Interview Theo Verbey: A Composer is Primarily a Songwriter

22 May 2015

Written by: Thea Derks

Translated by: Eileen Stevens

Published in: Cultuurpers

The Dutch composer Theo Verbey (Delft 1959) writes music with a sumptuous beauty of sound, through which the achievements of centuries of musical tradition can be heard. He’s made a name for himself with works such as Triade for orchestra (1991) and Expulsion for large ensemble (1988), and with orchestrations of pieces by composers such as Modest Mussorgsky and Alban Berg. He wrote Traurig wie der Tod for the Netherlands Radio Choir and the Netherlands Radio Philharmonic Orchestra, for the final concert of the concert series De Vrijdag van Vredenburg. The world premier took place in the Main Hall of TivoliVredenburg on Friday 29 May, 2015.

Six questions for Theo Verbey

In the season’s brochure of De Vrijdag van Vredenburg, your new work is announced as ‘Elysium’; why did you choose a different title, ‘Traurig wie der Tod’?

I had been planning to compose a piece for large chorus and orchestra for some years, envisioning a ‘large space in sound’ and a work of considerable length. The chance to realize my plans arrived when programmer Astrid in ‘t Veld asked me to compose a piece for the Netherlands Radio Choir and the Netherlands Radio Philharmonic Orchestra.

Originally I had the title Elysium in mind, named for the Greek god’s residence after their earthly life. I had already made a number of sketches, but when I was ready to turn my ideas into music in the summer of 2014, I was confronted by several profound events. The health of my mother was deteriorating, and the disaster with flight MH17 took place. Reason enough to throw away all my sketches and begin anew.

For Elysium I had a number of texts in mind, in Latin and German, from various classical poets, including Virgil and Goethe. I never got to the stage of setting the texts to music however; the chosen verses were not particularly suitable …