February 2017 | Project Paula (1)
After finishing Alles schmeckt nach Abschied, a work for mezzo-soprano and piano focusing on the last half-decade of the life of the East German writer Brigitte Reimann, Jan-Willem van Herpen is now starting a series of smaller compositions based on the diaries and letters of the German painter Paula Modersohn-Becker (1876-1907).

Art was at the center of Modersohn-Becker’s life. Despite the social conventions of her time, she would always choose for her own freedom in order to develop a personal voice as an artist. This search involved moments of doubt, longing, impatience, joy and loneliness.

The first piece in the series will be a solo work written for the German soprano Irene Kurka. A second piece will be scored for soprano and violoncello. The commitment to art and the artist’s search for an individual style can be considered the common thread running through the series.

September 2016 | Woolf resources online
On June 17, Jan-Willem van Herpen's fragmentary portrait of Virginia Woolf was premiered by Annelies Van Hijfte (soprano) and Lana Bode (piano). This first performance of The Lonely Mind at the Clothworkers' Centenary Concert Hall at the University of Leeds can be watched here on YouTube. A video of the whole concert can be viewed on livestream and Vimeo. A photo series of the concert can be watched here.

Before the concert, Jan-Willem van Herpen took part in a roundtable discussion with composers Richard Barnard and Jeremy Thurlow at the 26th Annual International Conference on Virginia Woolf at Leeds Trinity University. The event was chaired by dr. Emma Sutton. A video of the event is made available here.

May 2016 | Premiere 'The Lonely Mind'
Jan-Willem van Herpen's fragmentary portrait of the English writer Virginia Woolf (1882-1941) will be premiered on June 17, 2016 during the 26th Annual International Conference on Virginia Woolf at Leeds Trinity University, Leeds (UK).

The Lonely Mind is a collection of 13 settings of small fragments from Woolf's diary. The text settings can be considered musical vignettes: snapshots in words and music which focus on one moment or mood, and show glimpses of both dark and lighter aspects of the writer's identity.

The first performance will be given by Annelies Van Hijfte (soprano) and Lana Bode (piano) during a concert in a series that showcases music that inspired Virginia Woolf’s writing and that directly responds to her work.

February 2016 | Regarding Brigitte Reimann
In 1963, the East German writer Brigitte Reimann (1933-1973) started working on her unfinished novel Franziska Linkerhand. Despite political obstruction and severe personal misfortunes, Reimann was very determined to write the novel she felt she needed to write. For his current project, Jan-Willem van Herpen will be taking a close look at the last five years of Reimann 's life.

The starting point of the exploration involves Reimann's diaries and the letters to her closest friend Irmgard Weinhofen. From these text sources, a fragmentary portrait will be constructed of a woman who was passionate, restless, sincere and uncompromising. A piece about going against the grain and having to let go. The work will be written for Duo Songways: Julia Oesch (mezzo-soprano) and Jens Barnieck (piano).

November 2015 | Celan Fragments
Currently, Jan-Willem van Herpen is working on a collection of 9 settings of fragments of poetry by the Rumanian poet Paul Celan (1920-1970). The main theme of these text fragments is the Absent Other. The piece will be written for the German mezzo-soprano Sabine Schilling.

In this new project, the much-used miniature form will be pushed to its limits. The compositional aim is to create melancholic and expressive musical images by using very concise yet accurate gestures.

September 2014 | The Susan Sontag Project
After finishing Herzzeit, a piece based on Ingeborg Bachmann’s letters to Paul Celan, Jan-Willem van Herpen is now working on a new composition for female voice and piano for the American mezzo-soprano Sarah Ellena Hogrefe. The journals of the American novelist, essayist, critic, playwright, filmmaker and human rights activist Susan Sontag (1933-2004) will be the starting point of this new project.

Sontag's journals give a closer look into the private mind of an iconic public figure. The author, who had a lifelong avidity for intellectual and cultural experience, was convinced about the seriousness of art. She found great joy in writing, but she also struggled with love and loneliness. Out of fragments from these journals, an intimate and poetic portrait will be constructed. The progress of the compositional process can be followed on the project's Facebook page.

July 2014 | Short Stories
While still working on the finishing touches of the Bachmann-Celan cycle, Jan-Willem van Herpen started an in between project. A small collection of miniature songs on texts by the American author Lydia Davis (1947) is planned for this summer.

Davis is well known for her extremely brief short stories. Her work falls somewhere between prose and poetry. Like the texts, the music will be concise yet exciting and vibrant; light-hearted yet a little disturbing. The settings will be scored for soprano, clarinet, violin and cello.

January 2014 | On the Bachmann - Celan connection
In May 1948, the Austrian poet and author Ingeborg Bachmann (1926-1973) met the Rumanian poet Paul Celan (1920-1970) while studying philosophy in Vienna. This was the beginning of a tragic love relationship. Their correspondence, first published in 2009, bears witness to an impossible love spanning nearly 15 years.

Jan-Willem van Herpen takes Bachmann's letters to Celan as a starting point for a new work for female voice and piano. A poetic script has been constructed out of fragments from these letters and two of Celan's poems. Stripped of narrative and historical context, the work will zoom in on the subjective experience of love; a piece about waiting and longing, sadness and despair, and keeping silence.

October 2013 | Beckett revisited
After finishing The Lonely Mind, a collection of 13 settings of small fragments from Virginia Woolf's diary, Jan-Willem van Herpen is turning his attention once more to the work of the Irish poet Samuel Beckett (1906-1989).

A new piece for soprano and cello will consist of a set of variations on an ultra-short Beckett poem. Fragmentation and repetition of both textual and musical elements will be the main concerns of this compositional investigation.

July 2013 | 'Existentie' in Vondelpark
Marleen de Bruijn (soprano) and Hans Schepens (guitar) will perform the miniature song cycle Existentie on July 7, 2013 at the Vondelpark Openluchttheater, Amsterdam, The Netherlands.

The performance is part of a concert organized by Ties Mellema and Hans Eijsackers, which presents DuoSuoni and other top chamber music ensembles of the Fontys Conservatory Tilburg. The concert starts at 12:00.

May 2013 | Premiere 'Existentie'
Jan-Willem van Herpen's miniature song cycle Existentie for soprano and guitar will be premiered on May 26, 2013 at 11:30 in De Oude Pastorie, Macharen, The Netherlands.

This first performance of the five settings of poems by the Dutch poet Adriaan Roland Holst (1888-1976) will be given by DuoSuoni: Marleen de Bruijn (soprano) and Hans Schepens (guitar).

March 2013 | On portraying Virginia Woolf
In her diary, the English writer Virginia Woolf (1882-1941) often contemplated life, her own selfhood and her writing. This diary is the starting point for Jan-Willem van Herpen's new compositional project for female voice and piano.

In an attempt to capture and crystallize parts of Woolf's inner landscape, a poetic script has been constructed out of fragments from her diary. These fragments show glimpses of both dark and lighter aspects of her identity. In a series of musical vignettes, an intimate and melancholic portrait will be revealed; a piece about the oddity of life, writing, loneliness and time's passing.

September 2012 | New Song Projects
Currently, two new song projects are in the making. After the Beckett Songs, Jan-Willem van Herpen is now working on a new small collection of miniature songs for DuoSuoni. This collection will be written on short poems by the Dutch poet A. Roland Holst (1888-1976). The poems deal with a melancholic (and slightly embittered) view on life and death.

For the second project a text is composed by selecting and rearranging fragments of poetry by the American poet E.E. Cummings (1894-1962). The fragments deal with the theme of longing and share common motifs concerning the nighttime. The resulting text will be the starting point for a single movement composition scored for voice and piano.

May 2012 | Beckett Songs
After finishing ...those pockets of silence..., a fictionalized portrait of Mark Rothko for tenor and chamber ensemble, Jan-Willem van Herpen will be working on a small collection of miniature songs for soprano and piano on poems by the Irish playwright, novelist and poet Samuel Beckett (1906-1989).

The absurdity of human existence is the main theme in all of Beckett's work. On the one hand, his view on our existential predicament is bleak and pessimistic. On the other hand, he always shows a kind of stubborn resilience or even a glimpse of hope.

The chosen poems, both in English and French, have certain formalistic and minimalistic qualities, which will be the main source of guidance for the musical settings.

September 2011 | New project
The American painter Mark Rothko (1903–1970) wanted to communicate the basic human emotions: tragedy, ecstasy, doom. The human drama is at the heart of his paintings. He had a lifelong frustration of being unappreciated and misunderstood as an artist. He couldn’t care less about all the aesthetic theorizing by art-historians and critics. In his view, this would only paralyze the mind and the imagination of the observer. Rothko was only interested in a pure human response from sensitive viewers.

In his new project, Jan-Willem van Herpen is aiming to create a fictionalized portrait of Mark Rothko. A poetic script has been constructed out of text fragments from Rothko’s lectures, interviews and letters. Here, an angry and bitter man is depicted, who is desperately trying to explain himself, struggling with his creativity and feeling melancholic about things past.

The painting techniques used by Rothko in his classic abstract color-field paintings will be the main source of inspiration for the music. His subtle veiling and layering of color will have to be translated into a musical equivalent. Timbre and texture are therefore becoming the prominent musical parameters in the composition. The role of silence will also be explored to capture the stillness of a Rothko painting.

July 2011 | Launching the website!
The new website of Jan-Willem van Herpen is now online. On this website you will find detailed information about the composer’s work, including PDF score samples. Also, you will find a short bio and contact information. As from now, jwjvanherpen.net will keep you updated on all the composer’s new projects and other related news.

Jan-Willem van Herpen attempts to create intimate and poetic portraits of human solitude. He is combining text and music in fragmentary structures and looking for the expressive qualities of sober gestures and static textures.

Recent projects

Alles schmeckt nach Abschied
für Mezzosopran und Klavier

Schritt für Schritt
für Sopran solo

Audio / Video