Writing to Louis Andriessen: commentaries on a life in music began in the Summer of 2015, with two extended meetings with Louis in which we discussed all manner of things. Notable for me, he focused on both Cathy Berberian and Luciano Berio; other influences which fundamentally shaped his thinking were also foregrounded. These meetings set the tone somewhat.

Louis’s generosity to me providing access to his personal archive, also his belief in the project offered me the creative freedom to curate the book as I felt. It was crucial I felt to find a Dutch publisher who shared my vision. Simply it had to be a Dutch designed book, published by a Dutch publisher about Louis Andriessen, but in English so as to export ideas about Andriessen’s music to other territories. This was my first determination.

Process overview

The second crucial component in the methodology behind the book was to involve writers with differing experiences of Louis’s works; to include performers, composers, academics and more journalistic styles of writing, all in equal status with each other (echoing how Andriessen works musically, with an equality of input and status in his ensembles). A composer myself, I wanted to ‘compose’ the book, to see where the material took me. This is how I worked. It’s a different shape than I had originally anticipated, but with greater depth than I ever could have imagined.

In the 1980s when I was beginning to think about music seriously.

I came across the conversation books on both Stravinsky & Berio, (Robert Craft, and David Osmond-Smith/Rossana Dalmonte). Both of these books in their use of pure, simple language about music communicate directly. The written word is placed simply and centrally. The directness of language of composers talking about their own music is an eloquence I seek to curate in books I assemble. Giving room for musical practitioners closely associated with Andriessen’s aesthetic space to also speak so very personally about their work in association with his, is an elegant, yet very powerful choice.

In providing a variety of texts from distinctive standpoints a more textured rendition of what Andriessen has achieved compositionally has emerged. Idiosyncratic repetitions and dovetailing work well across the narrative, identifying areas of discussion and contention; not a homogenised text of Andriessen’s entire oeuvre, but a tactile rendition of what remains central among some of Andriessen’s closest associates.

The most heartening part of the book project was the unfettered enthusiasm from everyone involved. Here was a man who has profoundly given of himself across his working and creative life; and this is repaid in Writing to Louis Andriessen, many times over in the commentaries on [a] life in music by those authors, composers, friends, colleagues who joined into the book, with its element of celebration!

Detail of the texts

The texts are diverse; there are some reprints; in 2002 John O’Mahony had written a great article summarising Louis within the Dutch scene; capturing a time. The first English translation of Louis’s and Elmer Schönberger’s Compositie, een Les / first shown on TV in 1978 is also presented. Both of these capture a written snapshot in time.

Tracing Andriessen’s music as it is import/exported across territories – has been simply fascinating. How Louis’s music was encountered mid 90’s in the States by Irish composer Donnacha Dennehy studying then in Illinois, who transported it to Dublin; how he Donnacha then set up Crash Ensemble (echoing Louis’s own ‘can-do’ ensemble attitude).

Similarly, Julia Wolfe, based in the East Coast travelled to Cal Arts to track her aesthetic passion for Andriessen’s music; returning to the East Coast, co-founded Bang on a Can!… also, California EAR Unit, and Icebreaker. These groups provide their own fabulous stories.

The cross-pollination of Andriessen’s musical composition – the influence it has had on at least a couple of generations, across a minimum of three territories is discussed in a number of different ways. Key protagonists in notable ensembles that came into being one way and another due to Andriessen’s influence also are given the space to tell their story; California E.A.R.unit, the UK based Icebreaker, New York’s Bang on a Can, and the Irish Crash Ensemble all speak in this volume.

There is one treatise, in two parts, in the volume, Ian Pace’s historiography of minimalism; tracing the minimalist project in general; then secondly situating Andriessen’s placing within this outlined historiographic appraisal; proposing an entirely new perspective on where Andriessen’s oeuvre could be thought to belong.

This is a work that is intended to be a backward glance across Andriessen’s significance as a composer primarily. With the addition of archive material from both Andriessen’s own personal photo, concert programme and personal correspondence; with inclusion of photos from Asko|Schönberg ensemble’s own unique and valuable archive, the book demonstrates a proper musicological identity and emphasis; providing initial access for scholars to indications of potential areas in which further scholarly scrutiny may be further explored.

With thanks

Lecturis, Eindhoven and Studio Joost Grootens embraced conceptually and visually my aims as author/editor/translator behind the compiled texts; working with me to create a fresh and appealing book, designed for a reader with a curious mind.

Published by Lecturis, Eindhoven May 2019 – Support provided by Jaap Harten Fonds  / Fonds21  /  Paul Sacher Stiftung / Boosey&Hawkes 

Writing to Louis Andriessen : Commentaries on life in music surveys significant works from Andriessen’s career. Writing to Louis Andriessen is above all about Andriessen’s music, including his own text (Composing – a lesson, 1978) and those by musicians, composers and more academic-style appraisals, with contributions from the UK, Holland and the US. The book is a substantial addition to what is available in print so far on his work.

Louis Andriessen has exerted influence not only as a teacher at the Royal Conservatory of the Hague but also internationally in the expanse of works presented and his influence on various contemporary ensembles such as Ireland’s Crash Ensemble, New-York’s Bang on A Can, Icebreaker from the UK and California E.A.R.Unit. Members of these ensembles have the opportunity in this book to celebrate their connection to Andriessen and his influence on them. In his eightieth birthday year 2019, former students, now also significant voices internationally, and his contemporaries join together to write to Louis Andriessen in a book of critical reflection and celebration. Those taking part include Richard Ayres, California E.A.R.Unit (Amy Knoles, Lorna Eder, Robin Lorentz, Erika Duke-Kirkpatrick, Vicky Ray), Donnacha Dennehy, Rose Dodd, Ron Ford, Christopher Fox, Monica Germino, Liz Haddon, Yannis Kyriakides, Jan Nieuwenhuis, John O’Mahony, Ian Pace, Martijn Padding, Johanneke van Slooten, Frances-Marie Uitti and Julia Wolfe.