The 1960s saw the emergence in the Netherlands of a generation of avant-garde musicians (including figures such as Louis Andriessen, Willem Breuker, Reinbert de Leeuw and Misha Mengelberg) who were to gain international standing and influence as composers, performers and teachers, and who had a defining impact upon Dutch musical life. Fundamental to their activities in the sixties was a pronounced commitment to social and political engagement. The lively culture of activism and dissent on the streets of Amsterdam prompted an array of vigorous responses from these musicians, including collaborations with countercultural and protest groups, campaigns and direct action against established musical institutions, new grassroots performing associations, political concerts, polemicising within musical works, and the advocacy of new, more ‘democratic’ relationships with both performers and audiences. These activities laid the basis for the unique new music scene that emerged in the Netherlands in the 1970s and which has been influential upon performers and composers worldwide.
This book is the first sustained scholarly examination of this subject. It presents the Dutch experience as an exemplary case study in the complex and conflictual encounter of the musical avant-garde with the decade’s currents of social change. The narrative is structured around a number of the decade’s defining topoi: modernisation and ‘the new’; anarchy; participation; politics; self-management; and popular music. Dutch avant-garde musicians engaged actively with each of these themes, but in so doing they found themselves faced with distinct and sometimes intractable challenges, caused by the chafing of their political and aesthetic commitments. In charting a broad chronological progress from the commencement of work on Peter Schat’s Labyrint in 1961 to the premiere of Louis Andriessen’s Volkslied in 1971, this book traces the successive attempts of Dutch avant-garde musicians to reconcile the era’s evolving social agendas with their own adventurous musical practice.