Friday, January 14, 2005


I’ve been recently listening to Stephen Albert’s RiverRun Symphony (1983). To the best of my knowledge, the recording that I am listening to with the National Symphony Orchestra with Rostropovich is the only commercially available one.

For me, this symphony always evokes rain, mud, and earth. That the work takes its pastoral cue from Joyce is fitting; the connection is one of imagery and imagination, not of scenes or events.

It is fresh, imaginative, and Romantic all at once, and the Romantic strains in the music are thoroughly contemporary and should never have the “neo-” label added. There is real heart without sentimentality. The language is consistent and personal.

Every moment retains an incredible sense of direction and continuity, every turn captivates. The intense thematic integrity and consistency of tone are livened by dramatic and creative sparks. Similar to the music of Mahler, intimate moments that thoroughly draw in the listener are juxtaposed with large orchestral sweeps.

Albert died suddenly in a car accident in 1992. I understand that at the time of his death, he had been working on a second symphony and had turned fresh corners in his composition. We can only speculate on the imaginative works that would have come. It is one of the worst tragedies in American classical music that we were robbed of this voice in its prime.

It is a strange fate. Albert, if alive today, would probably be considered one of America’s foremost composers. Now, I hope that we can give proper attention to his work. His music in the 80s set the stage for many of the composers who were to come of age in the 90s.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Throughout the fo[u]rth movement, RiversEnd, musical ideas from the preceding movements are recalled, while new elements (really old ones reconstructed and transformed) begin to appear as well."

I suppose it is only to be expected that this be a cyclic composition, considering the cyclic construction of Finnegans Wake. Are there musical analogs of Joyce's thunderwords interspersed in the symphony? 100-note drumrolls, perhaps?

Incidentally, is there a finer example of cyclic composition than the Franck Quartet? If so, I've yet to hear it.

8:32 AM  
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6:01 AM  

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