Bosman di Ravelli Vere, Jan

BOSMAN DI RAVELLI VERE, Jan Gysbert Hugo Bosman 


b. Piketberg, 24 February, 1882

d. Somerset West, 20 May 1967


South African concert pianist and composer. Bosman adopted the pseudonym ‘Di Ravelli’ in 1902 in Leipzig, when he began his career as a concert pianist. His father was a Bosman of Bettelary in Stellenbosch.


Although his brother and sister had enjoyed music lessons, it never occurred to anyone the Jan Gysbert might be particularly musical. In Murraysburg in ca 1893, his sister ‘taught him his notes’. However, apart from accompaniments, he played nothing out the ordinary before he was 16 years old. Then, in the year before his final BA examination, he heard the spiritualized Chopin-playing of Apolline Niay in Cape Town and, by way of contrast, the physical virtuosity of Friedenthal. He deemed no other career but music to be possible after these experiences. In spite of great consternation on the part of his family, Bosman had his way. On 1 October 1899 he left for London and, after a short while, he moved to Leipzig, where he found himself among pro-Boer Germans (these were the years of the South African Anglo-Boer War) 


Bosman was fortunate in becoming popular in the aristocratic circles of Italy, Paris and Berlin and in making the acquaintance of persons who had the power to promote his career. In 1903, he went to Berlin where he made his debut with Chopin’s Second Piano Concerto, accompanied by Hesse and his chamber orchestra. This concert was followed by an extended tour through Germany that launched him on a career that took him to London, Paris, various German cities and the French spas. He had become the first South African to enjoy European success as a pianist. 

In September 1905, Bosman returned to South Africa to visit his parents and to establish himself in his native country. He gave many concerts in the Cape, the Free State and the Transvaal during the ensuing years. He also enjoyed the friendship and hospitality of several prominent citizens, such as Generals Smuts and Beyers.


Bosman was an advocate of the older church music repertoire. He also made important contributions to Die Brandwag (1910-1912), which represents pioneering writing on music by an Afrikaner. Disappointed at his lack of music advancement in South Africa he returned to Europe to resume his career as a pianist. Traveling with him was the talented composer of Afrikaans songs, Charles Nell and another musical Afrikaner, Lionel Meiring. Back in Munich, he taught them the basic techniques of playing the piano and then entrusted their studies to the guidance of other teachers. The First World War brought his career, now thriving again, almost to a standstill. He was in London when the War began, and took ill seriously in the epidemic of Spanish ‘flu after the war ended. He convalesced in Locarno (1919) and used his free time to study Arabic, supplementing his studies by delving into Hebrew, Chaldean, Samaritan, Syrian and later also Persian. One result of his studies was the compilation of an Arabic-English glossary for the Koran, which for a number of years was used at the Oriental School of London University; another was his translation of an Arabic travel book of the 12th century, which could not be published because another World War intervened; and thirdly he translated into English various poems from the time of Mohammed and earlier. His volume of English poems, In an Italian mirror, was written shortly after the First World War and published in 1921. In 1921, Bosman resumed his career as a concert pianist, performing in Paris, and in quick succession in five other French cities. During the approximately nine cold months each year, he gave up to 80 concerts, extending from Spain in the south to Scandinavia in the north. He used the summer months to prepare himself for the tours of the next year and to continue his oriental and classical studies. Florence became his home after 1932 but two years later, while preparing for a concert, he nearly lost his right arm in an accident. In February 1956 he decided to return to South Africa, and stayed with Maggie Laubscher in Somerset West. Rumours of his return spread rapidly after a radio broadcast about him in 1958. In 1959, the South African Academy elected him as an honorary life member and in 1964, his fable St Theodore and the crocodile was published. 


Three songs (1909):

1. The howenier 

2. Winternag 

3. Die velwindjie, dedicated respectively to G. Preller, Mrs Jan Smuts and Lady Rose-Innes 

Zulu wedding chant for piano, dedicated to General and Mrs Beyers (1910) 



Fantasie o’er die lewe van die komponis Chopin. 

Six articles published in Die Brandwag I, (31 May – 15 October 1910) 

Griekse en Gregoriaanse kerkmusiek. In: Die Brandwag (3/8 September 1912)

In an Italian mirror, a book of poetry (1921) 

Theodore and the crocodile (1964)

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