André Rieu as a glocalization phenomenon

13 minutes to read
Article
Bettie Cörvers
26/06/2020

When it comes to the genre of classical music, there are only a handful of people who have contributed majorly to its commodification, and André Rieu is definitely one of them. André Rieu is a Dutch violinist who runs an enormously profitable business being an excellent entrepreneur besides a musician. Rieu just turned 70 years old and is still going strong, touring all around the world. 

On the one hand, Rieu is greatly loved as a musician locally, in the Dutch city of Maastricht, linked to his Limburgian identity. On the other hand, his music has also become enormously popular globally. In this sense, Rieu is doing something remarkable. He makes localism and globalism intersect in his success. But to what extent is Rieu nationalistic? And isn’t classical music a global thing already?

Who is André Rieu?

André Rieu is the director, conductor and first violinist of the Johan Strauß Orchestra. He plays a Stradivarius from 1667. Rieu is seen as the King of Waltz and romance worldwide. He has sold over 40 million albums worldwide and played more than 1000 shows in five continents. He has also received more than 500 Platinum and 270 Gold certifications. He is one of the highest-earning musicians in the Netherlands, second only to DJs Armin van Buuren and Tiësto. He currently lives in a 16th-century castle in his hometown Maastricht, the capital of Limburg. 

Rieu's father was the conductor of the Maastricht Symphony Orchestra. André Rieu started playing at the age of five, showing a promising start. In 1968, he attended the conservatory of Liège and later the conservatory in Maastricht. Rieu ended his studies in Brussels, where he also was awarded the Premier Prix. This is a high-honour Diploma of Musical Studies in performance and composition. During his time in Brussels, he developed his love for salon music and the Waltz. In 1978 he started his own salon orchestra in Maastricht. Huge successes led to its expansion in 1987 into the Johan Strauß Orchestra, his own production company. In 2009, Rieu was knighted by the French order of Art and Literacy for popularising classical among a large worldwide audience.

Rieu is seen as the King of Waltz and romance worldwide.

Today, Rieu runs his own company, together with his son Pierre as manager. He is very close to his orchestra, showing real interest in his colleagues and treating them like family. He says that there is nothing more beautiful in life than making music together with your friends and family. There are more than ten nationalities represented among the musicians in his Johan Strauß Orchestra. During his performances, Rieu mentions the nationalities of the people in his orchestra, knowing that the audience will cheer when he mentions their country.

From local to global

Within the Netherlands, the province of Limburg is seen as a "periphery". People from "below the rivers" (the Rhine and the Waal) are seen as marginal by people from the centre of the country. These latter Dutch residents of the so-called "Randstad" are considered to speak "standard Dutch" while people from below the rivers are considered to speak a dialect.

Despite the prestige of the Randstad, Rieu, a star from below the rivers, does not necessarily care much for it. When it came to growing big in popularity, Rieu "skipped" the centre of the Netherlands, so to speak, and immediately went global, becoming popular among a worldwide audience. So, Rieu went directly from local to global, skipping this hierarchie that is structured within the Netherlands.

The structure I am referring to is based on Wallerstein’s (2004) World-Systems Analysis theory. This theory divides the world into three regions: core, semi-periphery, and periphery. We can also apply the labels of core and periphery within one country. The Randstad would thus be the core of The Netherlands. The very south as well as the northernmost part of the country are seen as peripheries. Considering that André Rieu comes from the very south, it is remarkable that he, beingsomeone from the periphery, became so famous globally without being very well-known in the centre of the country first. One reason for this might be the fact that he went outside of the Netherlands for his education, studying in Belgium.

Besides that, it should be mentioned that overall the Netherlands is a wealthy country and it therefore belongs to the core countries in the world. Interestingly, it seems as if André Rieu is mostly performing in countries that belong to core areas, but he performs both for the elite and for less wealthy people. At the same time, when he plays in Maastricht's Vrijthof, Rieu is "performing the periphery" (Stengs, 2018). This means that he uses local elements in his show, the local in this case being the connection to the peripheral area of Limburg.

''The global is in the local'' (Appadurai, 1996).

During his concerts in Maastricht, Rieu often speaks the local language (dialect), which he combines with English for his international audience. André Rieu is, therefore, an example of popular culture in the region and at the same time, he is a globalised phenomenon. "The global is in the local" (Appadurai, 1996). He stays loyal to his local Maastricht audience by speaking to them in their shared dialect. But we also see that the local culture is affected by global scapes.

Rieu has blended the subculture of classical music with the mainstream. ''Glocalization is the concept that in a global market, a product or service is more likely to succeed when it is customized for the locality or culture in which it is sold.'' This definition of glocalization explains how Rieu made classical music popular among a larger public. Glocalization is Rieu's genius marketing instrument.

Further, André Rieu performs the local Waltz from Vienna on a global scale. He has spread the atmosphere of the Waltz with its dresses and castles. The Vienna customs and decors are popular all around the world and traditional Viennese culture features in his every show. After all, André Rieu is the King of the Waltz. 

Use of languages

Last year, Rieu gave his 100th concert in Maastricht; there were 150,000 visitors attending, from over 99 countries. Occasions like this are why Rieu has started to use English as a second language during his performances since 2013. He used to speak only the local dialect (Mestreechs) during his concerts in his hometown, but now he has started. repeating everything he says in English due to the increasing number of people from abroad attending his Vrijthof concerts. Sometimes he also alternates between dialect and standard Dutch. In this way, he addresses three different groups of people. First of all, dialect speakers, citizens of Limburg, and in particular citizens of Maastricht. Secondly, Dutch people who are not from Limburg or people who don’t speak the dialect. Finally, he also addresses the foreigners in his audience. Rieu is always playing with the ways in which he addresses his three audiences. Therefore, his language use is certainly indexical, as will be shown in the following examples. 

On one occasion, Rieu told the audience that he was very happy after having received a phone call from the Mayor of Amsterdam, who asked him if he wanted to play at the coronation of the new King and Queen in 2014. This event would take place at the Museum Square, right in the heart of Amsterdam. He said that his response was ''yes, of course!'' (netuurluk!), then adding that "the Museum Square is of course not as beautiful as The Vrijthof" (‘t Museumplein is natuurlek neet zoe sjoen wie de Vriethof), a remark that made the audience laugh. "Nevertheless, it was really special" (Meh ‘t woar toch hiel specioal), he concluded. All of this anecdote was narrated in the local dialect. In Maastricht, Rieu only speaks the dialect or English. He uses standard Dutch more rarely, to make a joke concerning the Dutchies. 

Rieu has started to use English as a second language during his performances since 2013.

Rieu also loves being nationalistic about Maastricht. His use of the local dialect is one way of showing that. But could we call his stance chauvinistic too? Whereas it is commonly thought in the Netherlands that people from Maastricht are chauvinistic, this might not be the right term to describe Rieu. Rather, I would use the term patriotic, in ''a way that shows that you love your country and are proud of it''. Considering that my own origins are from Maastricht, I might be biased, but I think patriotism suits Rieu best, and it also explains his enthusiasm for using local elements. 

In countries where English is not a very well-spoken language, Rieu is accompanied by a native speaker that translates everything he says into the local language. The reason for this is that he wants to make sure that everyone is involved in his performance. This is the same reason why he translates his Maastrichts dialect into English himself when performing in his hometown. If Rieu performs abroad he says ''I am from the Netherlands''. Whenever Rieu returns home (thoes), he always mentions that he travelled the world and that he is back, once again, to play in his own city (in us eige stad) at the most beautiful square of The Netherlands, The Vrijthof in Maastricht (op ‘t sjoenste plein vaan Nederland: ‘t Vriethof in Mestreecht)! So he is consciously making this distinction in order to stay close to the audience and connect with them, locally and globally. For all this, Rieu's way of using languages is indexical, whereas the underlying reason for his language use refers to the goal of solidarity.

Social media

André Rieu is regularly active on social media. He has 1,9 million subscribers on YouTube, where he posts new videos every week. He also has a Twitter account, where it stands out that he also tweets in Spanish. His Facebook page has 4.351.402 likes and 5.119.054 people also following it. His Instagram account in turn has 412.000 followers. Rieu tends to share the same images and videos on both Facebook and Instagram, also featuring the same caption. As can be seen in Figure 1, his latest posts are very different from each other. The first one is a picture of André as we know him; performing in a suit with his Stradivarius. The caption reads: 

"What is your favourite André Rieu album?’" 

Posted on 3 November 2019. Location not mentioned. By asking this question to his followers through Instagram, Rieu attempts to generate engagement with his fans. 

Figure 1. Rieu's Instagram profile

The second post on Figure 1 is a video, showing a compilation of clips from a former concert in Maastricht. Posted on 1 November 2019, the caption says:

"TICKET ALERT: Here we go again! We’re proud to announce 3 extra Maastricht Open Air concerts on July 17, 18, and 19 2020. Tickets and hotel packages are now on sale via www.andrerieu.com (link in bio). Early booking is advised.’

The video shows not only himself and his Johan Strauß orchestra but also the audience. The audience is singing along, dancing, clapping, smiling and towards the end of the video there is even a kiss. The audience seems to be having the time of their lives while attending Rieu’s concert. This post is a case of Rieu indirectly advertising through his social media platforms.

The third post seen in Figure 1 pictures André Rieu with a plate of food, while the picture appears to be taken in his house. Posted on 31 March 2019. Location Maastricht, The Netherlands. The caption goes:

"Time for Viennese Kaiserschmarrn!

André is letting his followers know that he is going to eat Kaiserschmarrn and is very happy about it. Kaiserschmarrn is a speciality dessert in Austria and Hungary. Given that he has performed many times in Vienna, by sharing this, André is showing that he knows Austrian culture and loves it. This is an example of Rieu showing his followers that he is connected to his fans and that he knows parts of their worlds.

So, next to making music and performing, Rieu is also quite active on social media, sharing things about either his personal life or his music. He also does a lot of interviews around the world. After releasinga new album on the 5th of November 2019, he also announced that there is going to be a cinema broadcast of his tour. André Rieu is thus providing his fans with a lot more than just music. This is also part of his identity building. Social media platforms are especially good tools for Rieu to create his identity as a musician who comes from Maastricht and is close to his audience, wherever that may be. 

Commodification

André Rieu also sells lots of albums and DVDs of recorded concerts which take place all around the world. In the recordings of his concerts, the hands of the musicians are rarely shown. Instead of showing the hands only, Rieu chooses to have the musicians' emotions recorded too. Hands are mostly recorded to show virtuosity. But Rieu does not want to show off skill; he wants to enjoy the music together with the audience. He says that his orchestra does not perform to show off, but they perform to experience music together.

For those who consider themselves true classical music experts, Rieu is a commercialized businessman who makes classical music for "people who do not like classical music". Indeed, Rieu has definitely made classical music attainable for a broader audience. It was his goal to make classical music for ordinary people, not for the elite only. Rieu’s performances are joyful, dynamic and lively. He makes original classical compositions shorter and therefore more accessible for the "untrained ear". Rieu often performs on squares - or he makes concert halls look like squares. This alludes to a scenery out of the Middle Ages, it shows collectivity and boosts the feeling of solidarity. For example, in Maastricht, Rieu always performs at the Vrijthof, the city's central square. The concerts he gives are enormously well-arranged shows. They are almost a fairytale-like shows, complete with decor, lights and a display of the customs of the people performing.

André Rieu is a worldwide operator in the market of classical music. He popularized classical music mostly for people in the Western centres that already knew about classical music. Therefore, we are dealing with an interesting case of commodification. Making classical music popular means making it easier to sell, not only to snobs and "connoisseurs", but to real folk as well. André Rieu has definitely commodified classical music for the largest global audience seen for the genre thus far. 

To conclude...

The main take-home message is that André Rieu operates on both local and global levels. He maintains a balance about it as well. It is very obvious that Rieu has a great love for Maastricht, and the locals are very much charmed by this. At the same time, he does not disappoint his global audiences. Fandom does play a role in this and digitalization supports the opportunities for him to grow his fandom. Social media like YouTube, Facebook, Instagram and Twitter are global platforms that Rieu uses with skill. 

Appadurai's ''the global is in the local'' analysis obviously reflects Rieu's way of performing. However, in Rieu's case, we might as well make use of the sentence reversed: ''the local in the global''. His Maastricht origins and great love for the city are known globally, and this does not stand in the way for Rieu's use of local elements in whatever place he performs. 

Classical music has been a global thing for ages, but Rieu hugely commodified it and made it popular by "selling it" to "ordinary folk" all around the world. Rieu’s patterns of language use help him positioning himself as "glocal". He speaks a dialect, Dutch, English, or makes sure that there is a native translator. All with the intention to make his audience feel as connected as possible: the goal is a feeling of solidarity.

Through social media as well as during his concerts, Rieu continuously builds his glocal identity. On the one hand, he chose to use English as an extra language during his shows, a global language. On the other hand, Rieu is ''performing the periphery'' at every Vrijthof concert. Because of all of this, a musician like André Rieu can be seen as a true phenomenon of glocalization. As a matter of fact, I think he is one of the few people in the music industry to whom this term really fits.

 

References

Appadurai, A. (1996). Modernity at large. Minneapolis, University of Minnesota Press.

Stengs, I. (2018). Peripheral performances. The language cultural practices of Dutch-Limburgian world star André Rieu. In: L. Cornips & V. de Rooij (eds.), The Sociolinguistics of Place and Belonging; Perspectives from the Margins (pp. 149-176). Amsterdam, John Benjamins Publishing Company.

Verhulsdonk, I. (2016, April 25). Afl 39: Populaire cultuur in de regio – Onder Mediadoctoren. Retrieved October 28, 2019, from http://ondermediadoctoren.nl/afl-39-populaire-cultuur-in-de-regio/.

Wallerstein, I. (2004). World-systems analysis. Durham NC, Duke University Press.