Dirk Brossé was born in Ghent and studied trumpet, contrabass and music theory at the Royal Conservatory in Ghent, and thereafter counterpoint and fugue at the Royal Conservatory in Brussels. He studied orchestral conducting with Lucas Vis and Anton Kersjes in Maastricht and with Prof. Julius Kalmar in Vienna. He received his diploma in conducting from the Musikhochschule in Cologne with Prof. Volker Wangenheim and in 1990 he was a finalist in Iwaki’s International Masterclass in Hilversum (Holland). Brossé is frequently on the concert stage conducting all the major Belgian orchestras. He has guest-conducted with, among others, the London Philharmonic Orchestra, Elgin Symphony Orchestra of Chicago, Philharmonic Orchestra of Shanghai, Camerata St Petersburg and the National Orchestras of Colombia, Ecuador and Venezuela. In 1992 he composed La Soledad de America Latina for the official opening of the World’s Fair in Seville. In 1994 and 1995 he was Cultural Ambassador of Flanders and in September 1999 was music director of the Tokyo International Music Festival. Meanwhile he has remained active as a composer of music for films (important projects with Roland Verhavert and Stijn Coninx) musicals (Sacco & Vanzetti), and symphonic music (Artesia, The Birth of Music). In fifteen years he composed more than one hundred pieces. Dirk Brossé teaches orchestral conducting and composition at the Royal Conservatory in Ghent.
“Universality” seems to be a key word characterising Brossé’s oeuvre on various levels. In the first place the composer wishes to reach a “universal” audience with his work. In service to this desire, he has consciously employed a direct language which immediately appeals to the listener and is accessible even for a musical “lay person”. Brossé is also not afraid of making forays from the techniques of the “classical” tonal tradition into world music and popular genres. In his compositions he likes to make use of an underlying programme, linking the music with extra-musical elements and guaranteeing a clear narrative line.
This pursuit of universality is also expressed in the areas in which Brossé works. The symphonic musical domain is represented by symphonies such as Artesia (1995) and The Birth of Music (1997), in addition to concertos for violin and clarinet (among others) and several symphonic overtures. Brossé is also active in film, having written music for films by Jean-Pierre De Decker, Roland Verhavert and Stijn Coninx. His inspirations in this area include Hollywood composers Erich Wolfgang Korngold and Franz Waxman. Brossé always sets himself the goal of writing film music that can stand on its own, not just sonic frames for moving images. The drama has to be an intrinsic part of the composition itself, and cannot be simply derived from the script. These qualities are also Brossé’s goals in a third domain with which he is involved: musicals, such as Sacco & Vanzetti (1996) and Kuifje – de Zonnetempel (Tintin and the Temple of the Sun) from 2001.
The underlying themes of his many works also reveal the composer’s core preoccupation with “universality”, both in space and time. The nicest example of the attempt to capture all “spatially” distributed expression of human culture in a single composition is Artesia, “a universal symphony for orchestra, ethnic instruments and soloists”. This symphony paints the utopia of a world in which all conflicts are ultimately won over by the desire to live together in reconciliation and in peace. The nonexistent “jabber talk” of the child (a boy soprano) symbolises the impartiality and neutrality of all speech. Understanding among peoples and cultures is also the idea behind his symphonic poem La Soledad de America Latina (1992), based on a text spoken by the Columbian writer Gabriel García Márquez when he received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1982. Brossé’s predilection for Latin America is expressed in this piece and other works like El Golpe Fatal (1989). The continent has also had a great influence on the purely musical means the composer uses. The idea of “universal time” is dealt with in The Birth of music, an “ethno-classical symphony” in which the central idea is the birth and evolution of sound, from the first sound of nature to today’s big-city “noise”. The oratorio Juanelo emphasises the sharp contrast between the limited life span of even a world ruler like King Charles V and the gear wheel of Juanelo’s clock, which takes 7000 years to make a single revolution.
The purely musical working out of these themes is most strikingly expressed in the tonal language and instruments used. Brossé sees music as the universal language par excellence, capable of transcending boundaries between space and time. Many of his compositions mix highly diverse musical traditions in an eclectic way. In La Soledad de America Latina, the text fragments are supported by typically South American (pentatonic) melodies, played on pre-Columbian flutes, against a background of indigenous Indian harp and percussion. These sections are alternated with orchestral passages (with the orchestra symbolising European tradition) using characteristic flamenco rhythms, Phrygian motifs and other trademarks of Spanish folk music. The orchestral “tango” with solo cello refers to yet another merging of the two traditions. The third part of Artesia, “Joy”, shows another example of a colourful variety of world music from places like Australia (didgeridoo sounds) and Asia. In addition to the usual symphonic forces, The Birth of Music employs no fewer than sixty ethnic instruments, such as a lithophone from the Paleolithic period or a monochord designed on a model by Pythagoras.
Universality, however, is usually primarily characterised by an opposition. Using every available means, after all, implies the risk of creating a chaos from within which nothing more can be heard. This abundance must be subjected to a principle which provides some structure. In Brossé’s compositions, techniques are used which point to the tradition of film music. One constant is the subdivision of every work into clearly delineated segments, often related to the underlying programme. There is also a continual alternation between more rhythmically terse passages (with borrowings from lighter dance genres and jazz) and strongly melodic fragments. The rhythm often serves to heighten the tension, which makes a transition at the climax to a highly melodious theme performed by a solo instrument or voice, with an equally lyrical orchestral accompaniment. The frequent repetition of clearly profiled and very recognisable melodies also is reminiscent of film music. Moreover, one aspect of totality remains out of the picture: the distorted or “aesthetically ugly”. Conflicts express themselves in the first place as an increase in tension or accumulation of elements; the “euphony” of the sound is never sacrificed to it. Thanks to the use of these clearly segmentary structures and a strict adherence to an accessible tonal stylistic idiom (expanded with world-music elements), Brossé is able to bring his intended message across to his audiences.
List of works
Symphonic music: Oscar for amnesty for orchestra, speaking chorus and reciter (1987); La Soledad de America Latina (lyrics: Gabriel García Márquez) (1992); Landuyt cycle for soprano and orchestra (1993); International Flanders Film Festival Ouverture “7 Inch Framed” (1995); Artesia (1995); Ouverture “Principals” (1996); The Birth of Music (1997); Violinconcertino “Black, White and in Between” (1998)
Oratorio: Charles V-oratorio “Juanelo” (with Elie Saegeman) (2000)
Chamber music: Three Spanish Songs for soprano, trumpet and piano; Meditation for clarinet
Film music: Springen (Jean-Pierre De Decker) (1985); Marc and Nathalie (Roland Verhavert) (1986); Boerenpsalm (Roland Verhavert) (1989); Koko Flanel (Stijn Coninx) (1990); Daens (Stijn Coninx) (1992); Light – When the light comes (Stijn Coninx, 1997)
Musicals: Sacco & Vanzetti (Frank Van Laecke) (1996); Kuifje – de Zonnetempel (2001)
– F. MARIËN, Een eenzaam continent, in Muziek & Woord, 275, 1997, p. 40
– M. DELAERE, Y. KNOCKAERT en H. SABBE, Nieuwe Muziek in Vlaanderen, Brugge, 1998, p. 130
– T. GHYSELINCK, De wereldklasse van Dirk Brossé belicht, in Sabam Magazine, 16, 1998, p. 36-37
– Artesia (BRTN Philharmonic Orchestra cond. by D. Brossé), Philips 446 957-2
– Boerenpsalm (BRT-chorus cond. by V. Nees; Chamber Orchestra Sinfonia o.l.v. D. Vermeulen), Indisc DICD.3627
– Daens (Ex Tempore chorus cond. by F. Heyerick; The New Belgian Chamber Orchestra cond. by J. Caeyers), Indisc DICD.3803
– El Golpe Fatal (NOS Radio Symfonie Orkest cond. by D. Brossé) DHM 2008.3
– Juanelo – Charles V-oratorio (4 vocal soloists, The Flemish Radio Orchestra and Choir cond. by D. Brossé), Maestro MMP 011
– La Soledad de America Latina (BRTN Philharmonic Orchestra cond. by M. Korosec) Sony Music 47 27082
– Meditations (G. Broucke, piano en P. Klinck, viool), PKP Productions PKP 005
– 7 Inch Framed (NOS Radio Symfonie Orkest o.l.v. D. Brossé), DHM 2010.3
– The Birth of Music (L’Arco Musicale, The Universal Consort, D. Brossé), Maestro Music Productions
– THE LONDON PHILHARMONIC ORCHESTRA PLAYS DIRK BROSSE (London Philharmonic Orchestra cond. by Dirk Brossé), Philips 465 274-2
– Elegie voor basklarinet en strijkkwartet, LOOK, A BASS CLARINET IN MY GARDEN! (Trio Classicum; Moscow Chamber Soloists; basklarinet: Jan Guns, marimba, klokkespel en vibrafoon: Rita Rommes), Phaedra (In Flanders’ Fields, vol. 20) 92020
Texts by Kristof Boucquet
Last update: 2002