Poul Ruders was born in 1949 and trained as an organist. As a composer, he is mainly self-taught. Ruders has written works for choir, chamber ensemble, and solo instruments, which are performed in and outside of Denmark more than the works of any living Danish composer. And yet, it is his works for orchestra that have secured Ruders the greatest fame. He is simply one of the most outstanding symphonists in Denmark in the post-war era. He himself calls his large-scale symphonic sequences »Symphonic dramas«.
Terms like ‘dazzling orchestration’, ‘musical colours’, ‘emotional depths’, ‘psychological timing’ and ‘flawless dramas’ cover some of the important aspects of Poul Ruders’ music. He expresses himself as composer and as a human being - in Ruders’ music, one feels a quite characteristic fusion of art and life. Perhaps that is the underlying idea of the artist’s words: »Composing is my life, it is the only thing that allows me to fill up the room completely. It is so vital for me to constantly be haunted by themes, harmonics, orchestration and form problems.«
In his youth, Ruders wrote expressionistic works for instruments such as the piano and organ. He became interested in musical quotations, and in the creation of a connection to the music of earlier times. The music of the Gothic cathedrals of the Middle Ages, the vast buildings of Baroque music, and the Classical sonata form found their way into his music. The concept of collage was not unfamiliar to him. Ruders’ music of the early years constantly asked the question: "What can we use the tradition for?". The works related to the inheritance of music history, and the composer listened his way down the historical layers and let the past echo in his contemporary art of sound. The references to early music gradually faded, but a basic atmosphere remains as something unchangeable in the sound image: The wish to recreate some of the lost past through a contemporary expression. In Ruders, one experiences the pleasure of that which sounds, and at the same time one longs for the beauty of the distant past. It is this unfulfilled wish that contributes to the creation of tension in his music: The perception of the frailty of the vision, and the feeling of absence when it is all over.
Dramatic, evocative music has always been at the heart of Poul Ruders, he has had the same problematic relationship with musical modernism as some of his older colleagues. Ruders simply writes off that discussion as unproductive. As he expresses it: »I am interested in form, expression, and orchestration. Whether it is modern or not is of no interest to me: Problems of style do not interest me, as long as I am not reproducing.«
Poul Ruders has another axe to grind, he wants to make an impression, he wants to hold the listener in the hollow of his hand - ultimately, he wants to lead the listener into the labyrinth of the soul, to the place where music affects the way we experience the world. The tool used to reach the listener is an element of musical recognition. Technically, formally, and harmonically, this is achieved through links with Classical music. There are frames of reference in Ruders’ music, it is experienced as an organic prolongation of the classical music. This means that the major and minor keys are still available as pieces in the musical puzzle. Other pieces are added and bring new light to the music. From the sonorous bottom of Ruders’ music, voices from the spiritual universe of the Romantic era are heard. Ruders’ music hovers around the unattainable, about that which lies outside our physical world, about metaphysics. The composer does not intend to hide his congeniality with artists such as the painter Caspar David Friedrich and the poet Edgar Allan Poe. They are all fascinated by death, loneliness and melancholy. That is the starting point of their artistic creation. Ruders’ works universally ask how the concrete and the elevated can be joined together, how exactness and spirit can be lead to communication.