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About this Piece

Composed: 2013
Length: c. 30 minutes
Orchestration: 3 flutes (1st & 2nd = piccolo), 3 oboes, soprano saxophone (sopranino saxophone), 2 clarinets (1st = E-flat clarinet, 2nd = detuned clarinet), bass clarinet, contrabass clarinet, 4 horns, 3 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, timpani, percussion (bass drum, 2 brake drums, chimes, cymbals, glockenspiel, gong, marimba, 2 small bells, snare drum, tuned bell plates, & vibraphone), 2 pianos, 3 harps, and strings
First Los Angeles Philharmonic performances: (U.S. premiere)

Mysteriën was commissioned by the Royal Concertgebouw Amsterdam for the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra on the occasion of the 125th anniversary of both hall and orchestra, and was premiered in November 2013, with Mariss Jansons conducting.

Andriessen has dedicated Mysteriën to the memory of his father, composer and organist Hendrik Andriessen (1892-1981). The writings of the 15th-century mystic Thomas à Kempis, who lived most of his life in a Dutch monastery, were important to the elder Andriessen, who set some of them as songs, one of which “has found its way into Mysteriën, at half speed as if a glimpse of a distant memory,” Andriessen told David Allenby in a 2013 interview.

“For me, philosophy, mysticism, or theater are all things that stimulate creativity and merge to become rather close – whether their manifestations be Hamlet, Medea, or the conception of God. So the ideas in Thomas à Kempis’ book can sit happily alongside not only St. Augustine, but also secular writers I’ve drawn upon such as Plato and Lao Tse,” Andriessen continued. “I see the six sections of Mysteriën as a sequence of similarly-proportioned frescoes, in a religious setting but depicting worldly scenes even to the point of the painter including the guys who built the church and commissioned the art.”

On the structure of Mysteriën, Andriessen noted: “Each movement is headed by an inscription drawn from Thomas à Kempis’ chapter headings and offers a musical interpretation of the title. The first looks at the vanities of the world, with colliding musical lines illustrating how busy we all think we are. The second examines the misery of mankind with a litany of hocketing broken chords. The third is a central plea for silence exploring ‘what truth speaks from inside without the noise of words,’ while the next reveals the ordeal of a true lover, drawing upon my father’s song. Then a movement pits slow brass against fast strings, reflecting Thomas à Kempis’ perceived contradiction between the natural instinct to do bad things and the God-given gift of grace. The final sixth movement, opening with a sad trumpet lamentation on death, provides something of a cathartic epilogue.”