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.