', written for chamber orchestra and speaking voice, were performed in Vienna in 1934. His wife Liesbeth Sanders-Herzberg took on the role of speaking voice. In Sanders' private archive, a small newspaper clipping recalls that event. The instrumentation (two violins, a viola, a cello, a double bass, two flutes, a clarinet, a horn, a trumpet and a harp) were deliberately kept 'slender', according to an Austrian newspaper. Everything unnecessary had been omitted to do full justice to the spoken word.
Sanders' few musical publications include Drie Liederen van Paul F. Sanders (Three Songs by Paul F. Sanders - 1924), beautifully published by Broekmans & Van Poppel and dedicated to Berthe Seroen. That same year Seroen sang the songs 'Amsterdam', 'Weimar' and 'Berlin', set to poems by Hendrik Marsman, in the Amsterdam Concertgebouw. The daily Nieuwe Rotterdamsche Courant qualified the songs as 'not unimportant'; the daily De Maasbode especially appraised the song 'Berlin' because of the 'typical atmosphere' evoked by the ‘foxtrot-background’.
Martinus Nijhoff's poetic fairy tale Pierrot aan den Lantaarn (Pierrot under the Lantern) inspired Sanders in the early 1920s to create a grand ensemble of musicians, dancers and reciters. The main characters of the piece are two clowns: the worrywart Pierrot (recited by Liesbeth Sanders-Herzberg) and Harlequin, a true optimist, whose dialogues refer to the meaninglessness of life and yet the necessity to make something of it. The play evoked a variety of reactions. The daily Nieuwe Rotterdamsche Courant observed that Nijhoff's 'witty and fine' poem 'did not thrive due to the overabundance of committed performers (…)', another daily, Algemeen Handelsblad (in the words of music journalist Herman Rutters) criticised Sanders' Gesamtkunstwerk: '( …) his music to me is anything but – music. It does not trigger any emotion, nor does it resonate: it shows no organic development, it lacks an inner musical structure. At best one can speak of cerebral refinement (…)'.On the other hand, Het Volk, Sanders’ own newspaper had an entirely different opinion: 'This work has something very refined and delicate, it is written with particular sensitivity, wonderful rhythm, timbre and mood. There is a wistful haze about the whole thing, without being sentimental. It is a very honest and sincere work (…)'. 
In 1935, Sanders set the Plan-Meispel to music; a spectacle created to draw attention to the SDAP's Plan van de Arbeid (Labour Plan). Written by economists Hein Vos and Jan Tinbergen, this project aimed to restore the crisis-ridden economy and to reduce unemployment. It was launched with a grand campaign that included the Plan-Meispel. The rousing 'Plan Song' on a text by Vos and Tinbergen, gained particular notoriety among socialists. It was sung from the heart at party rallies all over the Netherlands.
In the shadow of fascism
Already in the early 1930s, Sanders belonged to a small group of Dutch citizens who openly pointed out the danger of the Nazis. In the daily Het Volk he wrote about their 'blind and stupid terror' and the 'spiritual terrorism, by which the present German regime has forever brought upon itself indelible defamation.'
He helped exiled musicians make a living in the Netherlands, and in 1936 he co-organised the exhibition D.O.O.D. - De Olympiade Onder Dictatuur (D.E.A.T.H. - The Olympiad Under Dictatorship), a protest against Hitler's Olympic Games in Berlin. Several artworks were removed from the exhibition because the authorities considered them to be offensive to Hitler, a 'befriended head of state'.
As a Jew who had overtly resisted the Nazis since 1933, Sanders' life turned into a nightmare when Hitler annexed the Netherlands in May of 1940. He immediately took action by arranging a fake address and moving his books and art collection to acquaintances. In the fall of 1940, he and his Jewish colleagues were fired from Het Volk. He then started teaching courses in art and music history at the 'Instituut voor Geestelijke Zelfwerkzaamheid' (Institute for Spiritual Self-Help), an initiative of his former colleague, Bertus Schaper, who had resigned from Het Volk in protest against the dismissal of the Jewish employees. 'That was an invaluable moral support', Sanders later wrote in his memoirs. 'The work kept me intellectually engaged for months and also provided another welcome source of income.'
He also wrote anti-German pamphlets which he distributed in the art world. In 1942, he went into hiding with a German woman who would later become his second wife, the fierce anti-Nazi Hilde Surlemont. He spent his time composing and writing for De Vrije Kunstenaar (The Free Artist), a resistance magazine. In early 1945, he became involved in the founding of the Federatie van Kunstenaarsverenigingen (Federation of Artist Associations), an initiative of the artists' resistance movement. This federation intended to become the umbrella organisation for Dutch artists after the liberation, aiming for a more active and more social art policy. Within these ranks, they tried to figure out how to punish 'wrong' artists after the war. Those who had shunned the stage during wartime now deserved priority, according to Sanders and his friends. In their view the collaborators had to be sidelined for a while.
After the war
After the liberation, full of good cheer, Paul threw himself into new projects. The journalist Simon Carmiggelt had approached him in the final year of the war, enquiring, if once the Nazis were driven out, Paul would consider working for the underground newspaper Het Parool (they knew each other from Het Volk, Carmiggelt had also quit his job when his Jewish colleagues were fired). Sanders seized this opportunity with both hands, and thus resumed his work as a music critic in May 1945, now based on the social democratic principles of Het Parool and with a vibrant team of former resistance people. In June of 1945, he organised the first post-war concert Vrije Klanken (Free Sounds) in the Amsterdam Concertgebouw. This concert was dedicated to those musicians who refused to perform or were prohibited from activities during the occupation, including music by composers Hendrik Andriessen, Guillaume Landré, Bertus van Lier, Johanna Bordewijk-Roepman and Henriëtte Bosmans.
The survival of his son Ben brought joy, but he also grieved for the many murdered relatives, friends and acquaintances. And that wasn't the only thing that burdened him.
His commitment to the artists' purging, was a miserable failure. Many people who had registered with the Kultuurkamer felt unfairly punished: they reasoned after all, that they hadn’t been pro-German, but merely kept the arts alive. As one of the driving forces behind the purge in the music world, Paul faced major criticism. In a pamphlet he and Bertus van Lier were accused of blowing their own trumpet, while as Jews, they never had to face the dilemma the Kultuurkamer presented:
'(...) Mr. van Lier and Mr. Sanders, who by virtue of their descent, were prohibited from any public performance during the occupation, and consequently never were confronted with the dilemma to perform or not, and therefore lacked the opportunity to take action on the matter; have presented themselves before, but mainly after the liberation as the personification of the heroic and only correct attitude for musicians during the occupation, and as bearers and proclaimers of the one and only truth ( ...), in short as “les purs des purs” (the purest of the pure).'
In view of Sanders' acts of resistance, during and even long before the Nazis invaded the Netherlands, without hesitation that statement can be qualified as a farce.
Not only the pardoning of former collaborators but also the return of pre-war political divisions and the stubborn Dutch adherence to Indonesia: all of this angered Sanders. He and his allies from the artists’ resistance had cherished the ideals of reforming, however that proved to be unfeasible at that time. In 1947, he left for the United States where he started a new life as a correspondent for Het Parool.
Sanders did little composing after his emigration. He worked long hours in his home city New York and travelled frequently. He reported on the race riots and the developments within the United Nations, but also on musical happenings like the construction of Lincoln Center from the late 1950s onwards. Together with Bernard Wagenaar, Max Tak and Julius Hijman, Paul took a seat on the Committee for Netherlands Music, a sounding board for Dutch music in the United States. He continued to work until he was 71, and after retirement could hardly get used to this new phase of life. 'I am restless,' he wrote to his son and daughter-in-law; 'I spent my whole life among people and liked to exchange views on different subjects. I miss it that I don’t have the opportunity to go to town (…) and get fresh ideas and impressions, or discuss those I got from books.’ To some extent, his old passion for music provided a solution: 'I fight it playing the violin, what still gives me much joy. Now and then I try to compose, but unconsciously it turns out to be so complicated that I condemn it immediately to the waste-basket.' That his career had been too fragmented to do full justice to his musical talents, was aptly mentioned by Lex van Delden in a letter to Sanders. Reflecting on their musical careers, Van Delden wrote: 'For me it was about a true fulfilment of my existence. Whether you were equally satisfied, I doubt it, at least for now. And that hurts me more than I can express in black and white.' Van Delden stated that he wasn’t in any way doubting Sanders' value to him personally and to the Dutch music world:
'But I never would have made it this far if you hadn't given me the opportunity, dear Paul. I therefore repeat what I have so often emphasised in the past: to a considerable extent, I owe you my career, not only because you believed in me, but also because I could mirror you, and what you did for music in the broadest possible sense before the Second World War. I followed your actions long before we knew each other; you were a shining example to me ever since.'
 Paul F. Sanders, ‘Indrukken van het Parijse muziekleven (9)’, Het Volk, 22 Aug. 1925.
 Arthur van Dijk, ‘Een joodse componist in het interbellum’, De Groene Amsterdammer, 20 April 2002.
 Anon. [Willem Pijper], ‘Stravinsky-week’, Rotterdamsch Nieuwsblad, 2 March 1926.
 Anon., ‘Seroen – Cornelis’, Nieuwe Rotterdamsche Courant, 26 Nov. 1924.
 Anon., ‘Seroen – Cornelis – Mesritz’, De Maasbode, 26 Nov. 1924.
 Anon., ‘Vereeniging De Kring’, Nieuwe Rotterdamsche Courant, 9 May 1923.
 H.R., ‘Amsterd. Kunstkring “Voor Allen”’, Algemeen Handelsblad, 5 Feb. 1924.
 Brochure ‘Is dat zuivering’, p. 9-10.
 Letter dated 21 February 1972 private archive Ben Sanders, Falls Village, USA.
Letter dated 13 Sept. 1984, IISH, archive Paul F. Sanders, inv.nr 13.