Louis Andriessen (b. 1939)

Louis Andriessen & Morton Feldman, A Conversation (1986)

Born: June 6, 1939 - Utrecht, the Netherlands

The Dutch composer and pianist, Louis Andriessen, was born into a musical family, the son of the composer Hendrik Andriessen (1892-1981), brother of composers Jurriaan Andriessen (1925-1996) and Caecilia Andriessen (b 1931), and nephew of Willem Andriessen (1887-1964). From them, he learned to admire the works of J.S. Bach and Igor Stravinsky which - along with the jazz and be-bop he listened to on the radio as a teenager - have remained his most important influences.

Louis Andriessen originally studied at Royal Conservatory of Music with his father and composition with Kees van Baaren, one of the first Dutch composers to write serial or 'twelve-tone' music. After graduating in 1962, Andriessen went to study for two years in Milan and Berlin with the Italian composer Luciano Berio, whose works combined strict serial techniques with a characteristically Italian lyricism and feeling for instrumental colour, and which often have a strong dramatic element, even in purely instrumental pieces.

Andriessen's music from this period (pieces include, Anachronie I and The Nine Symphonies of L.v. Beethoven for Promenade Orchestra and Ice-Cream Bell) combines avant-garde techniques with irreverent quotation from diverse musical styles, following the example of American composer Charles Ives (1874-1954), whose music was only just becoming well-known in Europe.

Collaborative works with other artists include a series of dance projects, the full length theatre piece De Materie created with Robert Wilson for the Netherlands Opera, and three works created with Peter Greenaway: the film M is for Man, Music, Mozart, and the stage works ROSA Death of a Composer and Writing to Vermeer, premiered at the Netherlands Opera in 1994 and 1999 respectively. Recent film collaborations include The New Math(s) created with Hal Hartley in 2000, broadcast on TV and performed internationally. Nonesuch Records has released a series of recordings of Andriessen's major works, including the complete De Materie, ROSA Death of a Composer and Writing to Vermeer.

Louis Andriessen teaches composition at the Royal Conservatory of The Hague, where his notable students included Michael Zev Gordon, Steve Martland, Richard Ayres, Richard Baker, Jeff Hamburg, Ivana Kiš, Koji Nakano, Damien Ricketson, Patrick Saint-Denis, Juan Sebastian Lach, Michel van der Aa, Víctor Varela, and Jasna Veličković.

In 1969 Louis Andriessen co-founded STEIM in Amsterdam. He also helped found the instrumental groups Orkest de Volharding and Hoketus, both of which performed compositions of the same names. He later became closely involved in the ongoing Schonberg and Asko ensembles and inspired the formation of the British ensemble Icebreaker.

Andriessen, a widower, was married to guitarist Jeanette Yanikian (1935-2008). They were a couple for over 40 years and were married in 1996.

Style and notable works

Louis Andriessen is one of the most distinctive and influential composers working today. Drawing on a diverse range of influences from J.S. Bach, Igor Stravinsky, be-bop jazz, Indonesian Gamelan, funk and R&B, he has constantly sought to break down the barriers between 'high' and 'low' culture in his music to fashion something gritty, powerful and unique. His left-wing politics and anti-establishment stance make him a hero to composers and musicians from all over the world, many of whom have flocked to his native Amsterdam for study. Over 40 years, he has steadily built up an impressive list of works, many of which challenge conventional ideas about what music is, and what it can do.

Andriessen's early works show experimentation with various contemporary trends: post war serialism (Series, 1958), pastiche (Anachronie I, 1966-1967), and tape (Il Duce, 1973). His reaction to what he perceived as the conservatism of much of the Dutch contemporary music scene quickly moved him to form a radically alternative musical aesthetic of his own. Since the early 1970s he has refused to write for conventional symphony orchestras and has instead opted to write for his own idiosyncratic instrumental combinations, which often retain some traditional orchestral instruments alongside electric guitars, electric basses, and congas.

Andriessen's mature music combines the influences of jazz, American minimalism, Igor Stravinsky and Claude Vivier. His harmonic writing eschews the consonant modality of much minimalism, preferring post war European dissonance, often crystallised into large blocks of sound. Large scale pieces such as De Staat ['Republic'] (1972-1976), for example, are influenced by the energy of the big band music of Count Basie and Stan Kenton and the repetitive procedures of Steve Reich, both combined with bright, clashing dissonances. Andriessen's music is thus anti-Germanic and anti-Romantic, and marks a departure from post war European serialism and its offshoots. He has also played a role in providing alternatives to traditional performance practice techniques, often specifying forceful, rhythmic articulations, and amplified, non-vibrato, singing.

Other notable works include Workers Union (1975), a melodically indeterminate piece "for any loud sounding group of instruments"; Mausoleum (1979) for 2 baritones and large ensemble; De Tijd ['Time'] (1979-1981) for female singers and ensemble; De Snelheid ['Velocity'] (1982-1983), for 3 amplified ensembles; De Materie ['Matter'] (1984-1988), a large four-part work for voices and ensemble; collaborations with filmmaker and librettist Peter Greenaway on the film M is for Man, Music, Mozart and the operas Rosa: A Horse Drama (1994) and Writing to Vermeer (1998); and the recent La Passione (2000–02) for female voice, violin and ensemble.

Recent commissions include La Commedia, an operatic setting of Dante for Netherlands Opera premiered at the Holland Festival in June 2008 in a production by Hal Hartley, and The Hague Hacking premiered by the Labèque Sisters and the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Esa-Pekka Salonen in January 2009.

Andriessen's music is published by Donemus in the Netherlands and Boosey & Hawkes in the United Kingdom and the United States. His recordings appear on the Nonesuch Records label.


Louis Andriessen was recipient of the Gaudeamus International Composers Award in 1959. He received the 2011 Grawemeyer Award for Music Composition for the multimedia opera La Commedia (2004–2008).

Louis Andriessen in UbuWeb Sound