Without a doubt, Poul Ruders (1949) is the most successful Danish composer of his generation. Ruders studied with Karl Aage Rasmussen. Gradually developing as a composer, he found his true voice, according to Ruders himself, in 1980 with his chamber concerto Four Compositions. Ruders' music is characterised by the ease with which he combines different musical styles, ranging from ominous atonality to lyrical late-romantic figures, from pulsating rhythms to esoteric soundscapes. The authoritative New York music critic Alex Ross once described him as 'a lover of sweet melodies with a yen for dark chords, a comedian with a flair for apocalypse.'
Ruders' versatility is also evidenced by his rich body of work. He has written music in almost every genre and for a wide range of different instrumentations. Ruders has been most successful as an opera composer. His international breakthrough came with the resounding success of his opera A Handmaid’s Tale (2000) in Copenhagen, followed by commissions for new work by the Berlin Philharmonic, The New York Philharmonic, the BBC Symphony Orchestra and the Scottish National Opera. In 2005, Kafka's Trial premiered on the festive opening night of the new Copenhagen Opera House. In 2010, at the same theatre, Ruders premiered Selma Jezková, which was based on Lars van Trier's film Dancer in the Dark. The opera’s fascination with the dark and the apocalyptic is a recurring theme in much of Ruders’ work, including the orchestral works Thus Saw Saint John (1984) and Nightshade (1987), as well as The Bells (1993), written for soprano and chamber music ensemble and inspired by Edgar Allen Poe.