Composer Louis Andriessen dies, aged 82

The disruptive Dutch composer was a master of large-scale symphonic works which tackled big ideas

AMSTERDAM, NETHERLANDS - MAY 13TH: Dutch composer Louis Andriessen posed at the IJsbreker in Amsterdam, Netherlands on 13th May 1989. (photo by Frans Schellekens/Redferns)

Dutch composer Louis Andriessen has died, aged 82.

Advertisement

Considered to be one of the most influential composers of his generation, Andriessen’s music was disruptive, often made up of large-scale symphonic works, blending vastly different styles, from jazz to Stravinsky, and later in his career, American minimalism. He was a major advocate of contemporary music, once disrupting a concert by Bernard Haitink and the Concertgebouw Orchestra with a protest demanding more contemporary music.

Born in Utrecht in 1939, Louis Andriessen was the son of composer Hendrik Andriessen and grew up in a highly musical family, going on to study at the Royal Conservatory of The Hague and later with Berio in Milan and Berlin.

His early works show an interest with contemporary trends, developing his own unique style and often eschewing the dissonance of many contemporary styles in favour of more harmonic writing. Andriessen also often wrote for unexpected forces: his 1975 work Workers Union, for example, was written ‘for any loud sounding group of instruments’.

He dedicated music to patron and benefactor Betty Freeman, who was a leading figure in the 20th-century music scene, nurturing and promoting the work of new composers. He also wrote a concertante work, Tap Dance, for percussionist Colin Currie, who spoke to BBC Music Magazine in 2018 about the composer. ‘I first met him through Steve Martland when I was a student in the Netherlands playing in his band and it took ten years to get the piece off the ground. We had to wait for the timing to be right.’

Here he is talking to the Southbank Centre about Tap Dance. 

Louis Andriessen has also been responsible for nurturing the careers of other composers. Minimalist and postminimalist composer Graham Fitkin studied with Andriessen and spoke to BBC Music Magazine about his time working with the composer. ‘Louis Andriessen got me to think. He would make me justify why I had done certain things: “Why are you writing this piece of music?” I would have to answer, “Because, blah, blah, blah” or, “No, you’re right, it’s rubbish” and I would stop doing it. Or he would say a bass line was very flabby, and ask why I was using those notes. I still think like this now.’

In December 2020, Andriessen’s wife, the violinist Monica Germino, announced that the composer was living with dementia.

His final work, The only one, was given its world premiere performance by the Los Angeles Philharmonic in May 2019, the recording of which was released on Nonesuch in March this year and was awarded a four-star review by BBC Music Magazine. ‘There’s no sense of waning powers nor any loss of iconoclastic spirit in its unnervingly surreal 20-some minutes,’ wrote our reviewer Steph Power. ‘Composed in 2018 for the genre-straddling vocalist Nora Fischer, it’s effectively operetta-cum-cabaret disguised as an orchestral song cycle.’

You can read all our reviews of Louis Andriessen recordings here.

Advertisement

Top image: Getty Images