Jan Engelman (1900-1972)

The performance on 15 February 1926 of the Brazilian soprano Vera Janacopoulos sent Engelman into ecstasies. He expressed his admiration in his review for the Utrecht daily Het Centrum and in the periodical* De Gemeenschap*. Janacopoulos's fabulous voice and unparalleled musicality inspired him to write a poem bearing the adored singer's name. It was first published in the Sine Nomine collection (Utrecht 1930), and reprinted in the Tuin van Eros collection (Amsterdam 1932). Its publication evoked immediate and violent reactions. The poet Anthonie Donker called it the 'end of poetry’ (...) 'the language is void' (...) 'it is a barren imitation of music". Its champions, on the other hand, praised its musicality to the skies. The writer Victor van Vriesland called it ‘a lulling, stunning incantation, so lovable and light as a butterfly, as to silence all critical considerations’. That versatile man of letters, Simon Vestdijk, considered it ‘one of the apogees of sound refinement reached by Dutch poetry’ (...) ‘everything sounds so mellifluous, so graceful, so ethereal and dreamlike, that we truly imagine hearing music, ‘real’ music’. Its champions have been proved right by literary history: the poem was adopted in its canon, and thanks to the literary history periods in secondary education the product of Engelman's creative imagination has become the prototype of a musical poem, a cantilena.

Engelman presented this transcript of his famous poem to the patron of arts and bibliophile Radermacher Schorer. They were friends, sitting on various committees in support of writers they knew, and were both board members of the Provinciaal Utrechts Genootschap.

Schorer bequeathed his immense collection of literary works, including beautifully designed bibliophile editions by Dutch typographers, to the Koninklijke Bibliotheek for the prospective Museum van het Boek. It is now the nucleus of the holdings of modern bibliophile works of the Rijksmuseum Meermanno-Westreenianum/Museum van het Boek.

'Vera Janacopoulos'. Jan Engelman (1900-1972). S.l.e.a. Paper, 339 x 216 mm. Provenance: bequest of M.R. Radermacher Schorer, 1960. 135 B 39

'Vera Janacopoulos'. Jan Engelman (1900-1972). S.l.e.a. Paper, 339 x 216 mm. Provenance: bequest of M.R. Radermacher Schorer, 1960. 135 B 39


L. Brummel, 'Jhr. Matthieu René Radermacher Schorer', in: Jaarboek van de Maatschappij der Nederlandsche Letterkunde te Leiden 1958-1959, p. 85-91
J.H. Cartens. Jan Engelman. Brugge 1960 (Ontmoetingen, 20)
H. Stevens, 'Ambrosia, wat vloeit mij aan? Het perspectief van een gedicht', in: De Revisor 12 (1985), p. 53-61.