New Music in Flanders (pt.2)

Author: Yves Knockaert, 2006

New Music in Flanders (part 2)
Read part 1 here.

2.3.4. Radical Modernism.

Biased by an altogether too austere and limited modernist vision, whose leading promoter was the philosopher and sociologist of music Theodor W.Adorno, music historiography from the mid-20th century onwards overemphasized the modernism of the second Viennese School, and later the importance of serialism. Concepts such as eclecticism, neo-style, or interest in tradition sounded like bywords in this constricting vision. Gradually but inevitably this approach has become passé. Schoenberg, the “conservative revolutionary” as his most important biographer dubbed him, wrote himself that he believed in the good old tradition. Historiography, however, stressed his innovations, and even more so those of Webern. Yet today we see a dramatic shift of perception from a postmodernist angle, and also in the concert hall: Alban Berg is hailed as the most interesting composer among modernists. He cherished the connection with the past, he used quotations and he kept a romantic possibility of expression in his music. He opened, as it were, the whole spectrum of expressive possibilities that will become the staple diet of the postmodernist: from romantic loftiness across allusiveness to tradition and across strife-torn expressionism to the trivial pedestrian use of folk songs.

Marcel Poot (1901-1988) found his earliest musical inspiration in Chaplin movies. He wrote three symphonic sketches entitled “Charlot”. He discovered jazz, resulting in his “Jazz Music” in 1930. With the “Merry Overture” he raised his visibility abroad. Only the tile refers to a typically Flemish disposition: while Poot almost never looked for a purely Flemish kind of inspiration, differentiating him from many colleagues, he has been labelled as “Flemish” because of this single composition. Poot’s style is lively and spunky all right, often brimming with mischievous humour. But this image of the Flemish composer has diminished his stature by  reducing Poot to the composer of the “Merry Overture”. Poot put it as follows: “I was immediately victimized by that success. Such is the good luck and the bad luck of writing a work that is an instant hit. That overture is something facile, not more than good casino music. But immediately I was labelled by it”. His ballet “Paris in Trouble” confirmed his modernist attitude, including synthesis as an important factor: Ravel, Stravinsky and Strauss were his examples. Throughout his oeuvre, Poot shows the versatility of the 20th-century composer, with a clear aversion to romanticism. He liked to compare himself with Prokofiev, whose spontaneity of expression he admired a lot. This implies that Poot’s expressionism is sprinkled with Prokofiev elements in neo-classicist style, such as clear design and strikingly contrasting themes. The rhythm recalls Stravinsky, including strident ostinatos. Harmony and tonality stay within classical limits, but when necessary expression is intensified by the use of bitonality and atonality. Poot’s orchestration scores powerfully: very varied, full of contrast, and brilliant, with the brass often calling the tune.

Other radical modernists are August Baeyens, Karel Albert and Jef van Durme. Van Durme spent a short formative period with Alban Berg, but was as attracted by the style of Strauss and Bartok: his music shows a synthesis of divergent modernist ideas. As for Baeyens, his “Jazz Fantasy” is often referred to as evidence of his interest in innovation, a cliché like in the case of Poot. But Baeyens wrote this piece as early as 1920, unlikely early to make genuine familiarity with jazz plausible, let alone to have come to terms with its potential adaptations for his own method of composition. Like Poot, Baeyens is someone who navigates between daring expressionism and the playfully classical, which means that his modernism does not show a rectilinear development. 

By contrast, a rectilinear development of the modernist attitude is found most radically in the work of Karel Albert. He became an adherent of atonality and dodecaphony, if only after 1950, e.g. in the “Quintet for Flute, Oboe, Violin, Viola and Cello”, in his “Third Piano Sonata”, and in the orchestral work “The Night”. In the years 1920-30 he had defined his music as “constructivism” and consistently used titles such as “6/4 construction” for piano, “2/4 construction” or “The Country, Construction for Orchestra”. This reveals the technical preoccupation of the composer, who regarded music as a pure construction of sounds, a study of proportions like in geometric abstract painting. To wind up: no matter how much Flemish music has recently been recorded on CD, the music of Albert, Baeyens, and Van Durme is not available on CD. This is a disturbing fact.

In the international context Karel Goeyvaerts (1923-93) was the Flemish standard bearer of radical modernism. His oeuvre moves through all evolutionary steps of the second half of the 20th century. He started as a wholesale serialist and inspired Stockhausen for certain serial techniques. Afterwards the aleatory elements crept in. A religious orientation in the “Litanies” started a period of repetitive music, albeit with more emphasis on the evolutionary in repetition than on the repetitive itself. Just before his death Goeyvaerts managed to finish “Aquarius”, a piece of music theatre in which he could preach his message of the great harmony that humankind will reach in the future. Even in his serial period Goeyvaerts never was a mere manipulator of sound material. In a subdued way, certain emotions were present in his compositions, despite the fact that he called them “Numbers” and that he tried to experiment with “dead tones”. Many years later he stated that the spirit of the age was responsible for this kind of aesthetics around 1950, the root problem being the anxiety that what the Second World War had destroyed was irremediable and irreparable. Fundamental angst was confronted by Goeyvaerts with the compulsive urge to order, dominate, command, and control. Chaos and fear of chaos had to be overcome with the greatest possible ordering of the sounds. The ordered and the surveyable were meant to be reassuring. Order as obsession, combined with the control over the material, led to that kind of serial music. Far from being expressed in the sound itself, the struggle between anxiety and the craving for security  was a subliminal affair in his serial compositions. As soon as fear evaporated , the play element could reenter the game, encouraging Goeyvaerts to use aleatory elements. He made performers run a “round” in the composition “Parcours”, or he made them react to each other in “Active/Reactive”, or he invited them to literally play and to fight each other in the improvisations of “Catch à quatre”. Exorcism, rite and ritual take over in the “Litanies” and “Aquarius”, or in a composition for renaissance instruments “May the Fruit Ripen this Summer”. Goeyvaerts’ personal attitude towards music also changed: he refused to develop an inaccessible experimental world of sounds any longer. He wanted his music to be immediately understandable for each listener and therefore refrained from indulging in sound experiments and in exaggerated dissonances to return to the primal power of the sound. He composed without using one single musical element gratuitously. He wanted to give each musical element its full power, tapping into its primal force. Therefore he used dissonances more and more sparingly, but each dissonance used had to be lacerating. Therefore also rhythms had to be “basic” and had to hit in the belly.

Goeyvaerts countered the fear of chaos from the 1950s with the self-confident harmony in total freedom of “Aquarius”. The first part of this piece of music theatre reminds one of the serial period, because the composer makes it perfectly clear that harmony cannot be imposed or forced on people: that is doomed to fail. In the second part he allows the new harmony to grow from inside, from the individual’s own pace. In “Aquarius” Goeyvaerts achieved closure as a perfect circle: ever questing for appealing expressive possibilities, he was in a position to say very honestly that a quest is at any given moment justified, even in the most daring experiment and even if it transpires that it led to nothing: it was the search itself that was necessary. As an organ point he put a string quartet entitled “The Square of the Circle” in which he managed to solve that impossible goal through music steeped in the greatest inner harmony.

Comparable with the advanced constructivism of Goeyvaerts’ early music and of Karel Albert is the extreme attitude of composer and theoretician Herman van San (1929-75). He anticipated  the formalist way of composition, designing theories of his own on a formal-mathematical basis. He wanted to apply the new discoveries of physics to the formal aspects of his compositions. His musical style of thinking aligned itself with an analytic-positivistic world view, connected by him to a physico-mathematical aesthetics. In 1953 Van San had an opportunity to work with Hermann Scherchen and Iannis Xenakis. The latter would go down in history as the designer of “musique formelle”. Van San also developed a chemo-electrical device for sound production as well as possibilities of “stimulated” sound, which was going to be capable of replacing natural sound once it would be realized with the help of the mathematical, theoretical and empirical methods of  quantum physics. Van San destroyed many compositions, some just got lost. Therefore little remains of his oeuvre. Until 1953 he fostered dodecaphony; from 1953 to 1956 he used mathematical systems in instrumental and electronic works. After 1956 he eclusively stressed the electronic. However, his electronic works remained stuck in the draft stage: nothing was carried through. He divided his oeuvre into the “opus instrumentale mathematicum” and the “opus electronicum mathematicum”.

A strictly mathematical method, including the use of fractals as basic principles of compositional structures, is also characteristic of Claude Coppens (1936). 

In the music of Lucien Goethals (1931) the melodic aspect is foregrounded, even with a South American flavour, because he spent his youth there. All the same and also despite the fact that his expressive sphere tends very often to the lament or to sadness (e.g. in “Musica con cantus firmus triste”), he can be considered as a radical innovator nonetheless. For many years the name of Goethals was the flag for the leading studio for electronic music in Gent, the IPEM, where research and composition went hand in hand. Today electronic elements are used by most composers as extra colouring or as an opportunity for spatialism, but in the 1960s there were many composers who produced purely electronic music (presently this is only the case for a small group of specialists anymore). Goethals has refrained from letting the electronic share in his oeuvre take over, but by experimenting he could push certain elements much more consistently than he could have done with classical instruments. This was mainly the case for a form of polyphony: the multi-layered character of his music is after all an enlargement of the polyphonic interplay of lines from the late Middle Ages and the Renaissance, a style that Goethals is very fond of. Goethals’ music is always conceived with strict linearity, in a continuously controlled confrontation with the vertical aspect of the momentarily achieved result in the consonance of the diverse layers. This is proven both by older and by new works: by the electronic pieces “Contrapuntos”, “Polyfonium I & II”, and “Pluriversum”, by the music that combines instruments with tape, e.g. “Dialogos”, “Sinfonia en Gris Mayor” and “Difonium”, as well as by the instrumental works: “Tres Paisajes Sonoros”, “Musica con Cantus Firmus Triste”, the concerts for bass clarinet and the “Concierto de la Luz y las Tinieblas” for organ and instrumental ensemble.

The blooming of IPEM had also been prepared by the work of Louis de Meester (1904-87), IPEM’s first artistic director when it was founded in 1962. As a composer he alternated an eclectic style with a more experimental one. He was a man of great merit, first and foremost by his pioneering use of functional music, and particularly of all kinds of sounds in radio plays. De Meester has been recognized as the trendsetter of concrete music in Flanders.

Even minimalism or repetitiveness can be reconciled with a radically innovative attitude. Composer Frans Geysen (1936) was not aware of the beginnings of minimal music in the US when he started working with repetition of sound cells in the 1960s. Ever since, Geysen has not stopped researching that single element of composition: repetition. Like with Goethals, this special interest grew out of fascination with the only great period of the Flemish musical past: the Renaissance. Those were the heydays of the canons: always composed identically in all strands, with a whole structure that is concurrently very polyphonic, technically extremely controlled and even displaying virtuosity. Geysen does not compose simple repetitive music that keeps merely repeating the same sound cell many times. He starts from combinatorial possibilities of motifs in ever varying repetitions, until a given material is exhausted, whereupon he introduces a new sound cell. In other words: he departs from the combination of repetition and the course of time. From this angle his limited material, repetition and the canon are an inexhaustible source for  continuously changing possible combinations. This music depends exclusively on the tension that originates in the interplay of lines and the plurality of lines. Geysen’s concentration on the intertwined development of pitch and tone duration makes him neglect the other parameters. He disregards dynamic movements such as a crescendo building up a fortissimo climax, much the same way that he ignores an atmosphere-evoking pianissimo. The same holds true for changes of tempo. He intensely dislikes such cheap effects. Geysen’s aesthetics is focused on the moving sound structure, and is therefore a radical opposite of the compelling emotionalism that a certain kind of music tries to trigger. Even timbre itself has to be “anti-romantic” for Geysen, hence for a long time he refrained from composing for violin or strings, as well as refusing to use the piano for romantic purposes. By contrast, the recorder ensemble has been getting preferential treatment from him over a period of almost thirty years, from “Peripherally – Diagonally – Concentrically” over “Digitally – Analogously – Identically” to “Ottofloto”. His recent series “There’s a time for everything” and “Everything returns” are the most beautiful syntheses of his oeuvre and his method, locked not only in the expressive titles, but also in the sound.

The most radical composers of the younger generation are Luc Brewaeys (1959), Stefan van Eycken (1975), Serge Verstockt (1957) and Peter Swinnen (1965). They use in their music a very contemporary idiom that is not steeped in tradition at all. Often they combine live electronics and other high-tech media techniques with classical instruments. They use self-developed computer programmes and take advantage of their expertise in the field of computerized sound applications (Swinnen, Verstockt). There are obvious connections with international currents such as the New Complexity (Brewaeys, Van Eycken) and with composition methods that are typically French, such as  the formalist approach of Xenakis, or Brewaeys’ spectralism, developed at the IRCAM in Paris. Spectralism combines two typically French features: on the one hand higher mathematics and computer technology, and on the other hand a sense of timbre as well as feeling for the beauty of sound. These composers also take advantage of opportunities to spatialize sound.

Luc Brewaeys excels in a number of sizeable works for orchestra, labelled as ”symphony” without however referring to a great past except through the name alone. His music is nervous, stirring, compelling. He aims at instantaneous effects by deploying surprising sources of sound (non-traditional instruments) and by keeping a fast pace in the development. But in recent works he has  confronted this style with its opposite: slow evolution at a snail’s pace, laying bare as it were the inner aspect of his highly original timbre combinations.

For Stefan van Eycken it suffices to refer to the playfully chosen title “Techno Park” to place him as a character. Music is for him an unbridled and unchecked play of sounds. 

All the same, they have been researched in high-tech fashion before being integrated into his composition. As playful and as challenging is the series title “Salti mortali”, in which over and over again a different soloist is challenged to perform a breakneck score that is practically not playable. That Van Eycken means this literally transpires from the use of “obstacles” for certain parts of “Titanic Light” for piano solo. Moreover, the first “obstacle” is entitled “Campo Minado”, or “Minefield”.  As a musicologist, Van Eycken has made a study in depth of the most “complex” among the composers of the New Complexity, Brian Ferneyhough. He is also driven by theoretical reflections on the perception of sound phenomena, which he then tries to turn into compositions. Peter Swinnen is not only important as a composer, he is also the person who sits at the controls for practically all important creations and performances of his Flemish colleagues with live electronics or computer. Intrigued by sound research per se, Swinnen’s music is getting more and more interesting. While in his early work the narrative and the descriptive were sometimes chosen for, these elements have vanished over the last ten years to make room for a high degree of originality. His radicalism has increased as well: e.g. “Risonanza” starts as a tauntingly slow piece that explores all possible reverberations, resonances and combinations created by the different kinds of touch and by the muting of the piano strings. Halfway tempo and rhythm accelerate and resonances, overtones, sudden dissonances and other “interactions” of sounds offer an exciting and lively spectacle to the ear.

For Serge Verstockt, too, the ear of the listener is more and more an important factor for his composition theories. Research on perception is carried on concurrently with sound design in compositions such as “Low”. In “Low” the idea is that the listener hears “resulting sounds”: sounds that are not played, but are the result of the effect of two or more played sounds between them. Two strident, high sounds can result in very low differential tones. Verstockt affects in this composition those differential tones with live electronics and with self-designed computer systems, by amplifying them electronically and by spatializing them, for example. But all the same he works acoustically by having bass instruments double the differential tones.

3. Intermezzo: Flemish Authenticity in Music

Is there such a thing as a recognizable Flemish “nature” or disposition in the new music? In passing some answers have already been given. For example: quite a few Flemish composers like a philosophical dimension, even to the extent of trying to express in one single composition an overall philosophical vision of life and death, of individual and cosmic harmony (see 2.3.1 and 2.3.3). Mostly there is an overriding sense of positive thinking, of hope for the future and of optimism, despite a strongly realistic attitude preventing the composer to lapse into naivety. Much the same way that Bartok was attracted to his country’s folklore, the average Flemish composer will seize the opportunity of a folk song once in a while. However, while Bartok usually did this in a serious mood, the Flemish composer will use the Flemish folksong to give his music a touch of playfulness, Ulenspiegel fashion as it were. A sense of humour as check and balance is characteristic of Flemish music as well. Many Flemish composers are fond of fluency in music, of light-heartedness and larkishness. Often one could speak of smoothness, in the sense that the composer most often refrains from worming his way into self-created technical or compositional “problems”, or from elaborating new systems. Furthermore, Flemish music fosters multifarious tone colours, thus showing concurrently how close to France we are. French composers of the first half of the 20th century also kept pursuing vigorous timbre effects in their music, and as far as recent developments are concerned French spectralism is a good example of colourful music. At any rate Flemish composers prove their mettle through very solid craftsmanship. “Composing” literally means for them: to make up original sounds by combining, to produce emotionally and expressively efficient sound sequences, to create technically high quality. This quest for excellence is a permanent characteristic of Flemish composers, beyond all stylistic differentiation and all technical divergences, from the most thoroughbred romantic to the most conservative traditionalist to the most daring avant-garde composer.

So far one important name has not yet been mentioned, and on purpose: André Laporte (1936), because more than anybody else he seems to correspond to our “portrait” of a Flemish disposition. On the one hand Laporte quoted in his “Fantasia-rondino con tema reale” the Belgian national anthem. It was the set work of the Queen Elisabeth competition in 1988. For such a serious occasion this was a particularly original and daring kind of humour. On the other hand Laporte is also seriously engaged in thinking about the world in his own right. He is fond of quotation: he considers music history as an open book, all music being available for him as he is composing. Thus he used the Tristan motif in his opera “Das Schloss”, after Kafka. This is all about bitter earnest: K’s impossible love, to be identified with that of Tristan and Iseult, symbol of impossibility as the overriding element in Kafka’s world. This is Laporte’s method of quotations: it is not at face value that he alludes to a universal element such as the Tristan motif, nor does he refer at face value to the adapted symbolism that Wagner gave it, but rather using the motif again with a substantively new content and meaning. And what’s more: in a context where you don’t expect it, where it looks totally against the grain. This is typical of Laporte: his is the grin of the Cheshire cat when he unsettles you. “Musical obviousness” would be an apt epithet for Laporte’s method: it always looks as if he managed to find a self-evident solution. The fact of reaching the musically obvious is certainly due to the fact that as a composer he thinks completely in terms of sound and fully enjoys the sound to boot. For Laporte composing is sculpturing the sound, kneading the sound and shaping it according to the subject in question. This pure thinking in sound shows a composer who is great in orchestration and instrumentation, who perfectly knows the possibilities of each instrument, and uses these possibilities depending on each context: in solo pieces, such as “-ism” for cello or the two “Sequenza’s” (clarinet solo viz. 3 clarinets and bass clarinet) or “Harry’s Wonderland” (for bass clarinet and two tapes). Moreover, Laporte also delights in the pleasure of sound: his music never sounds “well-wrought” in a difficult way, and for the performer it is actually a sheer pleasure as well to play a score that sounds so well on his instrument. Taking stock of life as such is, for example, the subject of “Testamento de Otono”, for which Laporte found a poem in the volume “Extravagario” by Pablo Neruda. From that poem “Autumn Testament” he chose only the last part: “recomendaciones finales” or “final recommendations”. The poet takes stock of his past life and finds one recurrent constant throughout the various metamorphoses that his personality underwent: his belief in poetry and art. Working this insight through in his composition, Laporte underlines the blending of music and poetry: “Unity with the cosmic world and concurrently a continuous yearning for the transcendental are the essence and the background of the symbiosis between poetry and music”. This could be the ultimate message of Laporte’s oeuvre, this could be his “story”, recurring in a narrative way in the thematic choices of many pieces. The autumn as “evening” after the summer in the evening atmosphere of “Night Music” and “Incontro Notturno”, the nocturnal atmosphere connected with a dark idea of death in “Eight Songs of Innocence” on texts by William Blake or in “La Morte Chitarre”; the sense of relativity as regards inescapable reality in “La Vita non è sogno”, and on the other hand the predictable longing for escapade, for escape from the pedestrian in the urge to fly like Icarus (“Icarus’ Flight”), in a straightforward title such as “Transit”, or also in the humorous “flight” that his adaptation of Tielman Susato takes in “A Flemish Round”. The narrative element, though, is not only the “helping hand” or manual extended from the title to penetrate into Laporte’s compositions. For him it is clearly much more than that, it is all about the deeper layer through and under the music. André Laporte has always associated himself with great world literature. In addition to Hoffmann and Poe (“Story”), there are Joyce (“Chamber Music”), Quasimodo (“La Vita non è sogno”), Kafka (“Das Schloss”), Beckett (“Transit II”) and Neruda (“Testamento de Otono”). Captivated by certain ideas and situations, Laporte sometimes comes across texts that mirror his thoughts. From this recognition he starts recreating some texts musically. Samuel Beckett’s “The Unnameable” is about problems of communication, about the doubt whether genuine communication between people is possible. Incomprehension and failure of communication are also the basic situation of K., who crashes against an unfathomable bureaucracy in “Das Schloss”. Laporte underlined in his commentaries on “Das Schloss” the quest undertaken by Kafka to justify his artistic calling.

The music of Lucien Posman (1952) is characterized by a comparable blending of seriousness and humour, working with quotation and allusion as well. On the one hand he often returns to the lofty poetry of William Blake for his vocal music. On the other hand his “Hercules Haché, the Adventure of a Professor” is the most absurd Flemish opera ever written. Genuine pastiche, at once subtle and frivolous, is to be found in his chamber music and piano works, such as “Oeioeioeioeioei”, i.e. five times “oei”(“ouch”), a composition for piano consisting of five short numbers. Posman chose this title because it was originally meant as a set piece for a competition, and also because performers often react with “ouch” to a new composition by a Flemish composer. The style meanders between Satie and jazz. A virtuoso piano piece is “Le conte de l’Etude Modeste”: the adapted “Pictures at an Exhibition” is the thread. Some numbers are interlarded with popular Flemish melodies that, by coincidence, correspond to the original “paintings”, such as “Ride on, ox-cart, ride on”. Vis-à-vis this anecdotal strand, including Orson Welles appearing in the sewers (“Catacombs” – Posman places his piece in Paris), there are universal allusions to a “globalist” MP as well as quotations from the folksong “My cock is dead”, known in several languages, the Dies Irae, the destiny motif from Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, and the “International”. The last example connects Posman to his own city again, because Pierre Degeyter, the composer of the International, was from Gent. 

The pursuit of lightness has always been motivating Frank Nuyts (1957), whose aesthetics of playfulness has been a powerful antidote against the seriousness of some new music. As a percussionist he took the direction of a driving rhythm, in which he attempted to combine, against all odds, three divergent factors: complex rhythm, drive, and lightness. No matter how aggressively Godfried-Willem Raes (1952) has been adopting an avant-garde stance, at the same time he has also been showing the same sense of humour that is so typical of many other Flemish composers, witness his construction of music automatons and music machines, among them “Singing Bikes”. As a matter of fact Raes dubs himself “a music maker”, implying that the invention and the originality of the music machine are most important to him.

4. Postmodernism in Music in Flanders

With Laporte, Posman and Nuyts some aspects of postmodernist aesthetics have already been touched upon. Indeed, Flanders boasts a wealth of postmodernist composers, who differ however in their angle and approach as fundamentally in their own right as the categories that we have distinguished above among modernists. Thus the work of Frank 

Agsteribbe (1968) has been entirely inspired by ancient music, while Patrick De Clerck (1958) is close to the meditative atmosphere of East European and  Russian new music. The vision of postmodernism as the direct continuation of modernism, enriched with the awareness of the possible uses of tradition (see 1.2 and 1.5), leads to a kind of music that, to be sure, originates from a postmodernist attitude, but that nonetheless can sound eventually more modernist than traditional. A polarity of concurrent but independent elements is a case in point. Other examples are the choice of text sources, the approach of the performer and of the listener by the composer, the research on communication possibilities. Geert Logghe (1962) and Frédéric D’Haene (1961) thrive in this symbiosis of postmodernism and modernism. Actually the controversy whether these composers should be subsumed under the umbrella of “modernism” or rather of “postmodernism”, is irrelevant. In fact their positioning achieves the phasing out of postmodernism by the re-invigorated modernism of the 21st century (see 1.3 and 1.6).

Logghe’s musical aesthetics is sustained by four pillars: the phenomenon of time, the (im)possibility of communication, the fascination with literature in general and poetry in particular, and finally the “programmatic” aspect of preference for ice-cold Northern areas. The compositions, developing with judicious slowness after a long period of latency into full maturity, testify to a solidly underpinned structure. Themes and structure of Logghe’s works are geared to one another and blend organically with each other. A time structure, for example, can be regular through the use of an ostinato, while the variations of that ostinato as well as the contrapuntal adding of other material induce the time dimension to accelerate or slow down. Much the same way the idea of the North is identified with endless snowy and icy landscapes, identified also with eternal night: there time has stopped, there loneliness reigns and communication breaks down. The choice of texts and of poetry (e.g. T.S.Eliot) points in the same direction. In Logghe’s most recent works it is clear that he keeps purifying these four pillars (or five, if combined with the power of structure) and concurrently interconnects them more and more in a differentiated way. 

Frédéric D’Haene does not avoid the familiar as point of departure for his compositions. However, he will radically develop this “postmodernist” facet with a view to producing something genuinely new, thus aligning himself for a change with a modernist goal. This he achieves by giving his performers orders that are not self-evident: in addition to playing on their instrument they also have to work with their voice or play on “strange” instruments, going beyond their normal competence. Like Pessoa (a favourite source for D’Haene) metamorphosing himself in many guises, D’Haene also loves contrasts and dilemmas of opposing and seemingly irreconcilable extremes. That is stimulating for dynamic evolution, the core concept of his composition method. Developments are conducted from opposition to the extreme, to the phase where the content metamorphoses into its own opponent as it were, by transgressing the apparent boundaries and by exacting from the performer to break new ground: accelerating his extreme pace, increasing his intensity to the cutting edge and pushing his performing capabilities to the cutting edge with a highly personal commitment. The result of this line of thought and this method is a multilayered musical structure, to be interpreted as it is pushed to the extreme in terms of a certain holism, as a total approach to what music has to offer. There is a confluence of modernism and postmodernism in this holism that is always looking for renewal.

The postmodernist attitude of Boudewijn Buckinx (1945) creates music that despite its simplicity sounds not so much naïve as rather slightly unsettling to intensely irritating, by capitalizing on classical tonality, classical phrasing and structure, classical arching in the building of melody, by alluding to romanticism, in short: by principles of allusiveness, with the proviso that alluding does not imply the adoption of the affirmative phenomena of the original classical music. Affirmative phenomena are continuously denied, which surprises and even irritates the listener with his anticipating ear, the music provoking expectations by its continuous obviousness and contradicting them at once. The neologism “quasi style” is therefore an ideal term for the music of Buckinx. The sham simplicity has an ironical trait, the critical modernist remaining present in every note. Buckinx is a prolific composer, whose opus list goes into the thousands. He has composed some impressive series: “1001 Sonatas” for violin and piano with a duration of ca. 24 hours and the “Nine Unfinished Symphonies”. A number of the 1001 sonatas, some of which last only half a minute, are commented on by Buckinx in a short text, ranging from the predictable anecdote from daily life to reflections in the vein of music or the philosophy of music: “Written while on holiday at the beach, Ostend” (Nr.671); “An example of my vacillating between two tonalities” (e-flat and D)” (Nr.910); “No ‘Heldenleben’, but ‘Trauermusik’. Strauss with ‘Ein Heldenleben’ and Mahler with his 7th Symphony are together on the binge” (Nr.242); “Almost nothing. Does anybody ever do anything else, even if he is fussy?” (Nr.125). The “Nine Unfinished Symphonies” allude already in the title to the unfinished symphony that is often to be found in the career of great romantic composers. Buckinx, however, leaves only once the semblance of the abruptly interrupted as the unfinished: in his Second Symphony, which he defines as “communication reduced to solitude”. That he connects this abrupt breaking off with the idea of inability to communicate, indicates the importance that he attaches to it, not so much in terms of contact with the audience through music, but rather in terms of his contact and communication with the world at large: where this becomes a “mission impossible”, he disrupts it, or allows it to break down by itself. Against this unfinished character of his Second Symphony, there is the incompleteness of the promising beginning of his Sixth, which fails to be followed up, remaining a mere prelude: “the unfinished as impetus, as inconsequence, as hollow promise, as illusion” presents the unfinished as a fundamental element of art and life, surfacing in an out of season to be used and abused. Nothing better suited to escape from essence than using the incompleteness of Symphony Nr.3, the “coda eroïca” of 30 seconds’ duration: to conclude without justifying oneself, without having to argue. In this series of symphonies Buckinx has offered nine variations on incompleteness. Actually incompleteness as a philosophical theme is in every symphony composed in its completeness, to put it paradoxically. Postmodernist ideas such as the virtually pursuable, ambiguity, unfinished contextualizing, enter Buckinx’ aesthetics here. The Ninth, predictably with vocal solo and choir, chooses the universal declaration of human rights as text to sing “the unfinished as content, the humanitarian unfinished” as well as accusing it at the same time.

Postmodernism in Flemish music is also represented by Walter Hus (1959), Erich Sleichim (1958) and Peter Vermeersch (1959). Originally these composers-performers belonged to the group “Maximalist!”, which provided music for dance company Rosas as well as performing it. In the past decennia they appeared on the stage in all kinds of combinations and as performers-composers to boot. Vermeersch was most successful with pop music (e.g. X-Legged Sally). Sleichim has explored the saxophone to the cutting edge with his ensemble Bl!ndman: from avant-garde tapped key sounds and noises to adaptations of Bach’s organ chorals and of Flemish renaissance composers. Hus, for his part, developed into a remarkable pianist-improviser and as of late works with music automatons as well. His most important composition for piano is the series “Preludes and Fugues”. Hus feels it is a challenge that the musical medium allows the simultaneous development of several thoughts at the same time in a way that can be perceived by the listener: different melodies can sound at the same time, intermingling, intersecting, etc. while concurrently remaining eminently clear. Thus his “Preludes and Fugues” are a contemporary exploration of counterpoint. He composes logically and intuitively all at once, his pieces showing the character of a continuum, a perpetuum mobile. At the same time he usually remains very playful, his striving and drive propelling  the music as a whole. In everything Hus remains rhythmically strong, precise and powerful, but also very free and jazzy.

5. The 21st century and Flemish Music
As for music in Flanders in the 21st century, not much can be done except singling out two recent trends that are no doubt here to stay, and enumerating some composers of the youngest generation. Both tendencies show openness for interdisciplinarity in many forms. What music theatre is all about, is not so much the production of functional music, but rather the synergetic integration of music into a theatrical concept. For the youngest generation of composers the interdisciplinary character points towards openness for all kinds of music, towards another vision of creativity, originality and adaptation, or the use of samplers. Here too the only possible conclusion is that the result does not go against the grain of modernist music, while concurrently the attitude of the composers has been “liberated” by a postmodernist spirit of the age.             

5.1. Music theatre
Many Flemish composers have lately been developing alternative forms for opera and have been exposed to music theatre by specialized companies such as Transparant and Het Muziek LOD. As a concept, music theatre ranges over a wide gamut of possible combinations between music and theatre. At one end of the spectrum (not to be dealt with further) there is the theatre performance in which some songs are sung, in addition to small-scale opera as another type, and last but not least there is the quest for new possibilities in the combination of the musical and the theatrical. The third trend is the most promising one for the future. Furthermore, institutionalized music theatre stimulates composers, because many of them are convinced that the audience for new music is very limited and remains so, without opportunities for expansion, despite the energy spent. Therefore they try to associate themselves with the theatre as a medium that is open to music, to experimenting with music, and as a test ground for renewed symbiosis. Kris Defoort (1959), with “The Woman Who Walked Into Doors”, created an important prototype for this development. He could take advantage of video artist and director Guy Cassiers, who gave the image a dramatic function: the text of some characters was not sung or spoken, but projected. Defoort’s main character was doubled on the stage: a singer and an actress rendered the role of his “woman” between them, standing sometimes in front of a camera and thus visible live on the video screens, doubled once more. Musically speaking Defoort comes from jazz, but he also composes in the postmodernist classical vein in his own right. For him drawing boundaries surely does not make sense, even though as a composer he has to take them into account when he combines a jazz ensemble with a classical orchestra in “The Woman”.

For Eric Sleichim music theatre means a number of collaborations with Jan Fabre. This results in two-way traffic: Sleichim writes music that fits into Fabre’s pieces, but he also uses Fabre to write texts for his own productions of music theatre. Walter Hus, for his part, wrote a number of compositions for music theatre as joint ventures with Jan Decorte: Shakespeare

adaptations with titles defying translation such as  “Meneer, de zot en tkint”, “Bloetwollefduivel” and “Titusandonderonikustmijnklote”.. Hus wants the music to be fully integrated into the theatre: not mere background or atmospheric enhancement. Hus, Sleichim and also other composers are convinced that the composition process for this kind of theatre music has to be totally different from the operatic tradition. You don’t sit down at your desk to write and deliver a finished and authoritative product to the director, followed by (dis)satisfaction with the latter’s interpretation of the visual end product on the stage. The shop floor is where music in combination with theatre originates, concurrently with the theatre piece itself, with the testing of samples and in some cases also with the real input of the musicians involved. Both Jan Kuijken (1964), who recently wrote the music for “Die Siel van die Mier”(The Soul of the Ant) by Josse de Pauw, and the young composer Dominique Pauwels want to develop music theatre on the basis of this intense interaction in combination with electronic resources.

5.2. The youngest generation
In the youngest generation of composers, too, the same wide-ranging attitude is as present as in the categories mentioned above. Some composers try to join music theatre productions, others prefer “classical” genres. Some also take a “classical” road in the sense of a modernist evolution, others see their future in postmodernism and mixed genres or cross-over. Having grown up with computer and high tech, they deal with those media (and with all existing music) far less respectfully than the “patriarchs” of electronic music half a century ago. Without claiming to be exhaustive, some names can be singled out for special consideration as particularly promising for the future.

Joachim Brackx (1975) loves experiments in the use of electronic applications and in a belated form of aleatory music: the performers are given more than once some chances in procedures of directed improvisation. In some compositions he uses a “shifting” technique, as mentioned in the title: an application of the very gradual “changes in time” as developed by Steve Reich and American minimal music. Dominique Pauwels is an example of the self-made musician. His worktable is his own electronic studio and his attitude is based on self-reliance. The music he composes for publicity enables him to subsist, so he enjoys complete freedom from societal constraints when he composes his “own” music. He combined in his composition education classical music with film music and algorithmic composition in which mathematics looms large, furthermore advanced software applications and computer technology. He also studied multimedia as well as the interaction between composer, performer, scientist, computer and technology, while also getting immersed in the writing method of spectralism. This way Pauwels has developed into a versatile and eminently flexible composer. Consequently his opus list includes the most divergent genres, so he subdivides his opus list into functional and non-functional compositions, against the grain of what is usually expected from a composer.  He likes to rewrite compositions of his own in different styles, tapping into his impressive reservoir of possibilities. By combining the writing of non-functional and functional music, Dominique Pauwels is in a position to earn his livelihood by composing alone, a very extraordinary situation indeed, especially in Flanders. 

Pieter Schuermans has gained wide visibility with “Looking through Eardrums”, a genre of music theatre in which music, juggling, dance and mime are interwoven. Musicians and their movements were connected to the play of the juggler and the dancer in a spectacle that was exciting both visually and musically. Furthermore Schuermans writes fairly accessible music, employing a tempo structure that is rhythmically and metrically highly peculiar. These structures are the result of mathematical and exhaustive research on relations between rhythms, metres and tempo layers.

Thomas Smetryns (1977) takes his cue from music and musicians who fascinate him, witness a piece for piano entitled “Brassens – Biermann – Lomax”. Originality has become a concept with a totally different substance than previously in classical music. Jelle Tassyns (1979), for example, may be more famous on the basis of his Pink Floyd adaptations than because of his own original work. He claims to be a fan of Jethro Tull and of Brahms alike. The composers Maarten Buyl and Stefan Prins (1979), for their part, are affiliated with Champ d’Action. The method of Prins can be defined as “the questioning of the ‘old/known’ and the quest for the ‘new/unknown’”.  Champ d’Action has a policy of staying with some composers for a considerable period of time instead of commissioning them for a random composition only once in a while.

Originality is the hallmark of Bart van Camp (1980), who played a composition of his own for the final violin exam at his academy of music. His music originates in a fascination with ordered sound and consonance, with time and the experience of time. Intuitive impulses have to be directed to such an extent that every note falls rationally into the right place within a systematic pattern. This music expresses the emotion aimed at, despite the complexity of the system used and all the same thanks to it. 

The compositions of Annelies van Parys can be characterized as a contemporary version of “musica reservata”. On the one hand this is to be taken literally because of her interest in the assimilation of medieval and renaissance polyphony techniques, on the other hand she works with multilingualism. On the basis of sound similarities from texts she develops variations in pitch production. The creative play element is never far away, even though the content of the music remains serious. This results in a kind of music that alludes to the past in a way that is both authentic and contemporary.

For the young composers and composition students of the Antwerp and Gent  conservatoires and of the Lemmens Institute at Leuven, Luc van Hove for a number of years took a very praiseworthy initiative: the “Music Tour of Flanders”. At their annual meetings these young composers could have their works performed as well as exchanging ideas about their aesthetics, the problems of the composition process and their intentions as young composers.

6. Impulses for new music in Flanders
In Flanders and most of all in Brussels initiatives have been taken since the end of the 19th century to stimulate new music with considerable intensity. This happened in the context of art societies, radio broadcasts, festivals, series of recordings, etc. In the first place the initiatives were meant to enable Flanders to familiarize itself with new musical movements from abroad. This was crucial with a view to encouraging Flemish composers to create in the modernist vein themselves. The French connection, mainly tied to impulses in Brussels, played an important role in this respect. Even so, it would be ill-advised to exaggerate the Francophone provenance of these initiatives: the Flemish participated as well. In this context we can only mention a number of initiatives without going into detail. 

Pride of place is deserved by the Queen Elisabeth Competition, originally the Ysaye Competition, already because of its composition contest alone. Until recently the set work for the finalists was always by a Belgian composer. Many of the composers mentioned above got the opportunity to write such a set work. 

Eugène Ysaye enjoyed an extraordinary kind of fame as a soloist and as the leader of his own string quartet. Important contemporaries wrote works for Ysaye and his quartet. He was also very supportive of new music, which was performed in Brussels progressive circles. Of seminal importance was the foundation in 1884 of “Le Cercle des XX” with a view to promoting new painting, particularly impressionism. “Les XX” merged in 1894 with the movement “Libre Esthétique”. This initiative came from Octave Maus, a lawyer in Brussels and an ardent art lover. Discovering the music of César Franck spurred Maus to expand the action radius of the “libre esthétique” beyond the visual arts. He delegated the programming of new music to Eugène Ysaye. First and foremost the new French music was programmed by Ysaye in Brussels, offering Belgian composers opportunities to familiarize themselves with it.

In 1925 the pupils of Paul Gilson celebrated his 60th birthday by founding the group “Les Synthétistes” and the periodical “Revue musicale belge”. To the group belonged, among others, August de Boeck, Jef van Hoof, Marcel Poot, Jean Absil, Daniël Sternefeld, and Maurits Schoemaker. For five years the collaboration of the group stood firm. Their purpose was: “To pour all achievements of contemporary music into well-defined forms. In one word: to work synthetically. Furthermore, these musicians turn away from the long-winded development of musical thought and from  dour,  pedantic rhetoric, with a view to create a clear and lively art”.

It is not feasible to mention all personal initiatives. Pioneering work was done, for example, by Flor Alpaerts as conductor of the “Zoo concerts”, with daring programmes for the “Zoo orchestra”. In 1930 the composer Godfried  Devreese (father of Frédéric Devreese) , taking over the conservatoire in Mechelen as director, founded a circle of friends that functioned as a concert organization. Every season featured modernists such as Ravel, Prokofiev and Stravinsky, without however neglecting contemporary Belgian work: Jean Absil, Lodewijk Mortelmans, David van de Woestijne, and many others. The example of  local concert organizations was adopted by many others, and still survives as of today. The “Orpheus Foundation” of composer Raoul de Smet is a recent case in point. Often the activities were not limited to concerts, but included the publication of scores and the organization of competitions. The “Logos Foundation” in Gent is the lifework of Godfried-Willem Raes. Exclusive avant-gardists and marginal musicians always found a platform there. Also in Gent, music centre “The Red Pump” gives pride of place to the introduction of new music.

Another important source to facilitate acquaintance with new music has been the radio, under its successive denominations as NIR, BRT and VRT, with special “classical channels” such as BRT 3, Radio 3 and eventually Klara. The availability of a radio orchestra and radio choir with a special mission to divulge Flemish music, was evidently very interesting for them. From a more international vantage point the name of Paul Collaer deserves to be mentioned first and foremost, engineering as he did many premieres of predominantly French composers in Brussels, thus stimulating again our own music in the process. Many composers were affiliated with the Flemish radio as producers or in other functions: Boudewijn Buckinx, Louis de Meester, Frédéric Devreese, Lucien Goethals, Karel Goeyvaerts, André Laporte, Vic Legley, Wilfried Westerlinck and many others did an excellent job providing a niche for new music and specifically for Flemish music. Live broadcasts of concerts and recordings of new Flemish music were often instrumental to reach wide audiences. For a while there were even weekly programmes of IPEM’s electronic music. The radio was also a fountainhead of festivals for new music. Even though Ars Musica may have been labelled as a “Walloon” festival, Flemish music has been programmed as well. And the new Klara Festival promotes Flemish music too. Kortrijk boasts the Happy New Ears Festival, and Leuven the Transit Festival. The November Music Festival is truly international (Germany, Holland, Flanders). The big and small cultural centres go beyond the organization of concerts with new music by inviting composers in residence, with invariably positive results. Distribution via CD is also improving. Some labels have been promoting Flemish music, such as Cyprès, René Gailly, Megadisc, Phaedra, the Klara CDs, and those issued in cooperation with Klara. Because CDs are so easy to produce today, composers are in a position to distribute their music themselves today. Ensembles such as Champ d’Action also prove their mettle with a CD series.

Of course the performers are the most powerful lever for bringing new music by Flemish composers to the attention of the audience through their choice of programmes and their convincing interpretations. Specialized ensembles for new music are crucially important, though admittedly some ensembles are reconsidering their exclusive commitment to new music. The most important ensembles for new music in Flanders are: Arco Baleno, Apsara, Bl!ndman, Black Jackets Company, Champ d’Action, Emanon Ensemble, Goeyvaerts Consort, Hermes Ensemble, Ictus Ensemble, Oxalys, QO-2, Prometheus Ensemble, Spectra Ensemble, Vier op ‘n  rij (Flemish Recorder Quartet).

Lately Flanders also offers excellent resources for the study of new music. In addition to CeBeDem, the documentation centre for Belgian music, a Music Centre Flanders has been established in Brussels, while Matrix in Leuven takes care of Flemish music as well as of music internationally, and the Study Center for Flemish Music in Antwerp specializes in Flemish music before 1950.