Jan van Vlijmen
Jan van Vlijmen
In 1984 he was appointed director of the Nederlandse Opera, which he left, following disagreements over government funding policy, in 1987. From 1990 to 1997 he was director of the Holland Festival. During the 1960s van Vlijmen drew attention for his involvement in the turbulent debate about the Dutch cultural establishment. He collaborated on the opera Reconstructie with Louis Andriessen, Peter Schat, Misha Mengelberg and Reinbert de Leeuw (with whom he also later worked on his second opera, Axel). Van Vlijmen’s own development as a composer came initially from the serialism of the Second Viennese School, and soon after from postwar developments, as exemplified in particular by Pierre Boulez’s Structures and Karlheinz Stockhausen’s Carré and Gruppen, whose concept of groups is reflected in his Gruppi of 1962. However, van Vlijmen was never a slavish follower of serial thought, and already by the Serenata II for flute and four instrumental groups (1964) classic pointillist textures had given way to almost uninterrupted ebb-and-flow continuity.
This is evident too in the Sonata for piano and three instrumental groups (1966), which further exhibits an explicit harmonic rhythm, as essential as the derivation procedures applied to the opening material in the piece. In Omaggio a Gesualdo (1971) and the Wind Quintet no.2 (1972) a continuing use of serialism is coupled with more overt references to harmonic processes and allusions to tonality. The third part of the wind quintet, for example, displays the use of triads, which are, however, distributed in the texture in such a way that their conventional effect remains barely apparent. In this exploration of tonal–atonal ambivalence, van Vlijmen’s music points in the direction conceptually, though by no means stylistically, of Richard Wagner, whose principle of unendliche Melodie is intriguingly fused with serial methods, cantus firmus technique and harmonic progression in the evening-long four-part Quaterni I–IV (1979–1985). Elements of this many-sided approach are also evident in the string quartet Trimurti (1980, rev.
1981), Faithful for solo viola (1984) and the Piano Concerto (1991). In the imposing Inferno (1991–1993), a cantata for three instrumental and four vocal groups based on texts by Dante, van Vlijmen achieves a highly personal synthesis of a range of stylistic sources. Richly detailed, the musical language remains a clear and precisely judged amalgam of atonality, serial thinking and non-functional tonality. Despite a capricious and dramatic nature, Inferno is characterized above all by a lyrical and poignant melos which has its parallel in similar works by Dallapiccola, Luciano Berio and Boulez.
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