Jan van Vlijmen was born on October 11, 1935 in Rotterdam. He died on December 24, 2004 in Réveillon (France).
He studied piano, organ and composition (with Kees van Baaren) at the Conservatory of Music in Utrecht.
From 1961 to 1965 he was principal of the music school in Amersfoort. He taught music theory at the Utrecht Conservatory and in 1967 he was appointed deputy principal of the Royal Conservatory of Music in The Hague under Kees van Baaren. Van Vlijmen became principal and chief lecturer in composition in January 1970, functions he held until July 1985. He introduced significant innovations in professional music teaching, for instance in the field of the Baroque and Renaissance music, theoretical music teaching, contemporary and electronic music. In 1984, the Minister of Culture asked him to accept the function of manager of the Netherlands Opera. Following a conflict with the government about the relationship between artistic quality and the financial means, made available by the government and the quantitative performance demands, he resigned in 1987. From May 1990 till August 1997 he was artistic director of the Holland Festival.
Van Vlijmen wrote chamber music - including two wind quintets, the string quartet Trimurti, Faithful for viola (1984) - , songs and works for orchestra: Gruppi (1962), Serenata I and II (1964), Interpolations (1968) and Quaterni (1980). In 1982 and 1984 Quaterni II and Quaterni III/IV were completed and the cycle was performed in 1984 (Holland Festival). In 1987 he completed the score and instrumentation of Summer rites at noon, a composition for two orchestras by the Dutch composer Rudolf Escher, who died in 1980. His works for orchestra were performed outside The Netherlands with Pierre Boulez, Bruno Maderna, Francis Travis and Edo de Waart. The operas Reconstructie (Holland Festival 1969) and Axel (Holland Festival 1977) were written in cooperation with other composers. The opera Un malheureux vetu de noir, about the last years of Vincent and Theo van Gogh, was premiered in Amsterdam, November 16, 1990. Theo Bruins gave the first performance of the Piano concerto (1991) on May 4, 1991 with the Radio Symphony Orchestra, conductor Kenneth Montgomery. In 1995 Reinbert de Leeuw conducted the first performance of Inferno, a large scale cantata on texts by Dante and in 1998 Edo de Waart conducted the first performance of Monumentum. In December 2004 Octopus was premiered by the cello octet Conjunto Iberico during the Nederlandse Muziekdagen. The world premiere of the opera Thyeste (libretto Hugo Claus) was in Brussels (Belgium) on September 27th, 2005.