Notes by Dr. Beverly Everett
Harold Van Heuvelen, or “Van” to his friends and family, is 93 years old and resides in Kalamazoo, Michigan. A concert violinist, conductor and composer, Van Heuvelen taught in the Bismarck Public Schools for over 50 years, serving as a significant mentor and colleague to many of our current BMSO musicians. The journey of Symphony No. 1 began on December 7, 1941. Van Heuvelen enlisted in the United States Army after Pearl Harbor. He was posted to a base in New Orleans as an instructor for recruits. “When the peace came along in Europe in April of 1945, we just practically sat there without anything to do,” he says. “Most of the gentlemen drew house plans because they were thinking they were going to get out of the service pretty soon. And I wrote a symphony.” Van Heuvelen finished the symphony and even got it in front of Leonard Bernstein a few years after the war, but it was never performed and sat on the shelf for 70 years. The story could have ended there, but instead Symphony No. 1 was given a new life and a new start last year when it was premiered by the U.S. Army Orchestra on its Veteran’s Day, concert 2012.
Notes from the composer: “The first movement has a beautiful aura of sadness.” The first movement depicts the years before America entered World War II, while Adolf Hitler was tightening his grip on Europe. “The opening bars of the first movement portray the depth of sadness experienced in those years prior to World War II,” he said. “I’ve expressed a yearning for peace that somehow [was characteristic] of that period of history. Everyone wanted to do something — to put an end to the atrocities in Europe — but there was an intense feeling of futility. In America, in that time, there was an aura of being removed and far away from the disastrous happenings taking place in Europe.” “Our desires and the depth of yearning for peace mired us in wanting to do something but not being able to do it,” he explained. “Therefore, the music of the first movement depicts a wandering and a searching for an answer. … Then [the bombing of] Pearl Harbor came along, and that seemed to be the answer. As terrible and devastating as it was at the time, it became sort of the exclamation mark.” The symphony’s second movement begins with the “hustle and bustle” of preparing for the war. The music depicts the intense activity of the time. The third movement describes “the raucous cacophony of the war itself, the boys going to Omaha Beach and invading Germany”. “At the end of the last movement I have a victory march.”
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