Robert de Roos

Robert de Roos was born on March 10, 1907 in the Hague and died there on March 18, 1976.

He studied piano, violin and viola at the Royal Conservatory and received composition lessons from Johan Wagenaar. After his graduation, he travelled to Paris and studied privately with Darius Milhaud (composition), Isidor Philipp (piano), Charles Koechlin and Roland Manuel (canons) and Pierre Monteux (conducting). Later, he studied with Hermann Scherchen (conducting) and Sem Dresden (orchestration).

From 1946 to 1956, he was the Cultural Attaché at the Dutch Embassy in Paris and in 1957 he was named Frist Secretary for Press and Cultural Affairs at the Embassy in Caracas, Venezuela.

In 1961, he was accredited with this same function in Bogotá, Quito, La Paz en Lima; after this, he was part of the Embassy council for Press and Cultural Affairs and head of the information department and Cultural Affairs in Londen.

From 1967 to 1973, he was part of the Embassy council form Press and Cultural Affairs in Buenos Aires, also accredited to Asunción (Paraguay) and head of the Dutch Information Bureau for Latin America. In 1973, he returned to the Netherlands.

As a composer, Robert de Roos originally searched for a style that was influence by the German and French schools, but later he freed himself and found a personal style that was characterized by canon composition techinque. During this period he wrote a number of work which he later withdrew from circulation.

He felt that no single element could go by unnoticed when composing, a belief that led him to a more rich and colorful manner of composing. Clear examples of this are the ‘Variations sérieuses sur un thème ingénu‘, which he composed in 1947 and dedicated to the Residentie Orkest are from this last style period.

Next to the many orchestra pieces and concertos, De Roos also composed an opera in one act, ‘Die Vision‘ and chamber music ‘Sextuor‘ for piano and wind instruments, art songs, theater music and a number of choral works.

Kees Wieringa recorded a ‘Sonatine’ by Robert de Roos. (DO Records 004). On the Q-Disc label a double cd was released: Robert de Roos Historical Recordings (Q 97013).

The biography of Robert de Roos “Wanhoop Niet!”, written by Jurjen Vis, is published by Van Gruting, together with 2 Qdisc.

His String Quartets 2,3,5 and 7 can be heard on this CD by the Utrecht String Orchestra.

Wolfgang Wijdeveld

Wolfgang Wijdeveld was born on May 9, 1910 in The Hague and he died in Laren on December 12, 1985.

His father was the famous architect H.Th. Wijdeveld, his mother was the cellist Ellen Kohn and his grandmother the Polish pianist Ruscha Schönfeld, a pupil of Brahms. She had also good contact with a.o. Strauss, Cosima Wagner, Reger, and founded a conservatory in her hometown Gleiwitz, Upper Silesia (currently: Glivice, Poland) in 1850.

Wolfgang studied piano with Cornelius Berkhout and harmony with Willem van Warmelo. At the Amsterdam Conservatory of Music he studied piano with Willem Andriessen, theory with Sem Dresden and Anton Tierie and violin with Cor Kint.

In addition, he had singing lessons from Saar van Alphen and he studied composition for two years with Willem Pijper.

At first, Wijdeveld worked as a pianist and composer with the Yvonne Georgi ballet, Estelle Reed, and the Ballet of the Low Countries. He toured the Unites States in 1939 with the Yvonne Georgi Ballet.

From 1940 to 1946, he was managing director of the Music School in Zwolle. From 1946 to 1976 he taught piano and (from 1962) methodology at the Utrecht Conservatory of Music and from 1966 to 1970 also at the Conservatory of Arnhem.

He was a music critic at the daily Het Vrije Volk from 1956 to 1968.

In 1962 and 1963, he gave concerts and seminars (together with his father) at 15 universities throughout North America.

For many years, Wijdeveld was chairman of the Association of Teachers of the Utrecht Conservatory (1954-1972) and of the Amsterdam branch of the Royal Dutch Composers’ Association (1960-1972).

Wolfgang Wijdeveld wrote ballet music for one or two pianos with orchestra, vocal works such as the ‘Liederen op Zuid-Afrikaanse tekst’ (1966), larger choral works such as ‘Psalm 150’ (1950) and ‘Matrooslied’ (1966), a single orchestra work and chamber music.

His most important works from the latter category are his ‘Sonate for violin and piano’ (1948), the ‘Sonate for two violins and piano’ (1954) and his works for piano solo, such as the ‘Three Sonatas’ and ‘Notitieboeken I-V’.

Composing was his way to share his vision with the world around him. In his last years, plagued by cataract and diseases, he recorded most of his works for piano solo onto a simple tape recorder, because he wanted to retain some of his works and vision for posterity.

Wijdevelds modest oeuvre can be summarized as “valuable work of a bon vivant, constrained by an acquired modesty”. (Paul Janssen, 2010)

Karel Goeyvaerts

Karel Goeyvaerts was born on the 8th of June, 1923 in Antwerp and died on the 3rd of February, 1993.

From 1943 to 1947, Karel Goeyvaerts studied at the Royal Flemish Conservatory of Music in Antwerp, and went on to study at the National Conservatory in Paris, where he pursued studies in composition under the tutelage of Darius Milhaud and musical analysis with Olivier Messiaen.

In 1970, he was appointed producer at the Institute for Psycho-Acoustics and Electronic Music (IPEM), a research and production studio founded by the Belgian Radio and Television (BRT) and the University of Ghent. Later, he worked as head producer for New Music at Belgian Radio 3 (the classical channel).

In 1992, he was named as the first holder of the KBC Chair for New Music in the department of Musicology at the University of Leuven, a position requiring him to teach and to compose again. However, the composition ‘Alba per Alban‘ remained unfinished at the time of the composer’s sudden death.

Studying with Olivier Messiaen, Goeyvaerts quickly assimilated recent musical innovations, in particular Messiaen’s approach towards rhythm and Webern’s structuralist application of serialism. Goeyvaerts would be the first to successfully apply the serial principle not only to pitch but also to rhythm, sound intensity and articulation.

Written in 1950-51, the ‘Sonata for 2 Piano‘ marks the beginning of Goeyvaerts’ career as a composer. This piece had a major influence on the young generation of avant-gardists and particularly Karlheinz Stockhausen.

His ‘Sonata‘ and ‘The Second Violin Concerto‘ (1951) are transitional works in which the composer aims for structural purity, without however quite achieving his goal. For example, the traditional style of movements 1 and 4 of the ‘Sonata‘ contrasts sharply with the serial middle movement. ‘Number 2 for 13 instruments‘ (1952) can be considered the first totally serial composition.

Goeyvaerts was one of the first to compose electronic music, which allowed him to bring even more discipline to both the composition and the performance. Milestone compositions include ‘Nr. 4 met dode tonen‘ (‘with dead tones’) and ‘Nr. 5 met zuivere tonen‘ (‘with pure tones’). In 1953, Goeyvaerts and Stockhausen, together with several other composers, realized the first music produced by means of electronic generators (at the WDR in Cologne).

From the 1960s onwards, Goeyvaerts no longer initiated major artistic innovations, but rapidly integrated new ideas and techniques into his own idiom. The experimental, aleatory, repetitive and neo-tonal works written after 1960 can thus be understood as explorations of international tendencies in terms of their usefulness for personal compositional intentions.

Repetitive music also fell under Goeyvaerts’ gaze, an interest culminating in the five ‘Litanieën‘ written between 1979 and 1982. After 1980, Goeyvaerts reclaimed the expressive intention and tonal techniques associated with the Neo-Romantic style. His opus ultimum, the large-scale opera ‘Aquarius‘ (1983-93), forms both a synthesis and a culmination point of his work as a composer.

Despite great stylistic and technical diversity, Goeyvaerts oeuvre remains remarkably homogeneous.

In 1985, Goeyvaerts was chosen as the Chairperson of the International Composers’ Rostrum, an association under the auspices of the UNESCO International Music Council.

Karel Goeyvaerts was a member of the Royal Academy for Science, Letters and Fine Arts of Belgium.

Jan van Vlijmen

Jan van Vlijmen was born on October 11, 1985 in Rotterdam and died of leukaemia on December 24 in Réveillon, France.

He studied the piano and organ at the Utrecht conservatory and composition with Kees van Baaren.

In 1961, Van Vlijmen was named director of the music school in Amersfoort. In 1965 he became a music theory teacher at the Utrecht Conservatory.

As the director of the Royal Conservatory in The Hague (1970), Van Vlijmen implemented important educational innovations – including in the instruction of Baroque and Renaissance music, music theory, and modern and electronic music – and he added various courses of study. Under his leadership the conservatory undertook a series of large projects, such as one focussing on Monteverdi (led by Nikolaus Harnoncourt, 1972) and another on Stockhausen (led by the composer himself, 1982). In addition, Van Vlijmen was able to obtain a new building for the conservatory (with a modern, fully equipped theatre and concert hall and facilities for an electronic music department) that also houses a ballet academy and a secondary school for young and future conservatory students.

In 1984, The Ministry of Culture asked Van Vlijmen to become the director of De Nederlandse Opera. After serving as general director of De Nederlandse Opera, he led the Holland Festival in the 1990s.

Jan van Vlijmen wrote chamber music, operas, songs and orchestral works. He was attracted to the serial music of Arnold Schoenberg and the sumptuous orchestrations in the symphonic music of Gustav Mahler, Anton Bruckner and Alban Berg.

He was influenced by serialism, but with a very personal twist. Van Vlijmen explained: “Serialism in the broadest sense of the word presents a tremendous amount of expressive possibilities. […] To my mind, the use of serialist precepts does not necessarily have to lead to pointillist music. The results can equally well be primarily melodic, or harmonic, or both”.

Together with Reinbert de Leeuw, Van Vlijmen composed the opera ‘Axel‘.

In 1987, Van Vlijmen completed the score and instrumentation of ‘Summer Rites at Noon‘, a work for two orchestras left unfinished by Rudolf Escher at his death in 1980.

The opera ‘Un malheureux vêtu de noir‘, about the final years of Vincent van Gogh and his brother Theo, was premiered in Amsterdam in the year of the hundredth anniversary of Van Gogh’s death (1990).

Shortly before his death, he finished the opera ‘Thyeste‘, on a libretto by Hugo Claus. “Music has to be compelling and sombre, but that doesn’t mean that I am just strict note-counter. I am bursting with emotions!” Van Vlijmen said that ‘Thyeste‘ had become a “very old-fashioned” opera. “Atreus, of course, is a tenor, what’s more a heroic tenor. Thyestes is a dramatic baritone”.

His piece ‘Gruppi‘ received an award from the Ministry of Culture in 1965.

Sonata per Pianoforte e Tre Gruppi Strumentali‘ (1966) was awarded the Professor van der Leeuw Prize in 1970. Two years later, ‘Omaggio a Gesualdo‘ (1971) won the Matthijs Vermeulen Prize. His orchestral piece ‘Quaterni‘ (1979) was awarded the Matthijs Vermeulen Prize in 1980.

Hans Henkemans

Hans Henkemans was born on December 23, 1913, in The Hague and died on December 29, 1995.

From 1926 to 1931 he was a pupil of Bernard van den Sigtenhorst Meyer, both for piano and composition, and from 1933 to 1938 he studied with Willem Pijper.

Additionally, Henkemans studied medicine from 1931.

Henkemans’ debut as a pianist took place in 1945 in the Amsterdam Concertgebouw. After this first concert he remained active as a pianist for 23 years, performing 59 times as a soloist in the Concertgebouw, often in performances of his own compositions such as his ‘Passacaglia and Gigue‘ (1942), giving concerts in The Netherlands and abroad, and with no less than 20 gramophone recordings. As a pianist he has been famous for his Mozart and Debussy interpretations.

Though he was not trained at a conservatory, in the 1960s he began teaching composition and orchestration at the Groningen Conservatory and the Amsterdam Muzieklyceum.

During this period, he was also a psychiatric consultant at a hospital in Amsterdam.

Henkemans published in e.g. the Netherlands Medical Review, Mens en Melodie and Algemeen Dagblad. In 1961, the booklet “Daar zit je dan” (“And there you are sitting”) was published with his “interim memoirs”.

He played a significant role in the fierce musicological debate of that time. He regarded serial music, electronic music and other experiments in which the creating musician distances himself from emotional communication with the listener as a separate art form. In 1967, he added to these thoughts with a psychological analysis of “actual” music. At age 80, in De Gids, Henkemans made a final attempt to demonstrate a real distinction on psychological grounds between “experimental music” and what he called “simply music”.

Declining health forced Henkemans to end his piano career in 1969, from which time he concentrated fully on composing and psychiatric practice.

As a composer Henkemans was influenced by Debussy, Ravel, and Pijper. He characterized his style as “tending toward the extreme of pluritonal expression, but at its core, a monotonal way of writing”. He orchestrated the two Livres of Debussy’s 24 Préludes.

In 1932, he wrote his first ‘Piano concerto‘ (with string orchestra). He dedicated his ‘Concerto per violino ed orchestra‘ (1950) to Theo Olof and his ‘Concert voor Harp en Orkest‘ (1955) to Phia Berghout and the Concertgebouw Orchestra.

Bericht aan de levenden‘ (1965), a work for narrator, choir and orchestra based on the similarly named text by H.M. van Randwijk, was written on a commission from the Artists 1942-1945 Resistance Foundation. It has been performed annually since its premiere on May 4, 1965.

In 1977, Henkemans concluded the opera ‘Winter Cruise‘, based on one of the short stories by Somerset Maugham, for which he himself wrote the libretto. This opera was given a dozen performances by the Netherlands Opera.

Cello concerto‘ (1988‑89) was premièred in December 1990 by Dmitri Ferschtmann and the Radio Philharmonic Orchestra, Lucas Vis conducting.

The University of Amsterdam awarded Henkemans a doctorate, at age 67, on the thesis ‘Sublimatie-stoornissen bij kunstenaars’ (Sublimation disorders in artists) – published by Van Loghum Slaterus, 1981.

Robert Heppener

Robert Heppener was born in Amsterdam on August 9, 1925. He died on August 25, 2009 in Bergen.

Heppener said that it was upon hearing Mozart’s ‘Eine kleine Nachtmusik’ in 1936 that he decided “to get into music”. He studied piano with Jan Odé and Johan van den Boogert and composition with Bertus van Lier at the Conservatory of Music in Amsterdam.

In 1964, he began teaching the piano and later also music theory at the Rotterdam Music School. In 1964, he left Rotterdam for Amsterdam to teach music theory and composition at the Muzieklyceum.

After several years teaching at the Muzieklyceum, he became teacher in music theory and composition at the Amsterdam Sweelinck Conservatorium. In 1975, he left the Amsterdam Conservatory as head of the music theory department. Five years later, Robert taught composition at the Conservatory of Music in Maastricht.

Heppener scored for the most varied ensemble and orchestral combinations, particularly for orchestra and human voice.

Amongst his compositions for orchestral music are ‘Eglogues’ (1963) and ‘Boog’ (1988). Important vocal works are ‘Cantico delle Creature di San Francesco d’Assisi‘ (1952), for voice and string orchestra, ‘Canti carnascialeschi’ (1966), ‘Del iubilo del core’ (1974) and ‘Nachklänge’ (1977), for choir.

Music for unaccompanied choir holds a special place in his oeuvre. The music journalist Anthony Fiumara on the role of the human voice in his work: “Though Heppener wrote in various genres – from the opera ‘Een ziel van hout‘ (A Wooden Soul) (1995) to orchestral, ensemble and solo pieces – the human voice always played a central role. His works for choir as well as his song cycle ‘Four Songs on Poems by Ezra Pound‘ are among the best in that area composed in the Netherlands”.

In addition, Heppener composed chamber music and music for the theatre and film. He wrote his first film music in 1956 for “Een leger van gehouwen steen” (An Army from Chiselled Stone) by Theo van Haren Noman. Heppener also composed music for the films “Het Gangstermeisje” (The Gangstergirl) of Frans Weisz in 1966, and “Pastorale 1943” by Wim Verstappen in 1977. After six years of writer’s block, he composed the monumental ‘Memento‘, for soprano and ensemble in 1984.

According to his student Joël Bons: “Heppener never represented a particular school in his music, but with great integrity always followed his own ‘inner logic’, based on a knowledge of and love for tradition”.

The Brabant Orchestra gave him carte blanche in 2000 to programme a series of concerts of his own music along with works by composers who have played a role in his life, such as Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Robert Schumann, Hans Werner Henze and Ton de Leeuw.

In 1969 he received the Fontein-Tuynhout Prize for ‘Canti carnascialeschi’ (1966), in 1974 the Willem Pijper Prize for ‘Four songs on poems by Ezra Pound’ (1970) and in 1993 the Matthijs Vermeulen Prize for ‘Im Gestein’ (1992).

In 1996, he was awarded the Johan Wagenaar Prize for his complete oeuvre and in 2000 the Visser-Neerlandia Prize.

Matthijs Vermeulen

Matthijs Vermeulen was born in Helmond on February 8, 1888. He died July 26, 1967 in Laren.

After primary school Matthijs Vermeulen (born as Matheas Christianus Franciscus van der Meulen) initially wanted to follow in the footsteps of his father, who was a blacksmith. During a serious illness his inclination towards the spiritual gained the upper hand. Inspired by a thoroughly Catholic environment, he decided to become a priest.

However, at the seminary, where he learned about the principles of counterpoint of the sixteenth-century polyphonic masters, his true calling – music – came to light. On his eighteenth he abandoned his initial ideas and left school.

In the spring of 1907 he moved to Amsterdam, the country’s musical capital. There he approached Daniël de Lange, the director of the conservatory, who recognized his talent and gave him free lessons for two years.

In 1909, Vermeulen began to write for the Catholic daily newspaper De Tijd, where he soon distinguished himself by a personal, resolute tone which stood out in stark contrast to the usually long-winded music journalism of the day. The quality of his reviews also struck Alphons Diepenbrock. He warmly recommended Vermeulen with the progressive weekly De Amsterdammer.

In the reviews for De Telegraaf, a daily newspaper he worked for since 1915 as head of the Art and Literature department, he also showed just how much in his view politics and culture were inseparable.

In 1947, he published a philosophical book “Het avontuur van de geest” (“The mind adventure”), which laid new foundations for rational man and his place in the world.

Vermeulen’s oeuvre includes seven Symphonies (1914, 1920, 1922, 1941, 1945, 1958 and 1965), chamber music and songs. Typical of Vermeulen’s music is his ruthless exclusion of anything approaching formulae or clichés. He avoided any hint of the rhetorical and strived for a direct emanation of the emotions and the spirit. Although his approach led to a thorough revision of the use of raw material of music, Vermeulen’s melody, harmony, rhythm and form have remained true to the indestructible elements that are the outcome of methodical analysis of twenty-five centuries of music history. During his life he stood virtually alone in this field of reconstructive thinking, and consequently acquired an isolated place in composition and in literature.

In 1917, Vermeulen composed the (relatively) famous symphonic song ‘La veille’ for mezzo-soprano and orchestra.

Vermeulen’s work was appreciated by Nadia Boulanger, an important figure in the Paris music scene. To thank her for her support, he dedicated his ‘String Trio’, composed in 1923, to her.

In 1994, Donemus released (in cooperation with the Matthijs Vermeulen Foundation) the complete works of Matthijs Vermeulen on 6 compact discs (CV 36/41).

In 1953, Vermeulen was awarded fifth prize at the Reine Elisabeth Competition in Brussels for his ‘Second Symphony (Prélude à la nouvelle journée)’, which premiered in 1956 during the Holland Festival.

The Matthijs Vermeulen Award, the most important Dutch composition prize, is named after him.

Herman Strategier

Herman Strategier, the son of the organist at St. Walburga Church, was born on August 10, 1912 in Arnhem.

Because of the battle of Arnhem in 1944, Herman Strategier and his family were forced to leave the city. They found shelter with his friend Jan Mul in Haarlem.

On October 26, 1988, Herman died in his sleep at home in Doorwerth. Strategiers death was not unexpected, for he had already written his ‘Requiem‘, which was sung during his funeral.

Herman Strategier learned a lot about the organ by helping his father regularly in the registration of this instrument. Also, he took piano lessons and music theory with J.J. Ruygrok.

From 1929 to 1932, Strategier studied organ with Hendrik Andriessen, piano with Phons Dusch and music theory with Johan Winnubst at the Rooms-Katholieke Kerkmuziekschool (current: Conservatory in Utrecht).

From 1934 to 1938, he studied morphology and instrumentation with Hendrik Andriessen.

After his graduation in 1932, Strategier became director-organist at the parish church of St. Anna in Nijmegen.

Three years later, he succeeded his father as organist at St. Walburga Church in Arnhem. Moreover, he succeeded Hendrik Andriessen as organist at the Cathedral of Utrecht in 1949.

From 1946 to 1965, Herman Strategier was teacher in general courses at the Dutch Institute for Catholic Church Music (NIKK). At the same time, he also worked as a teacher of music theory at the Utrecht Conservatory and the Rotterdam Conservatory. From 1949 to 1977, Strategier was appointed as a teacher of music theory at the University of Utrecht.

In addition, he conducted the Dutch Madrigaalkoor in Leiden from 1959 to 1973.

In 1977, Strategier quit his job as conductor and teacher.

Herman Strategier was a composer in the school of Hendrik Andriessen. He wrote a large and varied body of works in which sacred music plays a significant role. He found inspiration in the music of French post-Romantic composers such as Debussy, Fauré, Poulenc and Boulanger.

Strategier stood out for his use of the church modes and his style of harmonisation: “Strategier was a true master of handling the church modes, the Ionian, Dorian, Phrygian, and so forth. Especially in Gregorian chant, he could harmonise these modes in a way that nobody could ever equal”. (Utrechts Nieuwsblad, October 1988)

His ‘Arnhemsche Psalm’ premiered on May 5, 1955 during the ten-year liberation celebration of Arnhem. Strategier directed the piece himself.

In 1968, Herman Strategier was honored by the Queen of the Netherlands as Knight in the Order of Orange-Nassau, for his achievements in the field of composition, pedagogy and management.

Five years later, he was honored as Knight in the Order of St. Gregory the Great for his achievements as a composer of church music.

Jan van Gilse

Jan van Gilse was born in Rotterdam on May 11, 1881 and died in Oegstgeest on September 11, 1944.

Van Gilse started to study the piano, composition and orchestral conducting at the Cologne Conservatory in 1897.

After the death of his teacher Franz Wüllner in 1902, he studied with Engelbert Humperdinck in Berlin, completing his studies there in 1905.

He moved to the Netherlands during World War I and was appointed conductor of the Utrecht City Orchestra.

In 1905, he became conductor and répétiteur of the Stadttheater Bremen opera and three years later of the North Netherlands Opera.

On Van Gilse’s initiative, the Genootschap van Nederlandse Componisten (GeNeCO, Society of Dutch Composers) was founded in 1911.

In Munich, Van Gilse completed the opera ‘Frau Helga von Stavern‘. The Bureau voor Muziekauteursrecht (BUMA, Music Copyright Bureau) was founded in 1913; Van Gilse was chairman from 1917 to 1942. In 1917, he also became the conductor of the Utrecht City Orchestra.

After a series of cutting journalistic attacks by Willem Pijper, Van Gilse resigned from the Utrecht City Orchestra, ending his career as a conductor in 1921. However, he resumed composing – throughout his period as a conductor, a time he referred to as his “years in exile”, he did not produce a single composition.

Van Gilse returned to Germany in 1926, composing there ‘Prologus Brevis’, for orchestra, among other compositions, and beginning his – never completed – memoires.

In 1933, Jan van Gilse became director of the Utrecht Conservatory. He started the Nederlandse Muziekbelangen [Dutch Musical Interests], a foundation to promote the performance of Dutch music from which the publisher Donemus emerged in 1947.

After many annoyances, Van Gilse resigned as director of the Utrecht Conservatory in 1937 and decided to devote himself to composition. He met Hendrik Lindt, and together they composed the opera ‘Thijl‘.

Jan van Gilse lived in Germany in the first years of the 20th century, and it was at this time that he wrote most of his compositions.
His music was initially influenced by the late German Romantic style, Richard Strauss and Max Reger in particular. But he gradually shifted focus. “With the last two movements of the ‘Fourth Symphony’, a tendency toward an individual style begins, which comes to fruition in the ‘Dansschetsen‘ (1926).” (Hans van Dijk). French influences (impressionistic, or Debussyan) are perceptible in the ‘Gardener Liederen‘ (1923). In the opera ‘Thijl‘ (1940) and the unfinished ‘Rotterdam’, he also flirted with folk music.

In 1901, Jan van Gilse was awarded the prize of the Beethoven-Haus in Bonn for his ‘Symphony in F’.

He received the German Michael Beer Preis in 1909 for his ‘Symphony No. 3, Erhebung’, for soprano and orchestra, an award that makes it possible for him to work in Rome for a year.

Johannes Bernardus van Bree

Johannes Bernardus van Bree was the dominant figure in Amsterdam musical life, particularly as a conductor, from 1830 to 1855. He was born in Amsterdam on January 29, 1801 and died on February 14, 1854.

His father, Frans van Bree, a music teacher, gave him his first violin lessons.

In 1828, he completed his musical education taking music theory lessons from Johan George Bertelman – as a composer, however, he was self-taught.

The family moved to Leeuwarden in 1812. Johannes van Bree began his career accompanying dance lessons and teaching music to the children of the baron of Minnertsga. He also performed several times as a violin soloist in Leeuwarden.

After returning to Amsterdam in 1820, Van Bree played for a brief time in the orchestra of the Théâtre Français. His affiliation with the orchestra of the Felix Meritis society, the most prominent orchestra in the capital city, lasted longer. In 1821, he made his debut as a soloist with this orchestra.

After being promoted to concertmaster of the Felix Meritis orchestra, he was soon appointed conductor. In addition, he conducted the choir of the Moses and Aaron Church (Zelus Pro Domo Dei) and, from 1836, the choir of the Society for the Advancement of Music.

In 1840, Van Bree accepted a post as musical leader of the Hollandsche Schouwburg. However, he resigned a year later because its opera company was dissolved. That year, he became the leader of the orchestra, which he co-founded, of the Caecilia Society, a philanthropic organisation. Beethoven’s music was performed most often, but also Mozart, Felix Mendelssohn and Carl Maria von Weber.

Van Bree continued to lead the Felix Meritis, Caecilia and Society for the Advancement of Music ensembles until shortly before his death. From 1853 to 1856, he was also the director of the society’s music school, while teaching music theory, the violin, singing and piano at the school. However, health problems in his last years made it difficult for him to keep up with all these tasks.

During his short life, he composed a respectable body of works. His compositions reflect the many sides of his public functions: Masses and other sacred music, cantatas and declamatorios, an opera, an opéra-comique and an operetta, songs, works for men’s choir, two symphonies, overtures, concertos, three string quartets, numerous piano pieces, and other shorter works.

His best works (such as the famous ‘Allegro for four string quartets‘) are, in the words of a contemporary, characterized “by simplicity and naturalness … by polish, clarity and freshness, a certain popularity, without triviality”. (F.C. Kist, 1857)

He had great success as an opera composer with ‘Sapho’ (1834) and ‘Le bandit‘ (1835). In 1838, he formed a string quartet, with which he introduced the music of Ludwig van Beethoven and Louis Spohr, among others, to Amsterdam audiences.

Aside from the often performed ‘Allegro for four string quartets‘ in D minor (1845), which he composed for the Caecilia Society, his music has largely been forgotten.