Henk Badings was born in Java when it was still a Dutch colony; he later acknowledged the influence of Indonesian music heard in childhood as the source for his adult interest in microtonal scales. Both of Badings' parents died when he was young, and Badings' guardian activity discouraged his aspiration to become a composer. When Badings finally matriculated, it was to the Delft University of Technology to become a mining engineer. By the time Badings began to study privately with Willem Pijper, Pijper was astonished to discover that Badings already had learned the requisite tools for composing and merely needed instruction in orchestration; Badings' Symphony No. 1 (1930) was premiered while he was still a student and it would prove the first in a cycle of 11 symphonies.
When Badings graduated from Delft in 1931, he initially turned to geology and engineering, the trades for which he studied, but the desire to compose proved too strong. The 1930s and early 1940s were years in which Badings' commissions began to increase steadily, and from 1935, he began to teach as well. Badings accepted the position of head at the Royal Conservatory of the Hague from the Nazi-controlled Dutch government in 1942, replacing of the sitting director, who was Jewish; although this did not make Badings a "Nazi collaborator" in the conventional sense, this decision would have fatal ramifications concerning Badings' later career. At war's end, Badings' involvement with the Nazis was reviewed by a military tribunal and he was censured for two years, but in 1947, Badings was permitted to pursue his career as composer and teacher, much as before. Badings' Symphony No. 3 (1943) was one of the most popular European orchestral works in the postwar period and it opened many doors for him.
Always interested in the possibilities of electronic music, Badings established an electronic music studio in Eindhoven in cooperation with the Philips Corporation in 1956. He also took a strong interest in the form of radio opera, and between 1954 and 1960 produced six operas, three of them for radio, beginning with Oreste (1954); this work won the Prix d'Italia and was broadcast on the BBC. By 1960, Badings was essentially the best-known Dutch composer in the world, accepting and fulfilling commissions from the U.K. and in the United States, where he enjoyed a long relationship with the American Wind Orchestra led by Robert Boudreau. In the late '60s, however, renewed interest in Badings' ties to the Nazis surfaced, and new allegations suggested that Badings' complicity during the occupation was greater than he had acknowledged to the tribunal. It hardly affected Badings outside of Holland, where his music continued to be heard and where he held a teaching position at the Hochschüle für Musik in Stuttgart, not to mention honorary citizenship in the United States. However, the allegations permanently devastated his reputation in Holland: Badings' music was banned from Dutch radio and his music disappeared from the concert halls. Still permitted to teach, Badings' students highly valued his insights; among them was composer Ton de Leeuw. However, the longterm result of his eclipse is that Badings' name, even at the time of his centenary in 2007, remains practically unknown in Holland, even though it appears on practically all short lists of great Dutch composers.
Badings composed more than 1,000 works and wrote for practically every instrumental combination available to him. Among his electronic works, his Capriccio for solo violin and two soundtracks (1959) was a particularly significant milestone in electro-acoustic music. Badings also devised his own 31-note system of microtones based on experiences gathered from hearing music in Indonesia. Badings' music never shied away from advanced techniques, but he had an innate sense of formal development, a preference for luxuriant textures, and a taste for exoticism; his music is highly appealing, yet doesn't sound dated. Badings was an autodidact who was able to function at the highest levels of academic teaching, in itself a relatively rare situation.