Hans Vermeulen was born on 21 december 1961 in Torhout. He studied at the Royal Conservatory in Brussels, where he earned first prizes in solfège (1980), written harmony (1981), music history (1983), counterpoint (1983) and fugue (1984). He also won the Lunssens Prize for harmony and the Koenigsberg Prize for music history. He completed his piano studies with A. De Groote. In 1989, as a student of Rafaël D’Haene, he graduated with a diploma from the Muziekkapel Koningin Elisabeth for composition (magna cum laude). In that same year he also won the Cera Youth and Music Prize. His works have been premiered by the BRT Orchestra (former name for the Flemish radio orchestra), the RBTF Orchestra (Francophone radio orchestra), the National Orchestra of Belgium, the chamber orchestra Prima la Musica and the Flemish Symphony Orchestra. As a teacher, Vermeulen has also been long associated with a number of Flemish conservatories (Brussels, Antwerp, Ghent) and has undertaken intense studies of computer applications for music. At present he works for the nature organisation De Wielewal, composing in his free time.
To date, Hans Vermeulen’s output as a composer includes five orchestral works, a choral work and a number of chamber music works. Vermeulen was trained in the tradition of the Second Viennese School. A dodecaphonic series was, for example, the point of departure for the pitch organisation in his first offical work, Sonata per violine e piano (1985). However, a rapid evolution towards his own compositional language was soon evident. Preludio e marcia (1991), a work that Vermeulen composed as a commission for the BRT Orchestra, can be seen as a pivotal work, in which the essential characteristics of his later compositional thought can be seen in germ form. Immediately striking in the Preludio is the presence of what Marc Delaere describes as a “fascinating polyphony of sound fields”. The superimposed sound fields are distinguished from one another by the particular rhythmic forms and the homogeneous orchestration of each field. Internally, the fields are mostly canonic in structure and/or are canonically conceived. In the Marcia the obsessive repetitions of rhythmic patterns and cluster chords go hand-in-hand with the construction of major climaxes.
Despite the use of progressive techniques, Vermeulen’s connection with the past remains very strong. This is evident in his predilection for conventional genres, such as the violin sonata, the piano trio, the string quartet, the cantata and the symphonic poem. Although many of his works have a programmatic title, Vermeulen always opts for an intrinsically musical handling of form. This can be clearly seen in In contro e Movimento (1998) and Urban Thought (2001). Incontro e Movimento, a posthumous tribute to Vermeulen’s gandfather, an inventor and the founder of a machine-building firm, is a work for symphony orchestra in which the brass players are central, either as soloists or as a group. The composition thus draws on the traditions of the concertante symphony and the concerto grosso. In the first movement (andante ma non troppo) the soloists (trumpet, horn, trombone) are mainly prominent as soloists. In the second movement (allegro con moto), they generally perform as a group. The rhythmic, motor-like character creates the impression of a machine in action, although the composer himself states that it is meant to be abstract and not specifically imitative. Urban Thoughts (2001), a work for string quartet, wind quintet and piano, is a musical reflection on the theme of the contrast between nature and the city. The woodwind group creates a blanket of canonically organised sound-fields above which a lyrical melody is heard in the strings. The form of this work is reminiscent of Liszt’s “double-function-form” (Sonata in B minor). Although a four-movement structure (andante, piu lento, piu mobile, tempo primo) can be discerned in this work, when seen in its totality the whole has a sonata form. The first two movements together form an exposition, in which a first and a second theme are presented. In the third movement, both themes are developed through canonic writing (development section). The fourth movement (recapitulation) is a concise summary of the whole composition. An anti-virtuoso cadenza for the piano is followed by a coda in which reference is made to the slow movement. In only one work, Omaggio per archi (1996) does Vermeulen explicitly confirm his connection with tradition by borrowing from this tradition: the work, which he wrote in the context of the Schubert year, includes a quotation from Schubert’s Unfinished Symphony. A more significant link with tradition, however, is found in the way Vermeulen organises his musical material. Concerning Preludio e marcia, Mark Delaere has remarked that one can hear, as it were, the motivation for each compositional choice. The alteration of any part would be impossible without damaging the whole. It does not seem irrelevant to expand this thesis to cover the composer’s complete oeuvre. A composition by Vermeulen can be seen as an organic whole in which structure is created by the fact that on the levels of timbre, pitch, rhythm, harmony and instrumentation, various elements refer to one another, thus creating coherence.
In an interview in the Academic News of the Katholieke Universiteit Leuven, Vermeulen mentions two determining criteria for good music: the logic of the composition itself and the logic of the audience. In his works, Vermeulen successfully proves that a rationalistic organisation of the material is not necessarily at odds with aesthetic appreciation.
List of works
Chamber music: Sonate per violine e piano (1985); Prologo e Fantasia (1986); Drie Liederen from H. Gorter (1987); String quartet (1987); Trio for soprano, horn and organ (1995)
Chorus: Gedanken der Nacht (1989)
Orchestra: Lente (1989); Preludio e Marcia (1991); Chiaro Oscuro (1994); Omaggio per archi (1996); Incontro e Movimento (1998); Urban Thoughts (2001)
– M. DELAERE, Inspiratie en motivatie: Preludio e Marcia van Hans Vermeulen, in de programmabrochure van de uitreiking Prijs Cera-Jeugd en muziek Vlaanderen, 1991
– M. DELAERE, Y. KNOCKAERT, H. SABBE, Nieuwe Muziek in Vlaanderen, Brugge, 1998, p. 124
– L. MEYERS, Jonge componisten zoeken aansluiting bij de traditie, in Academische Tijdingen K.U.Leuven, 1989, p. 32-33
– Sonata per violine e piano (Guido De Neve en Christel Kessels), EEN JONG GELUID, JM 5539B, 1992
– Incontro e Movimento: deel 2 (Symfonieorkest van Vlaanderen o.l.v. Jan Stulen) LEXICON VAN DE MUZIEK IN WEST-VLAANDEREN 2, LM 02, 2003
Texts by Leen Goossens
Last update: 2018