Notes 60.1 (2003) 160-162
[Access article in PDF]
The Music of Louis Andriessen. Edited by Maja Trochimczyk. (Studies in Contemporary Music and Culture, 7.) New York: Routledge, 2002. [xii, 327 p. ISBN 0-8153-3789-2. $85.] Music examples, illustrations, discography, index.
Louis Andriessen is one of the most important living composers of Western art music. Call that a bias—a bias that the reviewer shares with Maja Trochimczyk, editor of the present book, The Music of Louis Andriessen. For those who share such high regard for this composer's music, publication of this varied compilation devoted to the composer and his work is a highly significant milestone, for it is the first book-length study available in the United States on the subject. (Note, however, that 2002 also saw the publication in the United Kingdom of a composer-supervised selection of his own writings in English translation, Louis Andriessen: The Art of Stealing Time, ed. Mirjam Zegers and trans. Clare Yates [London: ARC Publications, 2002].) As such, it should be a priority acquisition for most music libraries and interested individuals.
Among the many qualities that make Andriessen's music stand out in his overcrowded and too frequently undifferentiated field, one quality holds particular rewards for scholarly study, and this is an uncommonly powerful bond between thinking and musicmaking. In this respect, his compositions are resonant feedback loops—abstract ideas find thought-provoking, concrete realization in musical structures, while engaging musical surfaces lay out a sequence of suggestive metaphors pointing back toward abstract ideas. By some ways of thinking, the abstract ideas to which I refer represent extramusical impositions on purely musical phenomena. (Stravinsky's infamous taunt about music's inherent incapabilities still hangs heavily in the air.) Andriessen's work argues forcefully that the "extra" in the preceding formulation is accurate only if interpreted to mean extremely. His compositions demonstrate the key role played in the mysterious echo chamber of musical meaning by the interactive play of abstract ideas and musical phenomena.
Trochimzyck's efforts show a keen sense of the richness that Andriessen's music offers to scholars and critics in its integrity, complexity, depth, and paradox. Her book succeeds in raising important themes and, at the same time, presents challenges to its readers. One of the greatest involves the question of its genre, and, by extension, its intended use.
A listing of the book's chapters by type suggests the assortment offered: four "dialogues" between the editor and Andriessen, a previously published "conversation" between another scholar and the composer, a "conversation" between the editor and one of the composer's longtime collaborators, a brief summary of the composer's Dutch milieu by another scholar, a summary quasi-overview of the composer's oeuvre by the editor, and the editor's transcription of a series of the composer's lectures. Four additional chapters are essays (one previously published) by the editor herself, two focusing on specific works, one on a series of related works, and one attempting some kind of summary consideration of Andriessen's compositional art.
For a reader proceeding sequentially from the beginning of the book to the end, this varied selection breeds uncertainty. It may well be that Trochimczyk's intent is to experiment with a series of overlapping small narratives as a replacement for the singular grand narrative of more traditional monographs. This possibility is given credence by general editor Joseph Auner's laudable emphasis on new critical approaches as described in his general introduction to the series of which this book is a part (Studies in Contemporary Music and Culture). In some cases the freedom to experiment with structures of approach and presentation certainly can lead to fresh models. And surprising contrasts and juxtapositions certainly can illuminate new pathways to our understanding of music and musical practices. Lamentably, such successes [End Page 160] are not often experienced. Except in the hands of a particularly perceptive and creative scholar, attempts at productive contrast and juxtaposition can devolve into muddle and lack of focus.
Trochimczyk's thinking is by no means all muddle. Given the multifaceted intellectual character of Andriessen's music...