Compline was composed in 1996 for the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center via an award from the Koussevitzky Music Foundation in the Library of Congress; it is dedicated to the memory of Serge and Natalie Koussevitsky. Composed for a septet consisting of flute, clarinet, harp, and string quartet, it is scored for the same instrumental combination as Ravel's Introduction and Allegro.
The title refers to the seventh (and final) canonical hour in the Catholic church. As a result, some may conclude that it is a religious work. However, what religiosity Compline may contain is more observational than participatory, reminiscent perhaps of various scores by Respighi in which religious elements are included. For me, Compline is first and foremost a souvenir of my 1989 trip to Rome, a city I fell in love with instantly and that is, of course, dominated by the twin cultures of the ancient Roman Empire and the Roman Catholic church. In Compline, as in Rome itself, the sound of bells is never far away.
The work is in four connected sections -- fast-slow-fast-slow -- with the second fast section functioning as a developed continuation of the first. The first three sections all rely heavily upon variation techniques, with the fourth serving as something of a recapitulation. Unlike the majority of other works I composed in the half dozen years before it, Compline does not concern itself with death but rather with light. In this it perhaps augurs a change in my musical outlook.
© 1996 by Christopher Rouse
These program notes can be reproduced free of charge with the following credit:
Reprinted by kind permission of Christopher Rouse
"Christopher Rouse's Compline...reflects the marvels of [Rome], its history, its culture, and its light. Rouse, too, is no mean master of instrumental effect; he calls for only seven instruments, but the brilliance of sonority is sometimes comparable to what Respighi created from a full orchestra in his own souvenirs of Rome. The music alternatives interrelated fast and slow music, vivid and contemplative, and it closes with unison chant disappearing into a haze of bells. It's an absolutely wonderful piece, and the performance was worthy of it."
"Receiving its local premiere was Compline...Cast in four continuous sections, the music recalls Respighi in its opening bars, with bustling winds over ostinato strings. You hear occasional jazz-like syncopation, too, and the bell-like harp tones in the final section skillfully rendered by harpist Gillian Benet Sella give it an ecclesiastical coloration.
"The third section was particularly engaging as the ostinato figure was handed off among players, sometimes at very brief intervals. As a kind of benediction, the unison strings broke into prismatic colors with the addition of harp and winds at the end."