Friday, July 2, 2021

In Memoriam: Louis Andriessen

No composer in the Netherlands was as influential as Louis Andriessen (1939-2021)

by Frits van der Waa, first published in deVolkskrant

Louis Andriessen in Belgrade in 2004.

Louis Andriessen, Holland’s most famous composer, has died. Friends and colleagues have confirmed this to de Volkskrant. He suffered from Alzheimer's disease and passed away Thursday night in a nursing home in Weesp. He was 82 years old.

In Louis Andriessen the Netherlands had, for the first time since Jan Pieterszoon Sweelinck (1562-1621), a composer who not only counted internationally, but who also had something to say. The number of foreign music students who came to the Netherlands especially to study with him must add up to a hundred, and Andriessen also gave many a course abroad. He owed this world fame first and foremost to his own pioneering style, which was embodied in large-scale compositions such as De Staat, De Tijd and De Materie and operas such as Writing to Vermeer and La Commedia.

In his own country, he was also known as a composer of smaller-scale work and music for theatre, ballet and film. He was the central figure, if not the founder, of what since the 1980s has been called the Hague School.

Andriessen was born on 6 June 1939 in Utrecht, as the youngest son of the renowned composer Hendrik Andriessen. ‘I still have the feeling that my father is looking over my shoulder when I compose,’ he said in 1992, when he was already over fifty.

In his first published composition, a flute sonata in French neo-classical style, composed at the age of 18, his father’s influence still prevailed, but within a year, with Séries for two pianos, young Louis showed that he wanted to go his own way. That road led to the Royal Conservatoire in The Hague, where he studied with Kees van Baaren, and then to Italy, where he took lessons with Luciano Berio.

In the sixties, Andriessen revealed himself more and more as a politically engaged composer. This made him a guiding force in the development of the later Dutch ensemble culture. In 1969, he was one of the five composers responsible for the anti-capitalist, collectively composed opera Reconstruction (the others were Misha Mengelberg, Peter Schat, Reinbert de Leeuw and Jan van Vlijmen). He was also a member of the Notenkrakers, the action group at the time that opposed what they saw as the Concertgebouw Orchestra’s too conservative programme policy.

Andriessen came to the conclusion that you could only change the music system by also changing the music and the way it was performed. From his close cooperation with musicians emerged the now defunct but equally illustrious and noisy ensembles De Volharding and Hoketus, both named after the works Andriessen wrote for them.

Andriessen’s music from that period was a response to American minimal music, in which he first of all rejected the sweet-voiced surface of that style.  The repetitive, yet angular and dissonant sounds of his work were soon regarded as essential characteristics of the Hague School, the group of composers at the Royal Conservatory in The Hague to which, besides Andriessen, Cornelis de Bondt, Diderik Wagenaar and Gilius van Bergeijk also belonged.

Andriessen made his international breakthrough with the large-scale piece De Staat in 1976. This was followed by a series of monumental and gradually less minimalist compositions that also attracted attention. At the same time Andriessen composed various smaller works, including several music theatre pieces in collaboration with the theatre group Baal. In this music, like his great example Stravinsky, he could indulge in musical mimicry and all kinds of stylistic pastiches, to which he nevertheless always gave his own twist.

A textbook example is the contrary Mattheus Passie from 1976, in which he creates a fusion between Bach, Weill and tearjerkers, but not without adding his own fingerprints. These two lines came together in the 1989 music theatre work De Materie (Matter), a four-part work in which almost all the main characters originate from Dutch history, such as Hadewych and Piet Mondriaan.

From the 1990s onwards, Andriessen’s fame rose rapidly, to which his collaboration with theatre and film makers such as Bob Wilson, Peter Greenaway and Hal Hartley certainly contributed. Although his pupils came from far and wide, his work mainly found resonance in Anglo-Saxon countries.

One of his last major works was the opera Theatre of the World, which was premiered in 2016 by the Los Angeles Philharmonic under Reinbert de Leeuw. Andriessen combined stylistic exuberance with a preference for weightless sounds and ethereal beauty, which became increasingly prominent in his later work.

His very last piece was May, a requiem for his bosom friend, the recorder player and conductor Frans Brüggen (1934-2014), based on the poem Mei (May) by Herman Gorter. When the Orchestra of the Eighteenth Century and chamber choir Cappella Amsterdam premiered it on 5 December 2020, the composer was already living in a care facility. Andriessen suffered from Alzheimer’s disease. His student Martijn Padding had helped him complete the instrumentation.

Andriessen lived in Amsterdam for almost his entire adult life and shared it for almost fifty years with his great love Jeanette Yanikian, who died in 2008. In 2012, he remarried the violinist Monica Germino. He usually spent his mornings composing. In the afternoon, he would teach, and then between 5 and 6 he would take a health nap. The next morning, he would first of all scrutinise the previous day’s production, because as he said: ‘Good notes need a night’s sleep’.

This self-criticism has led to a multiform, but high-quality oeuvre that testifies to a never-ending belief in music’s expressive powers, whether it be a complete opera or a few minutes’ piano piece written as a birthday present.


Thursday, July 1, 2021

Monday, April 3, 2017

De Materie Opens World Minimal Music Festival in Amsterdam

Opening concert at Muziekgebouw aan t 'IJ featuring  Andriessen's De Materie on Wednesday April 5 is sold out.
General rehearsal at 16.30 is open for attendance. Tickets are still available.

Ensemble Academie
Reinbert de Leeuw dirigent
Kristina Bitenc sopraan
Georgi Sztojanov tenor
Nina van Essen spreekstem
Elsie de Brauw spreekstem

Here is the programme note written for BBC about De Stijl (De Materie, part 3) for the last year Total Immersion Louis Andriessen festival at Barbican, London.

De Stijl (1984-85)
for 4 women’s voices, female speaker and large ensemble

Considered to be one of Andriessen’s classics, De Stijl is sharp and abrasive in tone, and has something of the air of a manifesto. It draws together ‘high’ and ‘low’, ‘artistic’ and ‘popular’ musics, foregrounding the notion of style as the conceptual motor of the piece. The title pays homage to the journal De Stijl, first published by Theo van Doesburg in 1917 in Amsterdam, which served as the theoretical grounding for the movement known as ‘neo-plasticism’ in the visual arts.
               Although De Stijl is often performed as an independent piece, it is actually the third part of the stagework De Materie (1985-88), in which Andriessen investigates ways in which the mind or spirit handles the material world. The combination of rigorous structural planning and a diversity of stylistic elements is common for all four parts of De Materie.
               Red, Yellow and Blue; bold, black intersecting lines; black, grey and white rectangular fields; asymmetry: these might be the keywords to describe the geometrical abstraction characteristic of the painter Piet Mondrian, who was the most prominent artistic figure of neo-plasticism. One of his most emblematic paintings is Composition with Red Yellow and Blue (1927), and it was precisely this work that Andriessen used as a kind of model for the proportions of De Stijl.

The music is a free transposition of the proportions (durations) and colors (instrumentation) of the painting. It takes the shape of a Passacaglia, a set of variation on an ostinato bass. The funky-like bass theme, first played by piano and bass guitar, is a restless melody of improvisatory spirit. It appears no fewer than fifty-eight times, sometimes comprehensively disguised, and with only its metrical structure preserved and detectable. 
               Two literary texts were used. The first, sung in Dutch, is by the theosophist and mathematician M. H. J. Schoenmaekers (who greatly influenced Mondrian), and is about the figure of ‘the perfect cross-line’. The second text, mainly spoken by a dancer in English, is by M. van Domselaer, and describes Mondrian’s love of dance. The words about the cross-line are always followed by the B-A-C-H motive. The female voices that convey the cross-line text are invariably strained and dissonant. They come across as a kind of vocal perpetuum mobile that critically mirrors the text. After a climax a boogie-woogie begins on piano, and in the staged version of the piece the dancer/speaker takes a prominent role from that point on, narrating Van Domselaer’s text while projecting the image of the perfect cross-line with a laser beam.
               Andriessen was never interested in creating a singular musical style, suggesting that if his music really does express something like his own specific language, it is due to his limitations, not his acumen. Thus, for Andriessen, style appears to be a strategy for avoiding these limitations. And in the process he endlessly introduces musical references of remote and unlikely origin, as though to confirm that music is not really about style, but about other music.

Text © Jelena Novak


Thursday, December 8, 2016

Het Klankcafe: Andriessen, Caso and Keesmaat about Anais Nin & Odysseus’ Women

Odysseus' Women + Anaïs Nin

Friday, December 9, Muziekgebouw, Amsterdam

19.15 uur / Foyerdeck 1 / Inleiding
Dramaturg Koen Bollen in gesprek met pianist Gerard Bouwhuis, componist Louis Andriessen en regisseur Jorinde Keesmaat.

20.15 uur / Grote Zaal / Hoofdprogramma
Louis Andriessen Odysseus' Women
Louis Andriessen Anaïs Nin

Monday, November 7, 2016

Six Films on Hoketus by Bas Andriessen

Six films on Hoketus, Introduction by Bas Andriessen, the author:
HOKETUS was an influential ensemble for contemporary music in Holland from 1976 -1986. On september 14th 1986 the group gave 2 farewell concerts (afternoon & evening)  because it's musicians decided it was enough. It had existed 10 years. In this period the group had commissioned several composers to write pieces for them. And they had played all over the world. They were regarded highly in the international new music scene. This year it is 30 years ago that HOKETUS stopped and 40 years ago that they started. In 6 video films I reflect on the history of the ensemble and it's way of working & thinking.

In the second half of the nineties of last century I organized all kinds of programs about contemporary music in a small theatre in my hometown Nijmegen in the Netherlands called O'42. Amongst these programs were live interviews I did with Dutch composers combined with performances of their music. At a certain moment my main guest was composer Huib Emmer. In our (phone-)conversations about what to do that evening Huib and I agreed to invite The Piano duo (Gerard Bouwhuis & Cees van Zeeland) to play some of his music. This meant that there were 3 guests that all had been prominent members of HOKETUS, so I thought: wouldn't it be nice for the audience if we could show them some images of their former ensemble as part of my interview with Huib? So I went to work.

To keep a long story short: when I approached CNM (Center for Dutch Music) to ask if they knew if filmed material of HOKETUS existed they -to my relief- not only were able to confirm that it did but they even said that the farewell concert of the group in 1986 was filmed and that they had these video recordings at their disposal. Wow! Well, would they be so kind to send me some of that? "No problem", was the cooperative answer and within a week I received a mailed package in which to my total surprise were 3 video-tapes (those were still the pre-internet and pre-dvd days of video folks!) with so much (edited!) material on it that there was reason to presume they had sent me the entire concert. Very impressive!

A little bit strange was that I was not told to deliver it all back to CNM. And also in the aftermath of my Huib-interview there came no CNM requests of this kind. So these unique images (the 3 musicans told me they never had seen them) remained in my possession. And more strange: if this were copied versions, why then was nothing ever done with the original material? Why was it filmed & edited, but never shown to an audience? Why were these tapes catching dust in some forgotten archive to remain unseen?

I decided in 2015 -when I realized we were approaching the 30th anniversary of the ensemble's end and the 40th birthday of it's  start- I was going to do something myself. In the mean time I had become a TV-program maker for local TV in Nijmegen so I had gained some of the necessary knowledge. I had invested a little in the equipment how to do that technically. And with regard to the content: it was territory I had become kind of experienced in.

I knew I was not going to make a documentary. Since this is a no budget enterprise it was obvious from the beginning that there was no money to travel long distances to do archive work. film abroad, etc. The only thing that was within the realm of the possible was to take my camera's and visit some of the musicians and composers involved, interview them, and create a filmed oral history. That would be one film. Then I would also make a video of every composition I had the farewell concert version of by combining these images with an interview with the composer of the piece + remarks by some members of the ensemble.

Of course it wasn't possible to interview everybody involved. So I had to make choices who I was going to interview and who I wasn't. Which criteria should I use in deciding which ensemble members I was going to approach for an interview?
Since HOKETUS consisted out of identical instrument groups it immediately seemed logical to me that I should interview one member of each instrument: percussion, bass guitar, pan pipes, piano/keyboards, sax. That I decided to choose for Paul Koek (perc), Gerard Bouwhuis (p/keyb), Huib Emmer (bass g), Patricio Wang (pan p) & Peter van Bergen (sax) was because at a certain moment this were the 5 musicians that formed an important edition of the group LOOS.

These films are dedicated to all the musicians that once were members of HOKETUS and made it the internationally influential Dutch ensemble it was.

HOKETUS part 1 "HOKETUS 1976 - 1986 An oral history" by Bas Andriessen

HOKETUS part 2 "HOKETUS" by LOUIS ANDRIESSEN int & live HOKETUS / video Bas Andriessen   

HOKETUS part 3 "BINT"  by CORNELIS DE BONDT int & live HOKETUS/video Bas Andriessen

HOKETUS part 4 "SINGING THE PICTURES" by HUIB EMMER int & live HOKETUS/video Bas Andriessen 

HOKETUS part 5 "GRAY MATTER" by GENE CARL int & live HOKETUS/video Bas Andriessen     

HOKETUS part 6 "SPÅRA" by KLAS TORSTENSSON int & live HOKETUS/video Bas Andriessen    

Saturday, November 5, 2016

Six Films on Hoketus, Trailer

Recently Bas Andriessen (not related to Louis Andriessen) completed the series of six films he made about legendary ensemble Hoketus.