Paul van Katwijk, pianist, composer, and educator, was born in Rotterdam in the Netherlands on December 7, 1885. He was the son of Johannes van Katwijk and Catharina (Scholten) van Katwijk. His earliest musical instruction was with Georg Rijken in Rotterdam. In 1904, after five years of study, he graduated from the Royal College of Music in The Hague. His instructors included Carl Oberstadt (piano) and Laurent Angenot (violin). Van Katwijk went on to study composition with William Klatte and piano with Leopold Godowsky at Berlin’s Stern Conservatory (1906–08). Godowsky, one of the most eminent pianists of his day, became van Katwijk’s chief mentor. Van Katwijk concluded his musical training at the Imperial Academy of Music and the Performing Arts in Vienna (1908–11) after Godowsky moved there from Berlin. Through Godowsky, van Katwijk toured as piano accompanist for the noted Belgian violinist Cesar Thompson.
Van Katwijk taught for two years in Europe, including one year at the National Conservatory in Helsinki, Finland, when he was a colleague of Jean Sibelius, one of Europe’s foremost composers. In a letter of recommendation for van Katwijk, Sibelius termed his young colleague “a most outstanding pianist.” Van Katwijk moved to the United States in 1912 and received an appointment as a professor of piano at Christian College in Columbia, Missouri. He only taught there for one year before moving to Chicago to teach at the Sherwood Music School. He spent only a year at most in Chicago before being named head of the piano department at Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa. Van Katwijk taught at Drake for four years and also conducted the Des Moines Symphony throughout that time.
In 1918 van Katwijk accepted a similar position in the piano department of Southern Methodist University in Dallas. After his first year heading the department, van Katwijk was named as dean of the school of music and served in that capacity for the next thirty years. After stepping down as dean in 1949, he returned to head the piano department until he retired in 1955. However, he had a select number of private students for the remainder of his life; several of his students had accomplished careers in performing and teaching. Van Katwijk inspired such loyalty that, as early as 1928, his students and former students formed the Van Katwijk Music Club and Junior Van Katwijk Club, which held competitions and gave scholarships for many years.
Van Katwijk, who became a naturalized U. S. citizen in 1921, led a very active role in the musical community of Dallas. Some of his early performances in the area included other Dallas musicians and composers, including an accomplished pianist named Viola Beck. Van Katwijk and Beck married on July 15, 1922, and she joined him on the music faculty of SMU. From 1922 to 1925 van Katwijk served as conductor for the Dallas Municipal Opera. His time in Dallas also included an eleven-year stint as the (unsalaried) music director of the Dallas Symphony Orchestra (DSO) from 1925 through 1936. The orchestra performed his orchestral suite Hollandia on March 15, 1931. In 1933 he conducted the DSO in conjunction with a performance by the noted dance company of Theodore Kosloff; soon thereafter, Kosloff selected Hollandia for one of his company’s performances at the Hollywood Bowl. In addition to his duties with the DSO, van Katwijk conducted the Dallas Oratorio Society, the Dallas Civic Opera, and numerous operas and oratorios at SMU.
Even with his teaching and conducting duties, van Katwijk nevertheless performed frequently and gave recitals across Texas and in cities throughout the U.S., including Los Angeles (where he twice conducted the Los Angeles Symphony Orchestra at the Hollywood Bowl), Boston, St. Louis, Chicago, and Minneapolis. He was a soloist with the symphonies of the latter three cities as well as with those of Houston and New Orleans.
Van Katwijk was a prolific composer, with more than a dozen published works. Hollandia was performed by the Wiesbaden Symphony Orchestra in Germany and was also nationally broadcast over the most powerful radio station in the Netherlands when performed by that nation’s Groningen Symphony Orchestra.
A member of many professional societies and organizations, Van Katwijk belonged to the Texas Composers Guild, Pi Kappa Lambda, Phi Mu Alpha Sinfonia, and the Dallas Music Teachers Association (for which he had served as president). He also helped organize the Texas Music Teachers Association. He received numerous awards, including the Texas Music Teachers Association’s Texas Teacher of the Year award (1962) and several teaching awards from SMU. Noted Dallas music critic John Rosenfield proclaimed him “one of the best nine teachers of piano in the nation.” In 1961 the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra of Amsterdam presented a Certificate of Merit to Van Katwijk “who faithfully expressed in his great contributions as a conductor, teacher, composer, and pianist, the ideals of this orchestra and of our country.”
At the age of eighty-nine, Paul van Katwijk died of heart disease in Dallas on December 11, 1974. He was buried in Hillcrest Memorial Park in Dallas. The Paul van Katwijk Piano Scholarship Fund was established in his honor at SMU as well as the Van Katwijk Award.