Composer of the Day!

Today's Composer of the Day is Louis Andriessen (b. June 6, 1939).

Andriessen is probably the most prominent of all Dutch composers, narrowly edging out the likes of Henk Badings, Otto Ketting, and the indubitable Johan de Meij (who our high school concert band devotees will remember as the composer of the insufferable "Lord of the Rings" Symphony).

Andriessen was seemingly born to be a composer, following in the steps of his father Hendrik Andriessen (1892-1981), older brothers Jurriaan and Caecilia, and his uncle Willem Andriessen (1887-1964) who were/are all professional composers.

Much verbosity can be wasted trying to nail down an exact description of the style of Andriessen's music. Let me instead provide a couple of quintessential examples:

From his massive four-part De Materie (Matter) for voices and orchestra -- mvt. III, "De Stijl", with text from The Principles of Plastic Mathematics by M. H. J. Schoenmaekers:

Worker's Union (1975) for any loud-sounding group of instruments -- Andriessen said of the work, "The idea is to have music that suggests people shouting at a political rally."

As you can probably hear, there are number of different styles at work in Andriessen's music. For example, De Materie has portions which recall the music of composers such as Bach and Stravinsky, boogie-woogie bands from the 1940s, minimalists like Terry Riley, and even quotes the "L'homme armé" melody (which appropriately originates in the Netherlands, for you Renaissance music history buffs out there). This mishmash of influences has led many to describe his music as pastiche, and his use of many repetitive and motoric textures as post-minimalist, or to claim his music as a blend of high and low brow culture. However, while embracing such varied styles as neo-classicism, American minimalism, jazz, and serialism, Andriessen has created a musical aesthetic uniquely his own.

In 1969, Andriessen and fellow Dutch composers protested Amsterdam's Concertgebouw Orchestra because of their continued unwillingness to perform new works, especially those of a more adventurous spirit. This group of rabble-rousers brought with them children's noise-makers in the shape of frogs that chirped in protest. Recalling the protest now, Andriessen says, "The sounds we made were actually quite serene and nice," but these serene sounds were still successful. Many point to this protest as a pivotal moment in the rebirth of contemporary music in Holland. But more importantly, it seemingly set Andriessen down a path in which he rejects the traditional orchestra in favor of a more eclectic approach to instrumentation.

His orchestrations often included unique groupings of instruments, and unusual additions to standard ensembles. For example, his work Orpheus (1977) is scored for 8 mixed voices, lyricon, electric guitar, bass guitar, synthesizer, and percussion. And his work De Staat (1972-76, text by Plato) is scored for 2 sopranos, 2 mezzo-sopranos, 4 oboes (3rd, 4th + English horn), 4 horns, 4 trumpets, 3 trombones, bass trombone, 2 harps, 2 electric guitars, 4 violas, bass guitar, and 2 pianos.

Much of Andriessen's music also includes vocal or theatrical elements . These include using texts from seemingly non-musical sources such as Machiavelli, Plato, Nietzsche, text from the Book of Job, and Dante Alighieri (set for female jazz vocalist). Among the most famous of his works with literary and theatrical components are his collaborations with filmmaker and librettist Peter Greenaway. Andriessen's score to the Greenaway's film M is for Man, Music, Mozart is one my personal favorites, and is exceptional strong as a concert piece as well. See one movement from the film here:

M is for Man Music Mozart (1991) - Vesalius Song

Other collaborations include the operas Rosa: A Horse Drama (1994) and Writing to Vermeer (1998), and the La Passione (2000-02).

As with all Composer of the Day recommendations, Andriessen is a badass composer who is more than worth a moment of your time.

And just because, here is the text to "The Alphabet Song" from M is Man, Music, Mozart:

A is for Adam and
E is for Eve
B is for bile, blood, and bones.
C is for conception, chromosomes, and clones.
D is for Devil.
F is for fertility and Venus’ fur.
G is for germs and growth and genius.
H is for hysteria.
I is for intercourse.
J is for Justine or the misfortunes of virtue.
K is for Kalium, or potassium, if you like.
L is for lust, and lightening, lightening…


Sator Arepo said...

Outstanding choice. And those videos are, er, fun to look at, as is our wont.