After studying in Stellenbosch, Salzburg and Munich, Huyssen started his professional career in Europe as a cellist and composer. He has performed extensively with various instrumental ensembles specialising in earlier music, and continues to do so as artistic director of the Munich-based early music ensemble così facciamo and the local Cape Consort.
Since 2000 he has been engaged in numerous inter- cultural collaborative projects. Complementing his integration of indigenous musical idioms into some of his compositions, he advocates historically informed performances of Early European music on period instruments. From 2004 to 2013 Huyssen was affiliated with the Music Department of the University of the Free State, and since 2014 with the College of Music in Cape Town. He is currently studying for a practical Ph.D. in composition at the University of Stellenbosch.
His compositional oeuvre comprises more than 50 works to date, including an opera. In 1997 he won a SAMRO Special Merit Award.
Huyssen’s musical activities include diverse poles of early and contemporary European and African music, mainly focused on bringing together a variety of essential qualities from these musical fields. His intensive focus on context suggests that his music consists of a profound social power, which can play a specific role in our ‘new’ diversified society in South Africa. (Commendatio 2010)
Proteus Variations is a musical representation of South Africa’s varied Proteaceae family. The work was com- missioned by Radio Deutsche Welle for the South African National Youth Orchestra (2006) and dedicated to the Betty’s Bay Hack Group.
According to Greek mythology, Proteus is a demigod endowed with the faculty of prophecy. However, tired of constantly being beleaguered by mortals concerned about their future, he adopted different shapes and appearances in order to hide and escape from the many wishing to consult him. From this habit the adjective protean derives its meaning of variable, inconsistent, mercurial, volatile, whimsical, capricious.
Proteus Variasies was, accordingly, inspired by the extraordinary diversity of forms and shapes found within the protea family of plants. The work consists of eight variations, each named after one of the protea genera endemic to South Africa and, accordingly, refers to certain key features. Many examples of circling or spiraling patterns may be perceived, as well as a wide array of different ‘colours’; similarly the forms vary from the minute to the elongated, the textures from the filigreed to the sweepingly expressive. Subtitles such as Chorale, Cavatina and Chaconne are indica- tions of historical musical genres and compositional techniques. But most importantly the Protea inspired a novel approach to the classical form of theme and variation – in this instance there is no (single) theme, but merely variations. As they all share some similarities, the variety gradually contributes to a connecting idea or some form of essential expression. The principle of varying and changing becomes the objective.
With its subtle but frequent references to musical devices from indigenous African traditions, Proteus Variasies deliberately refers to the local musical diversity as well. As the composer states: “It is worth mentioning that the protea is the national flower of South Africa. What can be more appropriate to symbolise the advocating of a multi-layered understanding of cultural diversity? It is my hope that Proteus Variasies will contribute to the wide scope of cultural response, and that it will start the order to do justice in our immediate cultural and natural environment”. (Grové 2014)