On a train, a woman
saw me reading this book and exclaimed,
joyously, "Louis Andriessen!" By an
even greater coincidence, she was a
professional musician of some standing
and had worked with Andriessen himself.
The statistical probability of meeting
someone like this on a commuter train
must be mind-boggling. Andriessen provokes
strong feelings and she was most certainly
pro, describing the exhilarating experience
of participating in creating the music.
A musician's opinions mean a lot to
me, so I took heed.
with Luciano Berio, but it was the turbulent
years of the 1960s that shaped him further.
Robert Adlington traces the cross-currents
of the Dutch social and artistic revolution.
Andiressen sought to change music to
reflect new social values. He embraced
jazz to broaden the appeal of music
and open it to other forces. New music
meant new types of performance, too.
He sought to end the hierarchical structure
of music-making. The Orkest de Volharding
worked on lines of strict equality and
its brash, raw sound seemed to overturn
all that was recherché in "serious"
music. Like many radical musicians of
the time Andriessen became immersed
in the political music of Hanns Eisler,
whose communist beliefs made him use
music as dialectic.
Adlington then traces
how Andriessen adapted these forces
into his music. He embraced the music
of the people, yet despised pop. He
respected jazz but not the idea of free-improvising
soloists, because it contradicted the
idea of solidarity. Thus his music captured
the energy of jazz through loud playing,
but in ensemble with virtuosi subsumed
in ensemble, which also suited the march
quality that underpins his work. Andriessen
was drawn to the classicism of Stravinsky,
and despised the "autobiographical"
style of romanticism, especially Mahler.
Yet he feels it frees the musicians
to express themselves more freely as
a result. Andriessen uses repetition
and minimalism, but his reiterations
change metre and pattern, forcing the
listener to keep on his toes. Essentially
his music is earthy, reflecting his
concept of the Dutch character as hard
working and communal.
A detailed examination
of De Staat follows showing how these
ideas shape the music. Adlington traces
its composition through the original
sketches and notes. Despite the sense
of free-flowing vigour, the composition
was meticulously planned stage by stage.
Adlington demonstrates how the work
came to be written, and analyses the
intricate form that underlines the piece.
He charts changes in tonality, modality
and metre to illustrate how form is
built up and adapts. Yet this is by
no means "pure" music. Andriessen's
commitment to communicating ideas is
of the music shines brightest when he
writes about possible interpretations
of De Staat. The text comes from Plato's
The Republic and deals with the role
of music in society. Yet Andriessen
buries the text, first by using Greek,
unintelligible to the masses, and then
behind a wall of sound. Only about one
quarter of the music is verbal and,
as Adlington notes, the settings for
voice are very restrictive melodically
and rhythmically. This, he suggests,
grows from minimalism but also from
Brecht and Eisler where unsentimental,
agitatory expression was crucial. Adlington
impressively makes a case for the theatrical
nature of the piece as a clue to its
interpretation. The tension between
voices and text create ambiguity: but
even more dramatic are the ways in which
the instruments themselves interact,
sometimes in unison, sometimes in opposition.
Symbolically they enact the ideas of
control and divisiveness inherent in
Plato's text while simultaneously undermining
its dogmatism. Furthermore, because
De Staat is a large, long piece it engages
with the idea of conventional orchestral
practice while concurrently deconstructing
it. Thirty-one musicians are needed,
each with the technical expertise to
play its difficult passages, yet its
stridency argues against the refinement
of "bourgeois" listening. Its essence
is the act of performance itself. The
very hierarchy of performance, where
musicians play for the delectation of
audience, is overturned: listeners have
to work as hard as those on stage.
There follows an interview
between Andriessen and Adlington. The
accompanying CD is a treasure. This
contains a 1978 live performance of
De Staat by the Netherlands Wind Ensemble,
never before issued on compact disc.
Also on the recording is Il Principe,
slightly earlier than De Staat, but
not previously available. Lastly, the
recording includes the first performance
of Volharding, from 1972, which launched
the Orkest de Volharding. It is a piece
of music history, capturing the exciting
mood of the time.
Adlington is a clear-sighted
analyst, who writes with uncommon lucidity
and perception. This Ashgate series
on modern music is in itself revelatory,
because by concentrating in depth on
single, seminal works, its authors can
go into much greater depth than usual.
It's an innovative approach which treats
its readers and listeners with respect,
giving them the basic tools with which
they can take what they have learned
from each volume, and apply it towards
a wider understanding of the composers
and issues they face.