Frank Agsteribbe was born in Ghent in 1968. He studied organ in Antwerp starting in 1986 with Stanislas Deriemaeker and Joris Verdin, and harpsichord with Jos van Immerseel. He subsequently pursued advanced studies with Gustav Leonhardt, Davitt Moroney and Luigi Ferdinando Tagliavini.
Besides his intensive activities within the early music world as a continuo player, he also showed an interest in contemporary music literature, studying with Herman Sabbe (musicology, in Ghent) and attending lessons in nineteenth- and twentieth-century music history given by Boudewijn Buckinx at the Antwerp conservatory, lessons which took not only an historical but also a sociological and philosophical approach. On Buckinx’s advice, Agsteribbe studied composition with the American composer Frederic Rzewski in Liege between 1990 and 1994. It was in this same period that he made a resolute choice for a postmodern style. Many of his works have been written as commissions, for such organisations as Broederlijk Delen (a charity), Radio 3 (Flemish Classical Radio), Muziektheater Transparant, the Royal Young Person’s Theatre and the Royal Conservatory of Antwerp.
As a harpsichordist/organist, he has performed frequently with numerous orchestras and chamber music ensembles such as Duo Mosaic, The Wondrous Machine, The Great Charm, Il Fondamento, Huelgas Ensemble and Anima Eterna. He has given concerts in many European countries and regularly takes part in radio and CD recordings.
Since 1989, Frank Agsteribbe has taught analysis, music theory and chamber music at the Antwerp conservatory. In addition, he is on staff at the Orpheus Institute and is also a freelance programme-maker, reviewer and recording producer. As a music theorist, he is a contributing editor to the Tijdschrift voor Muziektheorie (Amsterdam) and a member of the board of the Vereniging voor Muziektheorie (Music Theory Society, Amsterdam).
The influence of Buckinx is very clear in Agsteribbe’s earliest works (e.g., Another short story for Michiel for flute and piano (1990)). Typical here is the use of so-called Buckinx-cadences, concluding formulas that turn out somewhat differently than expected. It is precisely this unpredictability, combined with the accessible, the harmonious, that Agsteribbe echoes in Buckinx’s music. For Agsteribbe, there always needs to be an element of the unexpected, of the uncomfortable. This is, for instance, evident in Bossuniana for organ (1990), in which unexpected accompanying noises are heard. These noises, which are initially taken to be mistakes on the part of the performer, form the essence of the composition. Starting with the Piano Sonata I (1990), he begins to free himself from Buckinx’s style. The difference in generation between the two composers plays an important role here. Buckinx (born in 1945) started writing modernist avant-garde works in around 1960, works that were closely related to current events; in the 1970s he evolved towards a postmodernist style. Agsteribbe, on the other hand, grew up in this postmodernism, making modernism as much a bygone style for him as the Renaissance or the Baroque.
Another influence comes from John Cage, from whom Agsteribbe borrows the concept of “indeterminacy”. This technique is used, for instance, in a work written together with Buckinx, De hand van Guido (1995), a composition for soprano, violin, cello, double-bass, piano and two reciters. Each composer wrote music to be performed simultaneously in the same space, on different stages. At the same time, texts by the Flemish poet, Guido Gezelle, are declaimed. The audience can walk from one stage to the other and in this way can choose which work to listen to. Indeterminacy is also worked into Het Optreden (The Performance – 1991) for clarinet quintet. The 24 short pieces, the order of which is left free, were written with the help of the Chinese oracular book, the I Ching.
The striking simplicity of Agsteribbe’s works and his anti-establishment attitude as a composer, musician and teacher reveal the important influence of Satie on this composer. This is also evident in the titles of his works (5 dernières chances pour éviter le modernisme, 1991). The Three Songs (1993) for soprano, flute and guitar have as subtitle “Very serious! But with Erik Satie, trying to fulfil the role of entertainer”. The songs are settings of Indian poems and are alternated with interludes. At one moment the work is interrupted as the guitarist stops to tune a string, and the voice and flute suddenly stop and sigh from boredom.
It is not only as a performer that Agteribbe shows his interest in early music; his compositions also regularly feature this element, as evident, for instance, in his Tallis-variations, Haydn-variations, a Partita for solo violin, full of references to Bach, and Susanna, arranged successively for organ, recorder and harpsichord. In Susanna I (the required work for the 1994 competition run by the Gemeentekrediet, a Flemish bank), Agsteribbe takes the harmonic progression of the Lassus chanson of the same name as the guiding principle for this organ composition. The ordered rhythmic progression, adapted to the text, and also present in Lassus’s version, is complemented by “strange elements”, such as staccato notes, triplet motives and trill figures. The work ends with an ambiguous major-minor harmony. Another composition that refers to the past is d’Amour piqué d’une mouche à miel for soprano, countertenor, cello and harpsichord (1995). The totality of dance and music created here is reminiscent of French Baroque opera. In stylistic terms, the music calls for typical French performance practice, as is heard, for instance, in the vocal parts. The instrumental movements can be seen as a modern-day recollection revaluation of Renaissance and Baroque dances.
Erst um die sechste Stunde (1992) for voice, viola and harp, portrays the little person and his or her senseless resistance against the world. The title has been taken over from Franz Kafka’s In the Penal Colony. There is nowhere any indication of true communication between the instruments, and the voice falls silent or speaks more than it actually sings.
The cantata, In de schoot van de honger (In the Lap of Hunger) (1993), was commissioned by Broederlijk Delen. The whole work consists of seven major movements comprising settings of three texts by Herman Verbeeck, two fragments of a work text by Roos Maes and an Indian and a Brazilian poem. These seven movements are linked to one another by adjoining pieces, including commentaries on the Universal Declaration of the Rights of Man, composed by Guido Philippeth.
List of works
Orchestra: Sieben Uhr vorbei voor strijkorkest (1990); Mars voor harmonie-orkest (1995); Nachtmusik (2002); Elegiae voor groot orkest (2003)
Ensemble: Wiegelied voor Wouter en Hannes (1987); Another short story for Michiel (1990); Basium X (2000); Saudade voor solo gamba, tenorblokfluit, basklarinet en klavecimbel (2006); Ceiling Music (2013); Happy Dreams voor fluit en piano (2013); Irish song voor fagot en piano (2013)
Vocal-instrumental: Drie zegenwensen van vader voor mezzosopraan, fluit en klarinet (1989); With love from Greece voor bas, mannenkoor, slagwerk en piano (1991); De Schalmei (1993); Cantate Domino (1995); De hand van Guido (collectieve compositie met B. Buckinx ) (1995); ACV-mis (1996); Tenebrae. 3 Responsoria (1996); Pervigilium Veneris voor 8 bewegende mannenstemmen, tam-tam, buisklokken, viool, 2 celli, (2001); Domine ne in furore tuo arguas me voor gemengd koor, harp, 2 altviolen, 2 celli, contrabas en celesta (2002); Månskenet strömmar stilla voor twee sopranen; cello en piano (2005); Io vo piangendo voor twee sopranen, mezzo, alt, traverso, oboe d’amore, barokviool, gamba, cello, en orgel (2008); Stabat Mater voor sopraan, gemengd koor, orgel en strijkers (2009); Lied des Fuchses voor tenor, viool en pianoforte (2012); Ernste Gesänge voor tenor en pianoforte (2014)
Choir: Adieu Beauté (1991); Et nova sunt semper (1998); Moeke moe nie ween nie voor kinderkoor (2002); Crucifixus voor 8 gemengde stemmen, 2 tenorblokfluiten ad libitum (2002); 5 Motetten voor gemengd koor (2003); Ô Glória de mandar voor mannenkoor (2004); Alma minha gentil voor vrouwenkoor (2004); Tanto son dolci voor vierstemmig mannenkoor (2007)
Chamber Music: Haydn-variaties (1991); Het Optreden (1991); Durezze e Ligature voor strijkkwartet (1998); 2 Interludes voor altfluit, basfluit, fagot en marimba (2001); Ode IV voor hoorn (2002); Partita per violoncello solo voor cello piccolo (2002); Till Eulenspiegels Höllische Streiche voor fluit, klarinet, fagot, hoorn, viool, altviool en cello (2004); Piamozartet voor pianokwartet (historische instrumenten) (2006)
Piano: Nocturne (1984); Bossuniana (1990); Ode III (1990); Pianosonate 1 (1990); Par-Court (1990); Les Desmoiselles de Fontainebleau (1992); Variatio Hieronymo (1993); 7 Nocturnes (met viool ad lib.) (1999)
Pianoforte: Variations on L’Homme Armé (2009); Bilquin/Doppelgänger (2013); Construction (2013); Distortion (2013); Dulong Chair (2013); For Paul Klee (2013); Four Seasons (2013); Josef Hoffmann (2013); La Cathédrale (2013); Laila-wa-laila (2011); Le penseur mol (2013); Nano Variations (2013); Parcours (2013); The Eye (2013); Van Tongerloo (2013); Visions fugitives (2013)
Solo: Suite hybride pour le Clavecin (2010) ; Aria (cello, 2013) ; dans l’air (dwarsfluit, 2013) ; Els (dwarsfluit, 2013) ; Sanseveria voor vrouwenstem (2013)
Organ: Bossuniana (1990); Susanna I (1994); Nacht mit Bach (2003)
– Y. KNOCKAERT, Y., art. Frank Agsteribbe, in Nieuwe Muziek in Vlaanderen, uitg. dr. M. DELAERE, Y. KNOCKAERT en H. SABBE, Brugge, 1998, pp. 146-148.
– Y. KNOCKAERT, Onervaren zonder boot. Vlaamse componisten (22): Frank Agsteribbe, in Kunst en Cultuur, 1994, pp. 22-23.
– Y. SENDEN, In de schoot van de honger, in Muziek en Woord, 1994, p. 53.
– Y. SENDEN, Frank Agsteribbe: een zijdelings portret met enkele bedenkingen bij het postmodernisme, in Vlaanderen, 1998, pp. 183-187.
– De Componisten NV, in Muziek & Woord, april 2005, p. 20.
– M. BEIRENS, Aan de slag met Mozart, in De Standaard, vrijdag 26 mei 2006.
– Another short story for Michiel (Janna van Mechelen en Johan Bossers), Cassa Nova Records-CNR 950821
– Another short story for Michiel (Jan Raes en Koen Kessels), Phaedra-92009
– Towards the Sea (I Cherubini), met Drie dansen voor de Lange Wapper, CD-opname in eigen beheer door Koen Brouns en Jurgen De Bruyn
– Nachtmusik (Filharmonisch Jeugdorkest van Vlaanderen o.l.v. Johannes Leertouwer)
Lantro Music (Grimbergen)
Texts by Kristien Heirman and Klaas Coulembier
Last update 2006, list of works 2014