Tristan Keuris (Amersfoort, 3 Oct 1946 – Amsterdam, 15 Dec 1996) was one of the leading Dutch composers of his generation.
As a child, Tristan Keuris wanted to imitate what he found beautiful. He began composing as soon as he could play the piano. His musical talent was discovered at the local music school.
He studied at the Utrecht Conservatory with Ton de Leeuw (1962-69).
Tristan taught musical theory and composition in Groningen (1974-77), Hilversum (1977-1984), Utrecht (1984-1996) and Amsterdam (1989-96). He also gave master classes in Christiansand (1984), Houston (1987) and Manchester (1988).
Keuris’ compositions sound organic and harmonic – he once said that he worked “in complexes of atmospheres and colours”. He called the form of his works athematic: “The form is indeed traditional, but regarding their content, my works deviate from that. I know immediately when I’ve come across a fragment with “life in it”. I go straight to work with it.” Keuris said that the organic quality characteristic of his music simply came of itself. He wrote more than 50 pieces, including orchestral, vocal and chamber music. His vocal music shows a clear preference for Italian text. His first success with a wider audience, also intenationally, came with the ‘Sinfonia‘ (1974) for orchestra.
Even in this early work were traces of the hedonistic and Dionysian qualities that Keuris permits himself in his music from time to time – qualities which were to appear later in the breathtaking virtuosity and brilliant orchestration of the ‘Concerto’ for Saxophone Quartet and Orchestra (1986).
Keuris composed the expressive ‘Clarinet Quintet’ for the centenary of the Amsterdam Concertgebouw in 1988 and, for the centenary of the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra in the same year, was commissioned to write ‘Catena’ for Wind Orchestra and Percussion.
Most of Keuris’ works are influenced by a mixture of expansive Romantic gestures and Stravinskian aloofness, combined with a musical language consisting of exploded fragmented melodies, dramatic harmonic shifts and tightly-knit chords, all dramatically juxtaposed with moments of stillness or harmonic inertia. Keuris’ many orchestral scores reveal him to be a brilliant orchestrator, who enjoyed exploring every imaginable combination of sounds and colours, without indulging in technical superficialities. From the late 1980s, Keuris’ vocal scores such as ‘To Brooklyn Bridge’ (1988), ‘Three Michelangelo Songs’ (1990), ‘L’infinito‘ (1990) and ‘Laudi’ (1993), proved influential in the development of a richer harmonic language with broader melodic lines.
In the 1990s his style evolved to a more overtly romantic expressiveness, albeit still embedded in masterly and brilliant orchestrations, as in ‘Three Preludes’ for orchestra (1994), ‘Symphony in D’ (1995) and ‘Violin Concerto No 2’ (1995).
In 1976 Keuris gained wide public acclaim when he won the prestigious Matthijs Vermeulen Prize for his ‘Sinfonia’ for Orchestra (1974).
In 1982, Keuris received the Cultural Award of Hilversum for his ‘Piano Concerto’ (1980) and ‘the Movements’ for Orchestra (1981), which were performed by Bernard Haitink and the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra on their 1982 US tour.