Stefaan Vanheertum (°1956) was active in various choirs, including Schola Cantorum in Ghent, the school choir affiliated to the St. Baafs cathedral and Rundadinella (conducted by Florian Heyerick). Currently he sings in the choir Vivente Voce (conducted by Jeroen Keymeulen) and Koriolis (conducted by Joris Derder). A number of concert experiences were decisive for Vanheertum's musical education. Next to practicing Gregorian chant during religious services, the performances of G. Fauré's Requiem, J.S. Bach's St Matthew Passion and, in particular, the participation as a boy singer in the performance of Benjamin Britten's War Requiem conducted by the composer himself in 1967 (Ypres), left a lasting impression.

In his early years, at the music academy in Gentbrugge, Vanheertum studied music theory and history, practiced alto recorder (it was for this instrument he wrote his first composition!), piano and alto saxophone. In addition he followed comprehensive lessons in harmony (with Philippe Sorgeloos). At the same time he studied chemistry at the University of Ghent and obtained a doctorate in science in December 1982. In 1983 he studied music theory and harmony at the Ghent music conservatory with Norbert Goddaer, but had to interrupt this education due to his work situation.

From 1986 onwards, Vanheertum started to write music more regularly and gradually developed himself as a composer. Apart from harmonic knowledge, in which he was formally trained, he is self-taught on counterpoint and orchestration and occasionally consults composer colleagues on particular issues. Since 1995 he regularly organizes concerts of his own works. Engaging professional musicians and ensembles, a number of CDs were produced. CD’s and scores are available for purchase through this website. Vanheertum is a member of the composers' associations SABAM, UBC and ComAV.

Work Analysis

Vanheertum mainly composes chamber music, choral music and songs, but also larger orchestral works. For his songs he uses very diverse texts: from the classical poems of Rainer Maria Rilke and the romanticism of Lord Byron, Paul Verlaine and Arthur Rimbaud, to the absurdism of Paul Neuhuys and Paul Van Ostaijen. Text expression plays a fundamental role in these songs. For other compositions Vanheertum finds inspiration in recent events. The elegy ‘9h02min07sec’ for string orchestra from 2002 commemorates the victims of the attacks in New York on September 11, 2001. Vanheertum uses ‘Er was eens’, Peter Verhelst a poem based on the picture of the Syrian boy who drowned in the Mediterranean in 2015, as the basis of a choral composition. Similarly, in 2020 a poem by the New Zealand poet Nadine Anne Hura about the corona crisis and climate problems was put on music.

Vanheertum's first songs Ophélie (1986), four songs for high voice and piano (1986-1988) on texts by Rilke and three a capella choir songs (1988); as well as the piano sonata Le p'tit cheval de Neptune (1990) are written in a romantic, tonal style. From 1990, influenced by discussions with his fellow composers Raoul De Smet and Lucien Posman, he uses modern composition techniques. This resulted in a “mild serialism”. Atonal series (with their transpositions, inversions and retrogrades) were used, but treated in flexible way to form motifs and themes. Other musical parameters such as structure, rhythm and dynamics are treated in a more traditional way. Practicing this style between 1990 and 1998 Vanheertum composed a series of four sonatas (Opus 2), the ‘Sonata for oboe and piano’ from 1996 and the ‘Gran Partita’ from 1997 for flute and piano. In this last work a romantic idiom is embedded in “mild serialism.” The songs that Vanheertum wrote during this period, such as the ‘Ten English Love Songs’ for tenor or soprano and piano (1995), dedicated to his wife and ‘Le Canari et la Cerise’ (2000), based on Paul Neuhuys's poetry, use a diatonic style, which will later become increasingly important for Vanheertum.

After a first string quartet in 1995, four more followed in 2000, 2002, 2006 and 2018. While the first two string quartets are still dodecaphonic, the next ones are more based on a diatonic language and the 5th uses a highly romantic language. Vanheertum returns to a tonal harmony as a basis. Some aspects of minimalism are used as well. For example in ‘The Millennium Sonata’ for two pianos. In this work, written in 1999 for the Orpheus Foundation, Vanheertum wanted to express the nervousness that existed around the turn of the millennium.

In addition to songs and works for small ensembles, Vanheertum also composes for larger ensembles. Examples include ‘De Nebling Suite’ for oboe and string orchestra (1998), ‘9h02min07sec’ (2002) and ‘Stabat Mater’ for orchestra, soli and choir (2010-12). The latter work is already evolving strongly towards the classical tonal writing style that Vanheertum will use from 2010 onwards. In his own words, returning to a more consonant musical language was based on “the nature of the human voice”. Vanheertum's current writing style is clearly present in the choral music he wrote between 2016 and 2021 on texts by Rainer Maria Rilke, Alfred Mills, Peter Verhelst and others and in works such as the ‘Violin Concerto’ (2016), the ‘4 seasons’ (WHAT AGAIN?!) for violin, sax and piano (dedicated to the Kugoni trio) (2017) and the ‘Rik Wouters suite’ for wind quintet (2018).

March 2022