Born in 1939, Louis Andriessen is the son of the distinguished Dutch composer Hendrik Andriessen. He studied first at the Royal Conservatory in the Hague, where he won the first prize for composition, and then with Luciano Berio in Milan and Berlin. Since 1974 he has taught at the Royal Conservatory.
After a radical change of style, Andriessen’s music became a crucial inspirational force in new Dutch music. Like Steve Reich he rebelled against the elitism and restrictions of organised contemporary music, which had become increasingly distant from both performers and audience. In 1972 he founded the wind ensemble de Volharding, named after his own piece, a street band designed to bring music physically to its audience and to give him and others the opportunity to compose for individuals rather than abstract instruments. Hoketus(1977) (significantly written for ’12 instrumentalists’ rather than 12 instruments) also spawned an eponymous ensemble, which commissioned many works for its unique instrumental forces of pan-pipes,
, saxophones, pianos, bass guitars and percussion. Hoketus was first played by Icebreaker in the new Dutch music festival in York in April 1989. They have now played this classic minimalist work long enough to be able to testify to its continual fascination and demanding, physical live presence.
A series of major works for large ensemble from the mid-70′s brought him to international attention, starting with the dazzling de Staat (1973-6) based on Plato, one of his best-known works, and continuing with Mausoleum (1979) about the Russian revolutionary Bakunin, de Tijd (1981), de Snelheid (Velocity)(1983) and de Stijl (1985).
This latter work served as a starting point for his first opera, de Materie, a collaboration with Robert Wilson which was premiered in June 1989 at the Netherlands Opera in Amsterdam. He subsequently began a series of collaborations in collaboration with Peter Greenaway, first on a TV film based on Mozart (M is for Mozart), and subsequently on the operas Rosa, premiered to much acclaim in Amsterdam in November 1994 (“lots of sex and violence and sexual violence” – the composer) and Writing to Vermeer (1999). He has recently been working with the American film director Hal Hartley on a number of works, most recently his latest opera for the Netherlands Opera is La Commedia (2004-8) based on Dante.
The numerous scores of which he is dedicatee testify to his seminal influence on a generation of young Dutch and international composers. His music is often loud and rhythmic, using unusual ensembles with emphasis on wind, brass, pianos and percussion, and has a dissonant, strongly individual harmonic sense. Andriessen’s work has the energy of rock music, a post-Stravinskian rhythmic complexity and an individual use of minimalist techniques; it is provocative and stimulating, dramatic and gripping, but also, as in the slow, vivid sound worlds of de Tijd and de Materie, can be radiant and lyrical.