Jan Gerard Palm, one of the Caribbean's most prominent 19th century composers, was born on 2 June 1831 at the island of Curaçao. Palm is often referred to as the "Father of Curacao's classical music". By a relatively young age, Jan Gerard Palm had already directed several music ensembles. In 1859, he was appointed music director of the citizen's guard orchestra in Curacao. Jan Gerard Palm played several musical instruments such as piano, organ, lute, clarinet, flute and mandolin. As an organist, Palm played for many years in the Jewish synagogue Emanu-El and Mikvé Israel, the Protestant Fort Church and the Lodge Igualdad in Curacao. Jan Gerard Palm was also a regular contributor to the widely read and influential periodical Notas y Letras (Notes and Letters). This periodical was issued in Curacao in the period 1886-1888, with numerous subscribers throughout Latin America and the Caribbean.
Europe is very well known for its famous Strauss and Bach dynasty. In Curacao, the word Palm almost became a synonym for music. When Jan Gerard Palm died at the age of 75, on 13 December 1906, gifted musicians and composers of the Palm family such as Rudolph Palm (1880-1950), John Palm (1885-1925), Toni Palm (1885-1963) and Jacobo Palm (1887-1982) followed in the footsteps set by their maestro and grandfather and further passed this tradition on to their own descendants.
As a composer, Jan Gerard Palm can be characterized as both original and productive. One of his well known statements used to be that a good composition should include at least one surprising change. His waltzes and mazurkas can be characterized by a rich use of harmonic variations. His polkas, marches and galop reveal his buoyant life style. Palm was also often progressive, in the sense of not being afraid of using chords that were relatively unusual for his time. The rhythms that he wrote for each of his danzas are typically complex, very creole and sensual. In the dominantly prudish 19th century, Jan Gerard Palm was the only composer who dared to write erotic tumbas.
Alongside dance music written for the piano, Palm also wrote larger works for the orchestra and for piano and violin. Examples of the latter are the fantasies and serenades in this music collection. This collection also includes several pieces written by Palm for services in the synagogue, the protestant church and the Lodge.
In 2006, the 175th anniversary of the birth of the Curacao-born composer Jan Gerard Palm (1831-1906) was commemorated. At that time I took the initiative to start a project to collect, process and publish all the still existing scores of my ancestor Jan Gerard Palm. An exploration of 19th century journals searching for reviews about concerts that took place in Curaçao and an examination of various other musical sources made clear that Palm had written at least 181 compositions. In the subsequent phase of the project, numerous archives and individuals who potentially possessed Jan Gerard Palm scores were approached. This exploration phase resulted in a collection of 147 scores written by Jan Gerard Palm. Some were severely damaged, but fortunately the majority being still in a relatively good condition. This music collection includes a substantial subset of the works that were discovered.
I gratefully acknowledge the people and organizations who have contributed to bringing together and realizing this publication. In particular I would like to thank Marie Gil-Debrot for providing copies from the Elsa Debrot-Palm music collection, Anthony Palm and Stephen Palm for giving me the opportunity to search the Edgar Palm collection, Wim Statius Muller for providing copies from his own collection and Janice Godschalk for helping search the archives of the Mikvé Israël-Emanuel synagogue. Further, the Archivo Nashonal of the Netherlands Antilles, the S.A.L. (Mongui) Maduro Foundation, the congregation Mikve Israel-Emanuel and the Central Library in The Hague (collection Antilliana) provided copies of unique compositions by Jan Gerard Palm.
Special thanks go to Kamaran Majid Tawfiq who professionally digitized all the scores. I would also like to thank chazzan Avery Tracht who helped me with the Hebrew texts of the songs that Jan Gerard Palm had composed for services in the Synagogue. My most sincere thanks go to my cousin Robert Rojer who meticulously helped me to review all the subsequent digitized versions. With his profound knowledge of music he was an ideal choice as editor of this collection of music compositions by our great-great-grandfather.
Johannes I.M. Halman
Notes from the editor
In the table of contents the names of pieces which were directly taken from the original hand written scores of the composer are printed in italics. For the remainder we made use of scores that were published in Notas y Letras (1886-1888) or that were copied by other musicians (often his descendants) during the past 150 years.
The following remarks may be of special interest to performers who would like to play from this music collection. In Palm's time, the rhythmical pulse of dance music only partly depended on the pianist's left hand. Additional instruments such as bass and cuarta (a four-string guitar) were at least as important. Accordingly, the composer, when writing down the score for the piano part, often left some space for the combined and improvised actions of these instrumentalists. As a consequence, it is at the discretion of pianists whether they choose to play the first notes of the left hand bars as single notes or as octaves. And, if they would prefer to play these octaves using the middle ("tenor") or the lower ("bass") section of the keyboard. These left hand variations are only allowed provided the notes themselves are not altered and if the countermelody in the bass remains at all times intact and discernible. It was only in a very limited number of cases that the left hand score was not polished by Jan Gerard Palm to perfection.
A similar observation can be made about the designations octava alta (elevation of the stave by one octave) and con octava (playing with octaves) which were often used in a seemingly indiscriminate manner. One typical case is in the third part of the danza Beshimanto. The right hand score of this danza can be played using only single notes or equally well using octaves. Both sound excellent, but in entirely different ways. As editor, I solved this dilemma by adjoining the version with octaves as an ossia. In respect of this issue it is of particular significance that Jan Gerard Palm had an unusual fondness for octaves. Melodic parts were often rendered by him as pianissimo played octaves. During his life, Jacobo Palm, one of his most talented pupils, once played Jan Gerard Palm's waltz Engelenzang using cords consisting of thirds and sixths. The composer told his grandson that he preferred the rendition with octaves, exactly as it was written.
Robert A. Rojer