‘Borstlap’s Avatâra: a demanding piece in a rather impressionistic idiom, combining an extremely fast basic element with the utmost refinement and subtlety of expression.’ NRC Handelsblad More »


‘In his Fantasia, Borstlap turns towards a form of new tonality. Sonorous homophonic lines....... expressive and melancholic arpeggio’s..... A magic sound texture.’ Heilbrunner Stimme More »

His music

‘In his music, John Borstlap combines great craftmanship with the utmost original thematic material. It is remarkable how refreshing new tonal music can be.’ Mens & Melodie More »

Hyperion’s Dream, Night Music and Capriccio

‘Hyperion’s Dream, Night Music and Capriccio (a traditional horn trio) are works which seem closer to Brahms and Schumann than to the threshold of the new millenium. More »


John Borstlap’s ‘Psyche’: A sonorous piece, based upon a theme by Wagner but worked-out in a very personal way, and in a more or less late-romantic style....... with interesting, often soft, sound colours emerging from the orchestra.’ Tubantia More »


‘Unusual piece....... Borstlap’s Sinfonia succeeded remarkably well in establishing a contact with the audience..... Work of great quality.’ Utrechts Nieuwsblad More »


‘The sonata by John Borstlap is a remarkable work with a seemingly improvisatory, refined and effective, shadow-like texture.’ Haarlems Dagblad More »

THE CLASSICAL REVOLUTION Thoughts on new music in the 21st century


Second, revised and expanded edition published by Dover Publications, New York, in 2017 (first edition by the Scarecrow Press / Rowman & Littlefield, Lanham / USA in 2013)


The subject matter of ‘The Classical Revolution’ is the current emerging of a new music, which is rooted in premodernist tonal traditions. In painting, figurative realism – which was marginalized by modernism (abstract art, concept art) but never entirely disappeared – is enjoying a revival; a couple of contemporary architects are increasingly successful in recreating something of the classical tradition in building (Krier, Terry, Adams, Greenberg), in spite of fierce opposition from a conventional establishment. And now also in serious music, ideas of revival and restoration are appearing – somewhat later than in the other art forms, as usual. There has already been written about new figurative painting and new classical architecture, but new classical music is still a rather virginal territory.


Given the state of contemporary culture, the idea of a revival of classical, tonal music may seem to be a rather cavalier idea, and without much perspective of succeeding. But often it is exactly the dissatisfaction with the times which inspires the search for a better alternative:

Someone then might say: “What is all this, my friend? Have you determined to revive a custom that is beset with inherent difficulty and has long since fallen into desuetude? And this in the face of a hostile and recalcitrant fortune? Whence do you draw such confidence that you would decorate the Roman Capitol with new and unaccustomed laurels? Do you not see what a task you have undertaken in attempting to attain the lonely steeps of Parnassus and the inaccessible grove of the Muses?” Yes, I do see, oh my dear sirs; I do indeed see this, oh Roman citizens. “Sed me Parnasi deserta per ardua dulcis raptat amor,” as I said at the outset. For the intensity of my longing is so great that it seems to me sufficient to enable me to overcome all the difficulties that are involved in my present task.

Words by the brilliant Italian poet Francesco Petrarca (1304 – 1374), one of the earliest humanists.

A world without a past

The architect Léon Krier with a thought experiment in the introduction of his polemic, ‘Architecture: Choice or Fate’:

If, one day, for some mysterious reason, all the buildings, settlements, suburbs and structures built after 1945 – especially those commonly called ‘modern’- vanished from the face of the earth, would we mourn their loss? Would the disappearance of prefabricated tower blocks, mass housing estates, commercial strips, business parks, motorway junctions, modular university campusses, schools, and new towns, damage the identity of our favorite cities and landscapes?

If, on the other hand, some parallel phenomenon destroyed in one fell swoop the whole of our pre – World War II architectural heritage, namely all ‘historic’ buildings, hamlets, villages, and cities, what would be the significance of such an event?

In terms of real estate volume, both heritages are approximately equal; comparing them globally as alternatives allows us to appreciate the fundamental differences in their nature: their specific symbolic, aesthetic, civilising and emotional qualities, their power of attraction, identification and repulsion. Has so-called ‘modern’ architecture, with its insatiable drive for autonomy, its cultivation of the ‘tabula rasa’ approach and celebration of change and revolution, really liberated us from our ‘historic’ past? Or has it made us more dependent?

Mysteries of creation

“All of us, to some extent, borrow from others, from the culture around us. Ideas are in the air, and we may appropriate, often without realizing, the phrases and language of the times. We borrow language itself; we did not invent it. We found it, we grew up into it, though we may use it, interpret it, in very individual ways. What is at issue is not the fact of “borrowing” or “imitating,” of being “derivative,” being “influenced,” but what one does with what is borrowed or imitated or derived; how deeply one assimilates it, takes it into oneself, compounds it with one’s own experiences and thoughts and feelings, places it in relation to oneself, and expresses it in a new way, one’s own.” Thus the late, great neurologist and poet of science Oliver Sacks.

Reviving the Muse

“Tradition is a succession of successful innovations.” – Pier Carlo Bontempi

Who is Bontempi? He is a contemporary architect, like Léon Krier, Quinlan and Francis Terry, Alan Greenberg et al who cultivate new traditional building, based upon older styles and methods.



Everywhere, new architecture which revives older styles is bubbling-up: in America and England of course (since it has never entirely disappeared there), in Poland, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Ireland.

Intention, expression, aesthetics

As music is intentionally a kind of language, meant to share a musical vision (even the most abstract works like some Renaissance polyphony or fugues by J.S. Bach), a vision which is meant to be experienced emotionally, the performance context is defined by expectations of listening where communication is at the centre. We know that the means through which musical communication travels, is tonality, i.e. the interrelated system whereby individual notes derive their meaning from the location in the tonal network, forming a whole with different layers of coherence. With sonic art, i.e. atonal modernism, it is the level of pure sound and its ordering which forms the communication: ‘the medium is the message’. Although the sonic surface may be structured in an aesthetic way, as to create an aesthetic impression, this impression differs from the communication which forms the heart of the art of music.

Contemporary music risks

There hangs around classical music, and especially around its subspecies: contemporary music, an atmosphere of initiation: the listener has to know something about it to experience it to the full. Therefore people with knowledge of classical music, and especially contemporary music, are often considered ‘special’ or / and ‘elitist’, invoking feelings of inferiority with people who never go to classical music concerts, let alone new music concerts, but who do go to the new films, know about the new fiction that is reviewed in their newspaper and occasionally visit the museums of modern art. In contrast with contemporary visual art, of which we only see in the big museums the concept art variety and not the contemporary figurative painting, contemporary art music operates in the margins of the margins of the central performance culture. Its audiences are remarkably small when compared to the visitors of concept art exhibitions. Also, the money which is going around in the ‘contemporary art market’ is astonishing, and devastatingly different from the money which is spent on contemporary music – with the exception of the Netherlands where millions of euros are spent by the government on concept music which has practically no audience at all.

Museums of modern art draw thousands of visitors, in spite of the mostly unbearable nonsense on show there. Why this abyssmal difference?

Prescribing art

“Making and consuming art lifts our spirits and keeps us sane. Art, like science and religion, helps us make meaning from our lives, and to make meaning is to make us feel better.”

That the arts can be benefitting for our health, has been known for ages, in fact: in Antiquity this was already common understanding. Now, a report in the UK has offered some more concrete evidence:


Aesthetic perception and nature

Some strange facts of life have a strong meaning, for example that proportions in nature conform to certain mathematical principles, which in turn can be grasped by the human mind – i.e. in the human mind there is a receptive system of mathematical properties which lay at the heart of natural formation. Our mind is part of natural evolution and the laws along which it proceeds. This implies, among other things in the cultural field, that tonal relations in music are grounded in nature, and that the beauty of musical works is related to both how the human mind works, and how nature is structured.

Classical music and humanism

Classical music is often considered as an art form which embodies humanistic and ethic ideals, and is supposed to inspire moral awareness in its listeners. This aspirational vision of serious music is one of the results of the Enlightenment as it developed at the end of the 18th century, when in aesthetic theory ‘the artist’ became an ‘independent entity’ and no longer a mere craftsman in the service of church, court and nobility. This vision formed an important strand in 19th culture, where it had to struggle with the reactions the Enlightenment’s  sometimes dry rationalism provoked, inadvertedly stimulating romanticism with its vague but profound  emotional urges, so strongly disqualified by Goethe.