“The third movement finally draws to a glorious close with a celebration of victory,” Van Heuvelen said. “One of my favorite themes comes into play at that time. Then the fourth movement settles down to the celebration of peace and getting on with our lives.”
The symphony is deeply romantic — young, hopeful, heartbreaking. It wonderfully reflects the young composer poised at the brink of a post-war adulthood, while also expressing the feeling of a still-young country in transition.
Way Leads On to Way
In the early 1950s, Van Heuvelen was accepted to Tanglewood, the summer residence of the Boston Symphony Orchestra and a prestigious music academy in Lennox, Mass. Tanglewood’s alums include composer Aaron Copland, who was a student at the same time as Van Heuvelen, and Leonard Bernstein, who taught at the center while Van Heuvelen was there. Van Heuvelen studied conducting under the flamboyant Bernstein.
“I had the opportunity to present my symphony to Leonard Bernstein one time after class,” Van Heuvelen recalled. “I asked if he would look it over, and he made an appointment for me to come to his place and to bring the master score. He spent from 1 o’clock in the afternoon to 4:30 looking at it. He went through it page by page.”
Bernstein’s reaction was very flattering, Van Heuvelen said. The legendary conductor and composer went through all 208 pages of Van Heuvelen’s master score with the younger man.
“One of his basic comments was, ‘Your music sounds a lot like [composer Johannes] Brahms.’ Of course, at the time, I thought that was very flattering, you know,” he said. “Looking back at it, it wasn’t quite that flattering because you’re supposed to be your own man. The only clue that I had done anything like Brahms is that I would go on long walks and I’d think of my themes as I walked along and they say that Brahms did the same thing.”
In fact, Brahms was the soundscape of Van Heuvelen’s war days. Van Heuvelen and his first wife began their married life during World War II, while he was in the Army. Every morning she would say goodbye to him and not know if he would be shipped out that afternoon. During those uncertain days, the young couple had a small Victrola and four records, including a recording of Brahms.
“She loved to play the Brahms first symphony, so I probably heard quite a bit of Brahms at that time,” he said. “But, like I say, I never copied anything note for note. It was just in the background.”
Brahms, a wildly romantic composer, leaves a lovely imprint on Van Heuvelen’s work, an expression of the young, uncertain romance and simple joy of early married life, the backdrop of the larger narrative of the country at war.
Toward the end of his interview with Bernstein, Van Heuvelen remembered, he asked his teacher for advice on whether he should make a go of composing.