Willem Pijper was born in Zeist on September 8, 1894. He died on March 18, 1947 in Leidschendam.
From 1912 to 1916 he studied theory, composition and piano at the Utrecht College of Music with Johan Wagenaar and Helena van Lunteren-Hansen.
After passing his examination in theoretical subjects, he took private lessons in composition for another three years.
Willem Pijper was a music critic for the Utrechts Dagblad (1919-1922), teacher of harmonics at the Amsterdam College of Music (1920-1922), principal teacher at the Amsterdam Conservatory (1925-1930) and editor of the periodical De Muziek (1925-1932). In 1930 Pijper was appointed head master at the Rotterdam Conservatory. A considerable number of young Dutch composers owe their education, either entirely or in part to him: Kees van Baaren, Henk Badings, Henriëtte Bosmans, Rudolf Escher, Johan Franco, Hans Henkemans, Piet Ketting, Guillaume Landré, Bertus van Lier, Karel Mengelberg, Iet Stants and Wolfgang Wijdeveld. In recognition of his remarkable pedagogical merits he was invited to be a member of many government committees.
Pijper’s papers on music appearing in various periodicals, are well worth reading, as are his collected essays: Quintencirkel and De Stemvork, which were published by Querido, Amsterdam. In december 2011, Willem Pijper’s collected writings were published by the Royal Society for Music History of The Netherlands with the title “Het Papieren Gevaar”.
As a composer he was known and appreciated in many countries and belonged to the prominent members of the ISCM, which jury he presided for the last time in the summer of 1946.
At first, Pijper composed mainly chamber music, writing for example his first ‘String Quartet’ in 1914. Willem Mengelberg premiered Pijper’s first ‘Symphonie‘ (1917) in 1918, bringing the composer national fame.
The most fruitful period of his work was the decade after 1920, when his most important works were created. Pijper’s ‘Septet‘ (1920) exploited his “germ cell technique” even more than his First Symphony. In this technique an entire composition is based on the continual variation of a tiny melodic idea. This marks the beginning of the second, and most productive, period of his life as a composer. He was the epoch-making pioneer in the Dutch world of music at a time when the new striving became evident in the whole civilized world.
A third period in Pijper’s composition began with the opera ‘Halewijn‘ (1934), which is not so much an opera as a “symphonic drama”, according to Pijper. After it, however, he devoted more time to teaching than composing. Although his home was completely destroyed in the bombardment of Rotterdam in May 1940, most of his oeuvre survives.
In the last few years of his life Pijper worked on an important opera, entitled ‘Merlijn‘, and in 1946 started the ‘fifth String Quartet’. Both compositions, however, were to remain unfinished.