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guus janssen


13-05-1951 - current


classical, componist, contemporary classical music, improvised, jazz, klavecimbel, orgel, piano


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Guus Janssen

Guus Janssen is a Dutch composer and pianist whose work brings different musical worlds together: that of classical music with jazz, of composition with improvisation. He doesn’t blend them into a synthesis, but places them alongside each other in montages. In his composed pieces, there are passages where the musicians ...
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componist, klavecimbel, orgel, piano

Mentioned in the biography of

1973   Paul Termos
1974   Maurice Horsthuis
1978   Gerard Bouwhuis
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Biography Guus Janssen

Guus Janssen is a Dutch composer and pianist whose work brings different musical worlds together: that of classical music with jazz, of composition with improvisation. He doesn’t blend them into a synthesis, but places them alongside each other in montages. In his composed pieces, there are passages where the musicians must improvise, and the improvisations in his jazz pieces are always structured. His improvisations are often rooted in visual impressions. Janssen composes instrumental and vocal music for a variety of ensemble types – it might be a duet for piano and hi-hat, or a piece for Siberian overtone singers. Open-mindedness is one of his main characteristics, and it keeps him from producing routine music and bowing to tradition. Janssen’s music is capricious, unsettling and restless – both his compositions and improvisations. In the string quartet 'Streepjes' [Little Stripes], for instance, he consciously avoids traditional vibrato-playing: the musicians play only flageolet tones, and then suddenly break into exaggerated vibrato passages. Janssen has a particular liking for (intentional) blunders, glitches, the breaking from an initial pattern. The result is music that continually keeps itself in perspective and never gets bogged down in ponderousness. His style has been described as sober, matter-of-fact, clear, even 'typically Dutch'. Janssen himself says that he wants “to write music that is unbiased and open-minded toward all the ‘musics’ around us”. As a composer, he usually works closely with the performers to bridge as far as possible the gap between composition and performance. As a pianist, he frequently appears in large and small venues, from jazz cafes to the Amsterdam Concertgebouw.

1951 - 1972

Guus Janssen is born in Heiloo on May 13. He studies the piano with Jaap Spaanderman and composition with Ton de Leeuw at the Sweelinck Conservatory in Amsterdam.

Ton de Leeuw

1972 - 1973

After completing his studies, Janssen writes the complex piano piece 'Brake', which has clear echoes of the avant-gardists Iannis Xenakis and Brian Ferneyhough. Its complexity does not come from a compositional plan, but largely from improvisation. His 'Muziek' for winds is performed by the Asko Ensemble, in which he plays the piano.

1973 - 1980

Janssen performs as an improvising pianist and harpsichordist, either alone or with the Guus Janssen Trio and Guus Janssen Septet. He also plays with others, for example with Paul Termos, Maarten Altena and Theo Loevendie. His playing often shows the influence of Thelonious Monk and Lennie Tristano, whose records he knows from his parents’ collection.

Maarten Altena Paul Termos Theo Loevendie


At the Warschauer Herbst music festival, Guus Janssen performs his piano concerto 'Dans van de Malic Matrijzen' (1978) and at the Donaueschinger Musiktage, the Netherlands Radio Chamber Orchestra and trombone soloist Vinko Globokar, conducted by Ernest Bour, premier his new composition 'Toonen'.


Janssen writes 'Streepjes', his second string quartet. He performs as a soloist in the Masters of the Clavier series at the Holland Festival. Guus Janssen receives the Boy Edgar Prize for his achievements in jazz and improvised music. The jury report praises him as a distinct innovator “because he finds a way in his music to forge two related but up to now entirely separate streams into a totally new whole” – by which is meant contemporary classical music and jazz.


Janssen performs as a soloist at the North Sea Jazz Festival, and he doesn’t go unnoticed between such giants as Benny Goodman, Lionel Hampton, Stan Getz and Dizzy Gillespie. According to one critic, he crafts “masterpieces from the most insignificant little themes”.


Guus Janssen receives the Matthijs Vermeulen Prize for 'Temet' (1983) for flute, violin, cello and harp.

1987 - 1989

Janssen performs with John Zorn in the BIMHuis in Amsterdam. There they play old bop pieces by Misha Mengelberg during the October Meeting. The following year, they do the same in Italy. The Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra commissions a piece from him, and he writes Keer [Turn] (1988). It opens with the strings, which in modern music 'so often have nothing to do'. “You get the idea that the violinists have landed in a windmill that just keeps turning and turning. (...) That string violence has to be turned aside, and that’s why the brass breaks through with the basic chord.”

Misha Mengelberg

1993 - 1994

Guus performs with his brother, the drummer Wim Janssen, at the Knitting Factory in New York. For a Gidon Kremer concert in the Amsterdam Concertgebouw, he composes 'Klotz' (1994), for violin, hi-hat solo and ensemble, on a commission from Kremer. The premiere of his opera 'Noach', on a libretto by Friso Haverkamp, is performed during the Holland Festival. The production is directed by Pierre Audi and the scenery is made by Karel Appel.

Wim Janssen


On a commission from the Donaueschinger Musiktage, he writes 'Verstelwerk' [Mending]. The essence of this piece, according to Janssen, lies in “how it handles tonality, how it’s put together topsy-turvy. There’s plenty of swing in it, but in an odd, stumbling way [...] it sounds like Bernstein gone mad. 'Verstelwerk' is one of my favourite pieces, and the conductor had a ball with it.”

1999 - 2000

The opera 'Noach' is again performed by de Nederlandse Opera. A year later comes the premiere of his opera 'Hier°' which he worked on from 1999 to 2000. The libretto is by Friso Haverkamp, the direction by Pierre Audi.


Janssen has a special connection with several composers from the Baroque and Classical eras (among whom, Joseph Haydn, C.Ph.E. Bach and Domenico Scarlatti). At times he uses a work of theirs as the starting point of an improvisation, and sometimes he finds with them an idea for a new composition. For the Netherlands Wind Ensemble, he arranges six sonatas by Domenico Scarlatti. He scores three of the sonatas for winds, three others he arranges so they “end wrong”.

2007 - 2008

guus janssen This season Janssen is the composer-in-residence of the Brabant Orchestra. He writes 'Belvédère', for two cellos and orchestra, for Larissa Groeneveld and Ernst Reijseger with the Brabant Orchestra. 'Verstelwerk' (1996) is performed at Carnegie Hall in New York by the Riverside Orchestra.

Ernst Reijseger Het Brabants Orkest Larissa Groeneveld


'Pinocchio in Love' is the new opera on a libretto by Friso Haverkamp, written for the summer tour of the Ricciotti Ensemble. In the autumn, the ensemble goes to Sicily.

Ricciotti Ensemble


On May 10, Guus Janssen performs the premiere of his piano concerto 'Vrije Tijd' [Free Time] with the Asko|Schönberg in the Amsterdam Concertgebouw.


Guus Janssen is awarded the prestigious Johan Wagenaar Prize for his entire oeuvre. From the jury report: “Composer Guus Janssen is ‘Holland at its best’. His complete works are authentic, clearly his own and can't be compared to anything else. His work has such a unique signature that all his pieces, no matter from what period, are always easily recognised as 'typically Janssen'. The jury sees him as one of the most creative and free-thinking composers of this time.”

Louis Th. Lehmann Peter Schat

Discography Guus Janssen

In the discography you will find all recordings that have been released listed chronologically. We restrict ourselves to the title, the type of audio, year of publication or recording, label, list of guest musicians, plus any comments on the issue.

Photos Guus Janssen

Audio/Video Guus Janssen

Video Guus Janssen

Han Bennink & Guus Jansse...
Han Bennink & Guus Janssen "Klein Verstelwerk" @ Inage Candy
Guus Janssen - Prelidium
Guus Janssen - Prelidium
Guus Janssen - Ostinato 1
Guus Janssen - Ostinato 1
Trio Janssen, Glerum, Jan...
Trio Janssen, Glerum, Janssen speelt One Bar
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Han Bennink & Guus Janssen "Klein Verstelwerk" @ Inage Candy

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