In 1976, Louis Andriessen (1939)* composed his ground-breaking composition De Staat, based on texts by Plato. This ruthless explosion of sound meant his international breakthrough and is still considered an icon of new music.
On Sunday 6 November 2016, I Solisti del Vento, the Scottish Red Note Ensemble and the Norwegian vocal ensemble Song Circus will perform De Staat during the festival November Music.
In 2008, the Netherlands Blazers Ensemble released a live recording on CD, and for the booklet I interviewed Andriessen, enquiring how he looked back on his piece. His answers still seem surprisingly relevant in 2016.
In 1976, you concluded somewhat disappointed that music, contrary to what Plato believed, was not dangerous for the state.
‘Of course Plato’s text was based on a misconception, and my reaction to it was essentially paradoxical: it’s a pity that Plato was – and is – wrong. But I’m afraid I find this observation even truer now than it was back then.’
Yet there were and still are governments that ban music.
‘Yes, but then it usually concerns the context in which it is played, or a text used in a composition. Plato really went into the music itself, but our current politicians are dumb and cannot read notes. Krzysztof Penderecki wrote 8’37 towards the end of the 1950s, which, although not banned, was boycotted by the state ensembles.’
‘Shortly afterwards, he presented Lamentation for the Victims of Hiroshima, which was applauded by politicians for its tragic eloquence – while we all know it was the exact same piece.’
In the 1960-70s, music was often politically motivated; this seems no longer to be the case.
‘Music history moves in waves, as do political and social developments. The flourishing ensemble culture in the Netherlands has its roots in our actions back then and is still unique in the world. Unfortunately, yuppie politicians now rule the country, thinking that the state has no responsibility whatsoever, so that trains don’t run on time, traffic is jammed and public healthcare is a disaster.’
‘It is the general trend among those over thirty-five: make sure your own bed is made. Politicians are only interested in getting as many votes as possible, but I expect that their children will counter react and steer in a different direction.’
‘They will do something similar to what we did in the 1960s and 1970s, which was another variation on what happened in the 1920s, when the arts managed to shatter laws. If not much exciting is happening at the moment, this is because our time is still a reaction to the sixties.’
At the time, there was an enormous interest in modern music; now it seems to have been banished from the public domain.
‘Around 1880, everything revolved around music, now visual culture is paramount. The hip-ness of film and television reigns supreme, as we are still bowled over by moving images. In the past you went to a concert to listen to music, or you played the piano at home. Now you go to the cinema.’
‘Incidentally, there may be fierce opposition to contemporary composing, but horror films are full of clusters and other modernities nobody complains about. The focus on visual culture has had an enormous impact on our perception of art.’
In the past, you wanted to reach the man in the street with your music, now popular culture seems to have taken over.
‘Well, today the man in the street has a very hard time of it, because he is bombarded by the terrorism of entertainment. I don’t think we have succumbed to our own success, however, because there are still people who want to make their own choices. Even if there is little to choose from. On the other hand, there have never been so many opportunities in the field of music as we have seen in recent years.’
‘Look at the programming of the Amsterdam Muziekgebouw for the upcoming season; there is an exemplary Thursday night series of thirty concerts exclusively offering modern music. I travel around the world, but this is unthinkable in London, Paris or New York. My generation has made all this possible here in The Netherlands.’
‘Yet at this moment a lot of what we achieved is being demolished, but I’m convinced today’s children will react to this in due course. That may well cost lives, because reactions are always fierce. Fortunately I will be long dead by then…’
*Louis Andriessen died on 1 July 2021.
The Netherlands Wind Ensemble premiered De Staat in 1976.
I played De Staat in my programme Panorama de Leeuw on January 3, 2018 on Concertzender.