In memoriam Theo Verbey

02 Apr 2020

Written by: Ralf Pisters

Published in: The Dutch-Flemish Society for Music Theory (Vereniging voor Muziektheorie)

On 13 October 2019 Theo Verbey passed away, at the age of 60. Theo was a member of the DFSMT and, especially at the beginning of society’s existence, very involved in the its activities. He meant a great deal for Dutch music theory, above all in his role as a teacher of music theory, arranging and orchestration, a role that he fulfilled at both the Royal Conservatory in The Hague and at the Conservatorium van Amsterdam.

He was a beloved docent who always left a great impression upon his students with his broad and deep knowledge of the history and development of the art of instrumentation, as well as with his immaculate arrangements and orchestrations. He took his teaching duties extremely seriously. With every orchestration assignment he gave to his students he would completely work out his own solution, so that students each week could have a look into the workshop of the master. And for all of his students he meticulously noted down the results of their work, which we maintained for years afterwards as a way of following the fruits of his labor, and of that of the conservatory.

Theo was also held in high regard by his colleagues. No one could dispute his authority as theorist and orchestrator; and the thoughtful way in which he approached the students outside of his classroom was well known. And he showed the same kind of thoughtfulness in his daily contact with colleagues, which always displayed the utmost professionalism and well-informedness.

As a composer Theo held an important place in the Dutch musical landscape. His rich and accessible way of composing easily attracted musicians and the general public alike, and for him it was self-evident that his music would occupy a place within the Western Classical music tradition. You could say in turn that in his work you could clearly hear that he was also a theorist. As such he belonged to a dying species, the composer-theorist: in the Netherlands he was one of the last binding factors between two disciplines that have been bound to one another since time immemorial.

For those who were fortunate enough to know Theo personally, you would know that he was not very different at home than he was in his classroom: extremely engaging and gentle, sometimes reserved, but always cordial. He enjoyed conversation over a glass of wine about his favorite topics —music of course, but also literature, politics and his home Amsterdam —and always did so with the utmost respect, even when it concerned a difference of opinion. Even if he had a clear opinion about a topic, he was always nuanced and he never doled out a quick judgement.

His gentle and careful nature, his helpfulness, his keen spirit and his knowledge of the music which was dear to him will be remembered by all who were fortunate enough to cross paths with him.