The New Celto-Dutch Aesthetic

OK, kiddies, gather around, it’s time to reap the benefits of your uncle Kyle’s globe-trotting. I’m back, having paid $50 US to carry an extra 10 kilos of new CDs onto the plane in my suitcase, not to mention the box of CDs that I paid good Euros to mail home from Dublin. I must now be considered southern Columbia County’s leading expert on Dutch and Irish composers, and so I pass the expertise on to you via Postclassic Radio, which will be very heavy in Dutch and Irish music for awhile. Line up the bottles of Guinness and Hoegaarden, and be ready to mix.

First, music from The Netherlands. I had already put up several pieces by Dutch sampling champion Jacob Ter Veldhuis, who performs nonlocally as Jacob TV. (Good idea; one problem Dutch composers have getting exported is that their names often require diphthongs we Englishers just don’t have on our tongues.) Now I’ve added several pieces by Peter Adriaansz, a composer of slow, sensuous drone music who’s spent time in the States, and whose music sounds like a real Dutch-American hybrid. Particularly keep an ear out for his Prana, a 63-minute, glacially moving continuum that I enjoyed hearing live at the Bimhuis in Amsterdam. There are several pieces up by Anthony Fiumara, composer of nicely nonobvious process pieces, plus works played by the Orkest de Volharding, which Fiumara directs, composed by Geert van Keulen, Wim Laman, Paul Termos, and Willem van Manen.

Interspersed with this is a travelogue of Irish new music. Some of the liveliest pieces are by Donnacha Dennehy, the postminimalist who was my gracious host at Trinity College, and whom musicologist/raconteur Bob Gilmore has been describing to me as “THE best young composer in Europe.” Well, I haven’t heard every 30-something composer in Europe yet, so I defer to Bob for the time being. A more unexpected find, in-between new music and pop, was Roger Doyle, who, as virtuoso of the recording studio, appears to be kind of the Brian Eno/Harold Budd of Ireland. I’ve put up several virtual piano pieces from his disc Baby Grand, Satie-like in their humor, plus music from his five-CD set Babel. Gerald Barry is, of course, by all acclaim the leading Irishman of my generation, and I’ve posted a couple of quite listenable chamber works for your validation. And I let in one very knowledgeable young composer I met in England, Neil Campbell, whose Assembly and Mass are so relentless that the “post” in postminimalist begins to fade away.

The Netherlands has a national style, against which people like Peter Adriaansz and Renske Vrolijk can profitably rebel. The Irish seem to be all over the place, but I’ve got a couple more Irish complilation discs to make my way through, and the Irish Music Center was very helpful. But along with Serbian music by Vladimir Tosic, Postclassical Radio has taken on an international cast, and it’s all guaranteed postclassical.


  1. JV says

    “The Netherlands has a national style, against which people like Peter Adriaansz and Renske Vrolijk can profitably rebel.”
    Kyle, can you expand upon this interesting proposition? As a Dutchman, I’m curious to learn about our alleged ‘national’ style – which might be too omnipresent to discern for the indigenous people. Actually, I always thought rebelling against [fill in a random other] was something of a ‘national’ style here…
    KG replies: Hoo boy. Well, Jochum, I’ll tell you how Dutch music looks from the outside. First of all, there are so many great wind groups in The Netherlands that I think of Dutch music as being for winds and brass, and because of that having a kind of short-winded, hard-edged sound. Except for Jacob TV’s, I don’t know of any Dutch string quartets, for example. And I can well believe that Dutch music has long been a rebellion against other European music, but that rebellion has seemed to be rather circumscribed by a devotion to Stravinsky that (or so Anthony Fiumara tells me) started with Henk Badings, and certainly got a shot in the arm from Louis Andriessen. So I think of post-1970 Dutch music as being relatively diatonic though not terribly tonal, and being heavily invested in Le Sacre-like rhythmic surprise, often with lots of repeated chords punctuated by unexpected accents, sometimes with bits of jazz, humor, and certainly salted with lots of irony (a little like Russian music in that respect). It’s a good style – and remember, I’m at a very unpoplar extreme among American composers in believing that a lot of good can come from collective creativity and idea-sharing, and believing that having a national style as a basis is a positive thing. Most American composers would violently disagree, and in fact most composers period will probably disagree with everything I’ve said, but I’m just kinda used to that.
    By the way, one non-Dutch Amsterdam resident, a close long-time follower of the scene, recognizing the sometimes emotive nature of my music, warned me: “The Dutch don’t like sentimentality.”

  2. Bob Gilmore says

    I’m sure I said “ONE of the best young composers in Europe” – or if I didn’t, I meant to. In my more lucid moments I don’t believe in “best” anythings. Maybe I’d had too many Guinness/Hoegaarden cocktails…
    KG replies: You DID say “the” best, and I couldn’t have gotten it wrong, because I was only on my fifth glass of Lavagulin….

  3. says

    You seemed to have missed Ian Wilson. Ok, perhaps he’s Northern Ireland.

    Roger Doyle’s Babel cries out for a theatrical performance, somewhere.
    KG replies: I ran across Wilson, but didn’t have the chance to hear any of his music. I did pick up an interest in the Irish symphonist Frank Corcoran, but he’s hardly postclassical.

  4. says

    Speaking of Jacob Ter Veldhuis, this seems like an appropriat moment to plug my May profile of him:
    On a less self-agrandizing note, have you developed a sense of how these European composers think of their post-classical or minimalist heritage that might differ from the ways that American composers do? I tend to think of American post-classical music as highly New York centered, with the common lineage being the Downtown scene of the 60s 70s and 80s, and with the composers in question forming a community of people who knew each other and went to each others concerts. Obviously most European composers weren’t as much a part of this community, and I imagine that in various ways they formed their own communities. I would also expect that there’s a lineage of European post-classical composers who are critical to the development of European and National styles and have had long-lasting impact, but about whom we Americans are unaware. There’s also a sense in the US that post-classical music is an alternative to the American high-modernism of people like Babbitt and Carter, but I would guess that the Europeans are differentiating themselves from a different set of figures and that it results in different compositional choices and presumptions.
    KG replies: Galen, I’d love to answer your questions, and I even thought for a few minutes about basing a whole blog entry on them. But the truth is that most musicians hate for any distinctions to be made, ever, about anything, and even those who do make distinctions think mine are bizarre and malevolently motivated, and I’m just sick and tired of exciting controversy and eliciting pissed-off e-mails. I refuse to write “There is no difference whatever between American and European music, it’s all just music,” which would make 95% of readers deliriously happy for some reason, but I think I won’t rise to the bait this time – I’ve learned to be content with some of my opinions remaining a mystery. It’s why much of the energy has gone out of my blog lately. I’m sure you’ve got some good ideas on the topic, and I’d love to read them, and you and I are so simpatico that I’ll probably even agree with them.

  5. says

    kyle, it sounds like you need another blog under a pseudonym so you can get all this stuff off your chest. you can post all the comments, but never address any of them. you can have a whole web-persona that’s as cantankerous as you could imagine, but aren’t actually in real life. =)
    KG replies: Yeah… well, sometimes I think I should have chosen a pseudonym back in 1983, the first time I had a music review published.

  6. matt says

    roger doyle’s great!

    i would probably take back most of what i said in this review from five years ago..i wish i had a pseudonym too.

    also worth checking out: the book “new dutch swing” confirms some of your comments about dutch music, albeit in the context of its jazz tradition..

    glad to see you had a good trip.

  7. says

    You wrote above: “I’m at a very unpoplar extreme among American composers in believing that a lot of good can come from collective creativity and idea-sharing, and believing that having a national style as a basis is a positive thing.”
    I completely agree with the first part and somewhat agree with the second. Perhaps rather appropriately, I came to both of those opinions not because of a scored-music composer but because of a fascinating, brilliant, cantankerous, provocative, occasionally downright assholish avant-rocker: David Thomas, most famously of Pere Ubu, but more importantly (to me) of David Thomas and Two Pale Boys.
    If you ever want to check out his writings about music, he’s got plenty all over One of the most fascinating musical figures around, I think. The music itself is often fantastic, too, although he’s prolific enough that there are plenty of missteps along the way.

  8. says

    Also, where do you get all these recordings of recent Dutch composers? There are a lot of composers I’ve heard one or two pieces I really liked by — Joël Bons, Guus Janssen, Cornelis de Bondt… — but I can’t seem to track down recordings anywhere. (It would be nice to be able to get more Jacob TV without paying for those enormous box sets, too.)
    KG replies: Well, I did shell out for the Jacob TV. But for years Donemus published great recordings of Dutch music, and I used to get them free as a music critic. Now they’ve gotten out of the CD business, but they still have an astonishing collection of Dutch scores for sale, and they do facilitate finding the CDs, too: I hope to write a little about my experiences with Donemus.

  9. says

    After I asked, I Googled Guss Janssen and found a huge number of CDs for sale, so disregard my previous comment! (Joël Bons’s music seems to be a bit harder to find, though.)
    KG replies: A lot of European discs that one can find reference to on the web aren’t readily available from American Amazon or other sources, which is why I pack up my suitcase with CDs while I’m there. Some of them are findable on British Amazon. Still, I refuse to be weaned from the inimitable pleasure of browsing through record stores.