Louis Andriessen wins Grawemeyer Award

Martin Cullingford30th Nov 2010
Louis Andriessen, Grawemeyer winner (photo: Francesca Patella)Louis Andriessen, Grawemeyer winner (photo: Francesca Patella)

This year’s Grawemeyer Award for Music Composition has been given to Louis Andriessen for his work La Commedia.

The Dutch composer’s opera – his fourth – is based on Dante’s The Divine Comedy, and was premiered at the 2008 Holland Festival by Netherlands Opera and American film director Hal Hartley.

Commenting winning the Award, which this year carried a $100,000 prize, Andriessen said: “Just before the Second World War, I was born in a side street by a small canal in the medieval centre of Utrecht. Believe me, 71 years later, getting the world-famous Grawemeyer Award for La Commedia seems to be completely unreal. How could this happen?

“When I was four years old my father walked with me over the bridge of the canal to St Catherine’s Cathedral. In that church he played the organ and conducted the choir which twice a week included 40 boy trebles (girl sopranos were permitted only 25 years later). Did it all start sometime then? Perhaps it was hearing him play the organ when I started composing ten years later (I simply began by imitating my father and my 14-year-older brother Jurriaan). My father taught me: ‘Don’t think you are important, we are just worms, but we have the duty to serve the music and write as well as we can’.”

Andriessen had dedicated the score to his wife Jeanette, who fell seriously ill while he was composing La Commedia and died before its premiere.

The Grawemeyer Award for Music Composition is awarded every year by the University of Louisville, along with prizes for education, ideas improving world order, religion and psychology. The first winner, in 1985, was Witold Lutoslawski for his Third Symphony, while subsequent winners have included György Ligeti, Harrison Birtwistle, John Adams, Tan Dun, Thomas Adès, Pierre Boulez, Kaija Saariaho and – last year – York Höller.

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