In the 1960s and 70s, he was a veritable pop star, the Dutch daily Het Parool once headlining that ‘Frans Brüggen, recorder, draws audiences in miniskirts and jeans to concert hall’.
After rescuing the recorder from its humdrum image, he later turned increasingly to conducting and in 1981 founded the Orchestra of the Eighteenth Century, whose aim is to rediscover the expressivity of early music through the use of historical instruments and tuning.
During a public debate at the Krasnapolsky Hotel in Amsterdam in 1970, Brüggen made the infamous remark that ‘every note by Mozart and Beethoven that the Concertgebouw Orchestra plays is a lie from A to Z’. At the time, he was closely connected with a circle of young composers who would come to be known as the Notenkrakers (Nutcrackers), protesting against authoritarianism and conservative programming at the Concertgebouw.
His attitude gradually softened, however. Brüggen first led the Concertgebouw Orchestra in 1978, conducting works by Bach, alternating with music by Schoenberg and Hindemith led by Reinbert de Leeuw. Brüggen also conducted performances of Bach’s St John Passion in 1990 and 1992.
In 1991, he led the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra in a Mozart commemorative concert in Amsterdam and Utrecht which he also conducted in Salzburg during the official commemoration week of the 200th anniversary of the composer’s birth. Brüggen last conducted the orchestra in May 2002, again in an all-Mozart programme. With Frans Brüggen’s passing, the orchestra feels the loss of a truly great and colourful musician.