See also:

My Artistic Truth

My Spiritual Truth

My Pedagogical Truth


As an organist, improviser and composer Willem Tanke never belonged to any school. He developed himself based on a passage from Forkel's biography on Bach (1802), in which Bach's way of playing the organ is 

described: with very small movements of hands and feet only. This became also the basis for his technique as an improvising and composing pianist. 


At home, Willem Tanke practises on a Hauptwerk console with the digitalised sound of historical organs in Arlesheim, Tholen and Caen. Besides an extremely realistic sound, this instrument has a very precise and sensitive action that does full justice to every nuance of toucher. In addition he has a restored Bechstein grand piano, built in 1908.


Dutch version: biografie

Before Willem Tanke's professional studies, the organ became his favourite instrument through inspiring lessons by Rudi van Straten. This and and the music of J. S. Bach, Olivier Messiaen and John Coltrane were the reasons for Willem Tanke to become a musician. He studied organ and improvisation with Jan Welmers, music theory with Joep Straesser and electronic music with Ton Bruynel at Utrecht Conservatory. In 1985, he finished his studies with the Performance Diploma for Organ with full marks (the grade of 10 and honours), and also with diplomas for music theory and improvisation. 

In the early part of his career, Willem Tanke specialized in organ works by Olivier Messiaen, Max Reger and contemporary Dutch composers. His CD recordings of Messiaen's oeuvre, Reger's Variationen und Fuge über ein Originalthema Op. 73 and organ works by Jan Welmers, Ton Bruynel and Roderik de Man have been critically acclaimed. Since the late '90s, Willem Tanke has been regarded as a leading Messiaen interpreter.

In the 21st century, Willem Tanke became increasingly known as an improviser and a performing composer. His CDs My friend the Indian and other pieces, Imaginary Day, Two Wind Fantasies and Meditations for a Lent show an original and innovative way of organ playing. The music critic Ralph Blakely regarded Willem Tanke in the American Record Guide, Nov./Dec. 2007, as a leading musician in the 21st century. 

Willem Tanke was a professor of organ as a main subject at Utrecht University of Professional Arts Education from 1988 until 2000. Since 2001, he has been teaching at Codarts, University for the Arts, Rotterdam; actually as a professor of improvisation and theory. In 2017, he started the innovative course Soulful Grooves in the 21st Century, in which students and teachers from the classical, world music, jazz and pop academies participate.  

As an artist, Willem Tanke has two main projects: deepening the interpretation of organ works by Bach and —with the help of this— exploring new fields of of improvisation and composition, solo and with other musicians. As a pianist, he stretches the boundaries of avant-garde jazz and contemporary classical music, among other things by playing complex, innovative grooves with his left hand, and using bird song passages by Messiaen in an entirely new context.

The year 2016 marked an essential change in Willem Tanke's musicianship. From then onwards he considers music making primarily as a spiritual activity. This gives his Bach interpretation an extra dimension in terms of supplesse and soulfulness, making him also a prominent Bach-interpreter. 


In 2017 Willem Tanke founded ROOT-C: Rotterdam Out Of Time Company for performances of his music projects, like The Enchanted Desert, for organ, flute, percussion and with dance and performance.

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Subpages (1): Dutch version biography
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