Louis Andriessen

Born 1939

Louis Andriessen



The Dutch composer Louis Andriessen is known for his nonconventional yet highly appealing music and his rebellious and entrepreneurial spirit. He has inspired an entire movement of Dutch composers to ditch tradition and create their own path. His works range in genre and include stage, orchestral, chamber, vocal and piano works which have been performed worldwide.

Louis Andriessen was born into a musical family on 6 June 1939 in Utrecht, the most central city of the Netherlands. He is the son of the pioneer of Dutch modern music—the late composer and organist Henrik Andriessen, nephew of the late composer and pianist Willem Andriessen and the younger brother of composer Jurriaan Andriessen, who died in 1996.

Louis Andriessen first studied composition privately with his father from 1953 to 1957 before entering the Royal Conservatory of Music in The Hague, where he studied with Kees van Baaren from 1957 to 1962. After graduating with the first prize, Andriessen went to Milan to study with the Italian composer Luciano Berio from 1962 to 1963, following him to Berlin for a year to assist with the scoring ofPassaggio.

While Andriessen’s earliest works use the method of serialism, by 1963 he had moved on to graphic notation, as evidence by the piano pieceRegisters, which combines both fixed and non-fixed elements for improvisation. His first stage production,Reconstructie was premiered in 1969 at the Holland Festival in collaboration with Ton de Leeuw, Misha Mengelberg, Peter Schat and Jan van Vlijmen.

Andriessen made a defining decision in 1970 to quit writing music for the standard symphonic ensembles, which eventually led to him founding a number of ensembles to fit his own needs, but first, he experimented with electronic music and the theatre workIl Principe.

It was with De Staat (The Republic, 1976) that Andriessen experienced his big breakthrough. He based this large choral work on Plato’s Republic, using the original Greek text, ancient Greek scales, repetition, hocket and rhythms reminiscent of Stravinsky. He orchestratedDe Staat very uniquely for four women’s voices, four oboes, four horns, four trumpets, four trombones, two electric guitars, bass guitar, two pianos, two harps and four violas.

De Staat also serves as commentary on society, pondering how Plato’s Republic could be applied to music and how these ideas could relate to contemporary society. For this tremendous work, Andriessen won the prestigious Kees van Baren Prize.

The political message of music is something very dear to Andriessen, who explained, “Many composers view the act of composing as, somehow, above social conditioning. I contest that. How you arrange your musical material, the techniques you use and the instruments you score for, are largely determined by your own social circumstances and listening experience…I do agree, though, that abstract musical material—pitch, duration and rhythm—are beyond social condition: it is found in nature. However, the moment the musical material is ordered it becomes culture and hence a social entity.”

Andriessen’s rebellious nature led him to form a number of ensembles after protests and disruptions, together with others such as Reinbert de Leeuw and Misha Mengelberg, at concerts at the Concertgebouw in favour of broader programming, were unsuccessful. As a result of this rejection, he long avoided sustained string sounds, preferring the brass, winds, electronic and percussion instruments.

He formed the Orkest de Volharding (Orchestra of Perseverance) in 1972 for his workde Volharding. The orchestra has remained intact and continues to commission new works. Andriessen has also remained associated with the orchestra.

In addition to Orkest de Volharding, Andriessen also formed the ensemble Hoketus in Amsterdam in 1976, though they disbanded in 1986.

Some of Andriessen’s works include Forget-Me-Not for an oboist that also has to play piano andTAO for a violinist who speaks and plays the koto. Major works afterDe Staat have including, De Tijd, Trilogy of the Last Day and Facing Death for the Kronos Quartet.

He has also collaborated with stage director Robert Wilson for the four-part De Materie(1989) and in the 1990s with film director Peter Greenaway for the filmsM is for Man, Music, Mozart and Rosa: The Death of a Composer. They also collaborated on the operaWriting to Vermeer (1999).

Andriessen’s works, including Workers Union and Hoketus, have appeared on the programmes of California Ear Unit and Bang On A Can.

In addition to composing, Andriessen is an active writer, having written many essays and a compelling book on his idol Stravinsky—The Apollonian Clockwork (1989). One of the reasons Stravinsky’s music appeals to him so much is, in Andriessen’s own words, “I don’t feel comfortable with composers like Schoenberg who always push ahead in one direction. I prefer the jacks-of-all-trades: the Purcells and Stravinskys, who are at home anywhere, borrowing here, and stealing there”.

Andriessen taught instrumentation at the Royal Conservatory in The Hague from 1974 to 1978, after which he began teaching composition, which he still does to this day. Additionally, he has given guest lectures all over the world, including at Yale University (1987). He also served as artistic director of the Meltdown Festival in London (1994) and is directs the annual International Young Composers Meeting in Apeldoorn. He is also an accomplished pianist, especially known for accompanying mezzo-soprano Cathy Berberian.

In addition to inspiring an entire generation of Dutch composers and performers, Andriessen has been the recipient of many prestigious awards and honours, including having one of his works selected at the UNESCO International Rostrum of Composers in Paris (1977,De Staat), the Matthijs Vermeulen Prijs (1977,De Staat; 1992, De Materie) the 3M Music Award (1993), the Edison Award (1993, for the recording ofDe Tijd), the Debs Composer's Chair at Carnegie Hall (2009–10), the Grawemeyer Award for Music Composition (2011,La Commedia), and the Marie-Josée Kravis Prize for New Music in New York, New York (2016).