South African composer, critic and translator. She received her first musical instruction from her mother. Her later teachers included Dirk Meerkotter, Ellen Norburn and Stephanie Faure. Nepgen studied at the university of the Witwatersrand, where she was subsequently appointed to a teaching post. She also acted as organist for the Dutch Reformed Church in the Johannesburg suburb of Melville, and taught piano to the children of Hendrik Verwoerd (later Prime Minister of South Africa, and one of the principal architects of apartheid). Nepgen married the Afrikaans poet William Ewart Gladstone Louw in 1944, with whom she had two sons. They moved to Grahamstown when Louw was appointed Professor of Afrikaans and Dutch at Rhodes University, then to Cape Town in 1957 when Louw was made Art Editor of the Afrikaans newspaper Die Burger. Louw aspired to make the arts section of Die Burger comparable to the leading European newspapers, and was in this remarkably successful; Nepgen contributed occasional concert reviews.  In 1954, the Louws made an extended visit to Europe, during which time Nepgen studied at the Amsterdam Conservatory under Ernst Mulder, Peter Frankl and Henk Badings. Louw was appointed Professor at the University of Stellenbosch in 1966; the family moved there two years later. Nepgen published a complete book of four-part psalm settings in 1966, using the Afrikaans translation by Totius, but mostly set to original melodies from the Genevan psalm books of the mid-16th century. The major part of Nepgen’s oeuvre comprises settings of Afrikaans poetry for voice and piano, and includes many songs to texts by her husband and his brother, the poet N. P. van Wyk Louw. Her style, which remained largely tonal, displays the influence of the Hindemith of the late 1930s and 1940s. A certain gift for melody of a Neo-Classical slant is often hampered by a lack of convincing harmonic direction. Commissions included one from the King’s Singers in 1972.


Together with her husband, Nepgen translated the text of Handel’s Messiah into Afrikaans (published by Novello). In later years, Nepgen learnt Italian, and translated many poems by the Nobel Prize winner Eugenio Montale, with whom she was acquainted. Nepgen’s music earned little praise, but much criticism from her male composing colleagues; however, this is perhaps not least due to her status as the wife of one of the leading cultural figures in Afrikanerdom. The aesthetic aspirations of Nepgen and her husband were pilloried by Hennie Aucamp in his short story ‘Die Sous’. W.E.G. Louw died in 1980.



Instrumental Works:

Vroeë aand, orch, 1937


Drie verhale, vn, pf, 1940


Fugal phantasy, pf, 1937


Sonata, pf, 1937


Choral Works:

In Salamis (Euripedes, tran. T. J. Haarhoff), chorus, orch, 1937


The Three Marys (Coventry mystery play), solo vv, orch, 1938


Die dieper reg, cantata for solo vv, orch (N. P. van Wyk Louw), 1943


Die passie van ons Heer, cantata for solo vv, orch (William Ewart Gladstone Louw), 1954


Vocal Works:

Songs (for voice and piano):


Seisoene bring sagvoetige Adonis (T. J. Haarhoff), 1928; The West wind (John Masefield), 1928; Farewell to a friend (Li-Po), 1929; Geen serpentyn of lapis lazuli (C. L. Leipoldt), 1929;


Principal publishers: N.G. Kerk-Uitgewers, Nasionale Pers Bpk, Alsbach

NEPGEN, Rosa Sophia Cornelia


(b Barkly East, 12 Dec 1909, d 2001)