In 1969, he was part of a group of protesters at a concert of the Concertgebouw Orchestra. They disrupted the concert with nutcrackers and bicycle horns, handing out leaflets on the dismal representation of Dutch new music in the orchestra's programming. The next year, he and the other "Nutcrackers" were given one-week prison sentences, and yet their protest sparked something of a social reform in the Dutch music scene.
In 1969, Andriessen co-founded Studio voor Elektro-Instrumentale Muziek STEIM in Amsterdam. In opposition to the classical orchestra, a structure seen as "hierarchical", he also helped founding the instrumental groups Orkest de Volharding and Hoketus, both of which performed compositions of the same names, formed by classical, jazz and pop musicians. He later became closely involved with the Schonberg and Asko ensembles and inspired the formation of the British ensemble Icebreaker.
Andriessen began in the style of an intentionally dry neoclassicism, but then turned into a strict serialist. His early works show experimentation with various contemporary trends: post-war serialism (Series, 1958), pastiche (Anachronie I, 1966–67), and tape (Il Duce, 1973). His reaction to what he perceived as the conservatism of much of the Dutch contemporary music scene quickly moved him to form a radically alternative musical aesthetic of his own. From the early 1970s on he refused to write for conventional symphony orchestras and instead opted to write for his own idiosyncratic instrumental combinations, which often retain some traditional orchestral instruments alongside electric guitars, electric basses, and congas. Andriessen repeatedly used his music for political confessions and messages, but he also referred to painting and philosophy. His range of inspiration was wide, from the music of Charles Ives in Anachronie I, the art of Mondriaan in De Stijl, and medieval poetic visions in Hadewijch, to writings on shipbuilding and atomic theory in De Materie Part I.
Andriessen's later style is a unique blend of American sounds and European forms. His mature music combines the influences of jazz, American minimalism,Igor Stravinsky, and Claude Vivier. The music consists of minimalist polyrhythms, lyrical melodic fragments, predominantly consonant harmonies disrupted by explosive blocks of concentrated dissonance. Andriessen's music thus departs from post-war European serialism and its offshoots. By the 21st century he was widely regarded as Europe's most important minimalist composer.
His notable works include Workers Union (1975), a melodically indeterminate piece "for any loud sounding group of instruments" whose score specifies rhythm and contour but not exact pitch; Mausoleum (1979) for two baritones and large ensemble; De Tijd (Time, 1979–81) for female singers and ensemble; De Snelheid (Velocity, 1982–83), for three amplified ensembles; De Materie (Matter, 1984–88), a large four-part work for voices and ensemble; collaborations with filmmaker and librettistPeter Greenaway on the film M is for Man, Music, Mozart and the operas Rosa: A Horse Drama (1994) and Writing to Vermeer (1998); and La Passione (2000–02) for female voice, violin and ensemble. His opera La Commedia, based on Dante's Divine Comedy, is particularly renowned; it won the 2011 Grawemeyer Award for Music Composition and was selected in 2019 by critics at The Guardian as No 7 of the then most outstanding compositions of the 21st century.
Ittrospezione III (Concept I) (1964) for 2 pianos and 3 instrumental groups
Double (1965) for clarinet and piano (dedicated to George Pieterson and Tan Crone)
Ittrospezione III (Concept II) – Fragment (1965) tenor saxophone ad libitum, 2 pianos (section of Ittrospezione III [Concept II]; may be performed separately)
Beatles Songs (1966) (satirical arrangements of four Beatles songs) for female voice and piano
Souvenirs d'enfance (1954–1966) for piano. Including amongst others: Nocturne, Ricercare, Allegro Marcato, As you like it, Blokken, Strawinsky, Rondo opus 1, Étude pour les timbres, dotted quarter note = 70
Rage, rage against the dying of the light (1966) for 4 trombones
De Staat (1972–76) (text by Plato) for 2 sopranos, 2 mezzo-sopranos, 4 oboes (3rd, 4th + English horn), 4 horns, 4 trumpets, 3 trombones, bass trombone, 2 harps, 2 electric guitars, 4 violas, bass guitar, 2 pianos (also transcribed for two pianos in 1992 by Cees van Zeeland and Gerard Bouwhuis)
Nietzsche redet (1989) (text by Friedrich Nietzsche) for speaker, alto flute, English horn, clarinet, bass clarinet, bassoon, 2 violins, viola, 2 celli, double bass, 2 pianos
Flora Tristan (1990) for mixed choir a cappella (text by Fleur Bourgonje)
Facing Death (1990) for amplified string quartet
Facing Death (1990) for saxophone quartet (arrangement by Aurelia Saxophone Quartet)
Dances (1991) (text by Joan Grant, choreography by Bianca van Dillen) For soprano, small orchestra (amplified harp, amplified piano, percussion, strings). May be performed as a concert work.
M is for Man, Music, Mozart (1991) (texts by the composer, Jeroen van der Linden, Peter Greenaway) for female jazz voice, flute (+ piccolo), soprano saxophone, alto saxophone, tenor saxophone, horn, 3 trumpets, 2 trombones, bass trombone, double bass, piano (TV score; may be performed as a concert work with one additional song)
Lacrimosa (1991) for 2 bassoons
Lacrimosa (1991) for 2 flutes (arrangement by Manuel Zurria)
Hout (1991) for tenor saxophone, electric guitar, piano and marimba (+ woodblocks)
Romance voor Caecilia (1991) for piano
Nadir en Zenit (1992) improvisations on poems by Sybren Polet for voice and piano (+ synthesizer)
Trilogie van de Laatste Dag (1996–97) (each of its three sections may be performed separately: (i) The Last Day (texts by Lucebert, folksong A Woman and Her Lass) for boy soprano, 4 male voices, orchestra; (ii) TAO (texts by Laozi, Kotaro Takamura) for 4 female voices, piano [+ voice, koto], small orchestra [5 winds, 2 horns, harp, piano (+ celesta), 2 percussion, minimum 14 strings]; (iii) Dancing on the Bones (text by the composer) for children's chorus, orchestra, 1997)
De herauten (1997) for 3 horns, 3 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, timpani
Not an Anfang (1997) for piano
De eerste minnaar (1998) (text by Toon Tellegen) for boy soprano, organ, 1998 (section of music theatre work Oldenbarneveldt; may be performed as a concert work)
Tuin van Zink (1998) for viola and live electronics
Writing to Vermeer (1997–99) (libretto by Peter Greenaway) Opera for 2 children's voices, 2 sopranos, mezzo-soprano, female chorus, orchestra (7 winds, 2 horns, 2 trumpets [2nd + bass trumpet], 2 harps, 2 electric guitars, cimbalom, 2 pianos, on-stage harpsichord, 2 percussion, minimum 22 strings), CD (music by Michel van der Aa)
Woodpecker (1999) for percussion
Image de Moreau (1999) for piano
Dirck Sweelinck Missed the Prince (1999) for harpsichord
Passeggiata in tram in America e ritorno (1999) (text by Dino Campana) for female Italian voice, violin and piano
What Shall I Buy You, Son? (2000) for voice, piano
Boodschappenlijstje van een gifmengster (2000) (text by the composer) for vocalist (also writes), voice (may be performed as Shopping List of a Poisoner [translated by Nicoline Gatehouse]
Inanna's Descent (2000) for mezzo-soprano, piccolo, oboe, violin, piano, 2 percussion ensembles (4–12 total players)
The New Math(s) (2000) (text by Hal Hartley) for soprano, transverse flute, violin, marimba, CD (music by Michel van der Aa), 2000 (film score; may be performed as a concert work)
Feli-citazione (2000) for piano
Passeggiata in tram in America e ritorno (2001) (text by Dino Campana) for female Italian voice, 3 trumpets, 3 trombones, electric guitar, electric violin, double bass, piano, percussion, 1998 (also version for voice, flute, horn, 3 trumpets, 3 trombones, amplified violin, double bass, piano
De vleugels van de herinnering (2001) (text by Larissa Tiginachvili [Dutch translation]) for voice, piano
Fanfare om te beginnen (2001) for 6 groups of horns
La Passione (2000–02) (text by Dino Campana) for female jazz voice, violin, small orchestra (7 winds, 7 brass, electric guitar, cimbalom, 2 pianos, synthesizer, 2 percussion, 3 violins, bass guitar)
Very Sharp Trumpet Sonata (2002) for trumpet
Tuin van Eros (Garden of Eros) (2002) for string quartet
Klokken voor Haarlem (Bells for Haarlem) (2002) for piano, celesta, synthesizer, vibraphone (+ glockenspiel)
Pupazzetti by Alfredo Casella, arranged by Louis Andriessen for ensemble in 2002–2003
Inanna (2003) texts by Hal Hartley, Theo J.H. Krispijn) for 4 voices, 3 actors, mixed chorus, contrabass clarinet, 4 saxophones, violin, film (by Hal Hartley)
Letter from Cathy (2003) (text from a letter by Cathy Berberian to the composer) for female jazz voice, harp, violin, double bass, piano, percussion
Tuin van Eros (2003) for violin and piano
RUTTMANN Opus II, III, IV (2003) for flute, 3 saxophones, horn, 3 trumpets, 3 trombones, double bass, piano (film music for a film of Walter Ruttman, written for the Filmmuseum Biennale 2003)
Haags Hakkûh (The Hague Hacking) (2003) for 2 pianos. Renamed to Haags Hakkûh Stukje (The Hague Hacking Scrap) in 2008.
Racconto dall'inferno (2004) (text by Dante Alighieri) for female jazz voice, small orchestra (8 winds, 6 brass, guitar, cimbalom, 2 pianos, 2 percussion, minimum 8 strings, bass guitar). Part II of La Commedia (2004–08).
Mach's mit mir, Gott (Do unto me, God) (2016), for organ
Signs and Symbols (2016), for wind ensemble and percussion
Ahania Weeping (2016), for mixed chorus
De goddelijke routine (The divine routine) (2017), for organ
Rimsky or La Monte Young (2017), for piano
Agamemnon (2017), for speaker and large orchestra
Searching for unison (étude) (2018), for piano
The Only One (2018), song cycle for female jazz singer and large ensemble, dedicated to Nora Fischer, who premiered the work at The Proms 2019
May (2019), for choir and orchestra
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