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.