Johannes Verhulst

Johannes Joseph Hermann Verhulst (The Hague, March 19, 1816 - Bloemendaal, January 17, 1891) was a Dutch composer and conductor. As a composer mainly of songs and as administrator of Dutch musical life, his influence during his lifetime was considerable.

As a boy, Verhulst sang in a catholic choir; here he distinguished himself by his gift for music. In his teens, he succeeded in becoming a first violinist in the court chapel of King William I. In 1836, Felix Mendelssohn, who was on holiday in Scheveningen, was shown an overture written by Verhulst, and took him as a pupil; he began studying with Mendelsson in 1838

In Leipzig, Verhulst was appointed as conductor of the Euterpe orchestra, for which he wrote his Symphony in E minor. King William II urged him to return to The Hague in 1842, where he dedicated himself to the writing of Dutch songs for some time. Six years later, he became the chief conductor of the Rotterdam Music Society (Maatschappij tot Bevordering der Toonkunst). For the celebration of its fifty-year anniversary in 1854, he succeeded in engaging many prominent musicians, such as Franz Liszt.

The following years would bring a number of other appointments: 1860 at the Diligentia Society in The Hague, and 1864 at both the orchestral society Caecilia and the Felix Meritis Society in Amsterdam. By accepting these positions, Verhulst had acquired a great amount of power and influence on Dutch music life. However, his conservative taste led to an increasing amount of criticism, particularly his refusal to endorse or execute performances of the music of Berlioz, Franz Liszt, and most of all Wagner. If orchestra directors wished to see works by these composers performed, they had to handle the organisation themselves and engage a guest conductor - and risk the wrath of Verhulst, which could be considerable. In 1886, he was appointed an honorary member of Diligentia - which subsequently fired him. Hereupon he withdrew from his other positions and from public life. He died in the town of Bloemendaal, aged 74.

Verhulst wrote dozens of songs in the tradition of Franz Schubert and Robert Schumann, usually on texts provided by the Dutch author J. P. Heije. The textual quality of these songs is doubtful, but no-one can question the appropriateness of Verhulst's music. Key features of his works are a typical use of chromaticism and long preludes and epilogues. His best songs approach the level of his idol, Robert Schumann. He also wrote chamber music, sacred music (e.g. the Mass, Opus 20) and orchestral music (several overtures, among which the Gijsbrecht van Aemstel overture, and a Symphony in E minor, Opus 46). Most of his compositions stem from the time before his activities as a conductor and organiser.

Robert Schumann's Overture, Scherzo and Finale is dedicated to Verhulst.

Year / Artwork Title Importance Medium
ca. 1835 Ouverture Gijsbrecht van Aemstel, Op. 3 4.00 stars 5 CD
Dutch Radio Symphony Orchestra cond. Jac. van Steen
1841 Symfonie in e, opus 46 4.00 stars 6 LP
Residentie Orkest cond. Ernest Bour
? Three Songs on texts by J.P. Heije 4.00 stars 5 CD
Annegeer Stumpius -Soprano
Nico van der Meel - Tenor
Leo van Doeselaar - Pianoforte