Composer and teacher Louis Andriessen, who died at the age of 82, was widely recognized as the most important creative force to emerge from the Netherlands in the second half of the 20th century. This was due to the originality and quality of compositions such as De Staat (1976), Hoketus (1977) and the opera Writing to Vermeer (1999), but also to his engagement in political activities which helped to bring democratic changes in the organization of the Dutch. culture. Andriessen was a renowned composition teacher and had a worldwide influence on young composers.
In the 60s and 70s the Netherlands was often envied by those in other countries as the perfect place if you were a composer, performer or listener, who believed that the music of living artists should be at the center of a nation’s cultural life.
Yet the appearance of engaging and open-minded attitudes all too easily attributable to the nature of the Dutch mentality – more likely, say, to cross the lines between the classic and the popular – could prove to be misleading. Long after 1945, the Netherlands had more symphony orchestras per million population than any other country, most of them offering a very traditional repertoire.
It is against this cultural heritage that the generation of Dutch composers emerging in the 1960s, led by Andriessen among them, developed the reputation of being young embers. In 1969 the premiere of an opera entitled Reconstructie (Reconstruction) took place which was an act of collaboration involving several composers including Reinbert de Leeuw (later well known as a conductor) and Pierre Schat, as well as Andriessen himself.
The radicalism of these musicians is now most often recalled by a demonstration – at a concert on November 17, 1969 in Amsterdam’s Concertgebouw concert hall by the hall’s venerable orchestra, conducted by Bernard Haitink – which claimed that the The Concertgebouw Orchestra was “a status symbol of the ruling elite of our society”. Musically, Andriessen and his colleagues sought to engage more with contemporary popular music, especially with jazz and free improvisation, as well as with the emerging musical minimalism of the United States.
A consequence of Andriessen’s avowed Marxist position at this time was his rejection of the symphony orchestra. “Back then,” the composer explained, “we were saying some pretty radical things, like orchestras only matter to capitalists and record companies. But there was also a musical reason. I was looking for another sound, a sound that had to do with both jazz and classical avant-garde.
He therefore favored smaller ensembles individually adapted to the type of music he wanted to write, on the model of the groups set up by American minimalists such as Steve Reich and Philip Glass. His involvement in a grassroots organization called the Movement for the Renewal of Musical Practice, established in March 1970, helped to generate more democratic attitudes towards funding for musical ensembles in the Netherlands.
Towards the end of his life, Andriessen made peace with the symphony orchestra and the world it consecrated, enough to accept a commission from the Concertgebouw Orchestra: Mysteriën (Mysteries, 2013), his first orchestral work in 45 years, was inspired by the 16th century writer Thomas in Kempis.
The move upset some of the composer’s most ardent champions, but it’s common for revolutionaries to seem to be reverting to the establishment position they rejected in their youth. And anyway, Andriessen’s own compositional approach had become dominant in his country.
Born in Utrecht, son of Johanna (née Anschütz), pianist, and Hendrick Andriessen, he grew up in a family of composers, including his father, themselves imbued with the tradition of conservative Dutch composition and French influence from the first half of the 20th century.
After his initial training at the Royal Conservatory in The Hague, Louis studied for two years with the avant-garde Italian composer Luciano Berio, in Milan and Berlin. It was, however, only after shaking off most of these influences and beginning to find himself as a composer by putting his music at the service of his newly acquired Marxist position that Andriessen began to write the works for which he is the author. more famous.
Two groups founded by him turned out to be excellent outlets. One, De Volharding (Perseverance), performed both in street demonstrations and in concert halls. Andriessen From Staat (The Republic), which uses texts from Plato’s Republic to make openly Marxist arguments about how and why music is made and consumed, deploying a scorching combination of vocals and an ensemble in which brass and electric guitars feature prominently, is typical of his compositions. for this outfit.
The other group, Hoketus, was named after the medieval musical technique of dividing a melody into two rapidly alternating parts. The piece itself titled Hoketus, with its peculiar use of pan flutes, is a prime example of how he adopted for this group of students from The Hague.
By now Andriessen was already becoming a highly respected teacher; his international influence on composers, both in the Netherlands and elsewhere – including British figures such as Richard Ayres and Steve Martland, and the American composers of the group Bang on a Can – would soon follow.
Andriessen’s style in the 70s and 80s continued to take the tonal and highly repetitive approach practiced by Reich, Glass and many others and gave it a new edge, with greater dissonance and a more instrumental sound. strident. For From Stijl (1985) – its title refers to the Dutch painter Piet Mondrian, whose strict abstract forms combined with an unlikely enthusiasm for boogie-woogie are both incorporated into Andriessen’s piece – his two sets were combined into what the composer called “the terrifying orchestra of the 21st century”.
In Material (Matter, 1984-89), which included De Stijl as the third of its four sections, Andriessen supplemented his then current manner with brilliant effect in a work which was originally directed by American designer-director Robert Wilson as a musical theater play.
In the 90s, if he also produced a great concert work, Last day trilogy (1997), Andriessen followed the logic of the movement performed with Wilson’s contribution by composing operas, including several for the Dutch Opera, as well as other types of theatrical projects; Over the past three decades, his style has both softened and considerably broadened in his stylistic range. Two operas – Rosa: The death of a composer (1994) and Writing to Vermeer (1999) – were collaborations with British director Peter Greenaway.
His subsequent operas include La Commedia (2008), based on Dante, which was a collaboration with American filmmaker Hal Hartley; for this he won the Grawemeyer Prize for musical composition.
Andriessen also continued to compose for the concert hall, notably La Girò for violin and large ensemble (2011). His latest opera, Theater of the World, premiered in 2016, was designed with German writer Helmut Krausser and is based on the great 17th-century thinker Athanasius Kircher. His latest composition, May for choir and orchestra (2019), was written as a tribute to the Dutch recorder and conductor Frans Brüggen, who died in 2014; it was created last December.
Andriessen married Jeanette Yanikian in 1996; she died in 2008. In 2012, he married violinist Monica Germino, for whom he wrote several works. She survives him.