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And Andriessen Set Plato to Music

27th July 2021


Louis Andriessen is dead.

The Dutch composer Louis Andriessen
set Plato's The Republic in De Staat, 
specifically the passages concerning 
music and its infl'ence on the state.
Change in music's make-up, Plato says,
(Andriessen emphasises) is a danger
as it's always followed by a change
within the state. Is Plato right? Let's look
through history. The change from modes to keys
in Western music coincided with
upheaval in the church five hundred years
ago. The breakdown of tonality
was followed by the global violence 
of World War One. The Old Greek had a point.
The late Dutch only hoped it might be true -
that music might upset the status quo.  

Andriessen was a minimalist like
American composers Glass and Reich.
His music has no narrative, it makes 
no journey, comes to no conclusion in 
a cadence. It is static like a picture
and in that respect is similar
to modal music of the Ancient Greeks.
The modes are moods determined by the flavour 
of the white-note keyboard scale each mode
is based on. Plato asks which modes are full
of weeping, wailing and lamenting and
is told the Lydian, from F to F,
its sharpened anguished fourth no good for training
warriors. He asks again which modes
are soft, convivial or slack and might
result in drunkenness, effeminacy,
laziness. Ionian from C
to C, Aeolian from A to A
the answer. These would be no good for soldiers
either. What is left? The Dorian from D
to D, and Phrygian from E to E,
the solemn, serious and stern modes -
these are what are needed to defend 
the state, says Plato. Andriessen depicts 
this like a pointillist in chords as heavy
dots applied with rhythmic application
to a canvas, bitter unresolving
dissonances, spiky melodies,
circular as a conveyor belt, the ultimate expression
of the automated mass-produced society
reflected in the minimalist school
not just of music but of all the arts
the Andy Warhol soup tin or the snap
of Marilyn Monro repeated ad
infinitum. The singers, four sopranos,
homophonically declaim Greek
chorus style platonic politics.
The instruments - four each of oboes, horns,
trombones, violas, trumpets, two of harps, pianos,
e-guitars and bass - create
the argument. The final chorus jars 
its warning to the state, the singers one
in their enunciation. Then the band
divides and each half plays a different score
while listeners become accustomed to 
the polyrhythms, one in either ear. 
It straightens out and there is unity 
although the vehemence which Plato's message
is delivered with knows no relenting 
till the final ever-swelling note. 

The premiere was nineteen seventy six
and brought Andriessen fame around the world.
He reached his eighty second year and died
July the First of twenty twenty-one.








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