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.