Sunday, April 15, 2007

De Staat

Let me preface this by saying that I dare warrant that one of my regular readers could write circles around me when it comes to Louis Andriessen. In fact, if he would like to respond to this post, I will gladly print his comments verbatim here.

It is a shame that the music of Louis Andriessen is not more widely accepted, in my experience, than it seems to be. His 1976 work, De Staat (The Republic), is an excellent example of what we're missing when we pass over his unique musical language. Since discovering this work, I have listened to it at least once a day, and often more. It is overtly political in content and in form. I might say that Andriessen crafted a musical analog to Stalinist architecture, both stylistically and rhetorically in his music.

The music will likely be called minimalist, but I prefer the architectural term, "brutalist." It is a thundering, repetitive surface that seems to actively resist any attempt to scrutinize it. It is mysterious, but - at the same time - unflinching. Perhaps the only analogy that doesn't fall victim to the pathetic fallacy is that the work is granitic. There, inanimate object is related inanimate object. Ruskin would be proud.

The text, from Plato's Republic, deals with music and society, but it is in the original Greek and hidden behind the orchestration. To me, this is the work's most successful rhetorical gesture. Andriessen's statement about the government and music, especially in a repressive regime or revolutionary environment, is writ large. Perhaps that was, and there are those who could correct me quickly and definitely, Andriessen's snide aside at Pierre Boulez and IRCAM, which - to an "outsider" like Andriessen - could seem like a musical totalitarian state very simply. Still, it's hypnotic.

That is, perhaps, my best judgment on De Staat: its hypnotic quality. Andriessen wrote a piece of uncommon force and vigor. It is surprising to me how obsessive I am about this work. After getting my "education" in modern music from Boulez and Messiaen, I am not sure that I should have any use for a piece like De Staat. Still, it's a masterpiece of the modern era and fully worthy of extended listening.

Reinbert de Leeuw and the Los Angeles Philharmonic deserve some credit for programming the work as part of the Minimalist Jukebox series, and Deutsche Grammophon deserves as much credit for recording it. The splendid acoustic of Walt Disney Hall fits Andriessen's "cantata" as well as anywhere.


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