Christopher Rouse - Composer

Press and Program Notes


Flute Concerto

Program Note by the Composer

Although no universal credence for the Jungian concept of "genetic memory" exists, for me it seems a profoundly viable notion. Although both of my parents' families immigrated to America well before the Revolutionary War, I nonetheless still feel a deep ancestral tug of recognition whenever I am exposed to the arts and traditions of the British Isles, particularly those of Celtic origin.

I have attempted to reflect my responses to these stimuli in my flute concerto, a five-movement work cast in a somewhat loose arch form. The first and last movements bear the title "Amhrán" (Gaelic for "song") and are simple melodic elaborations for the solo flute over the accompaniment of orchestral strings. They were intended in a general way to evoke the traditions of Celtic, especially Irish, folk music but to couch the musical utterance in what I hoped would seem a more spiritual, even metaphysical, maner through the use of extremely slow tempi, perhaps not unlike some of the recordings of the Irish singer Enya.

The second and fourth movements are both fast in tempo. The second is a rather sprightly march which shares some of its material with the fourth, a scherzo which refers more and more as it progresses to that most Irish of dances, the jig. However, by the time the jig is stated in its most obvious form, the tempo has increased to the point that the music seems almost frantic and breathless in nature.

In a world of daily horrors too numerous and enormous to comprehend en masse, it seems that only isolated, individual tragedies serve to sensitize us to the potential harm man can do to his fellow. For me, one such instance was the abduction and brutal murder of the two-year old English lad James Bulger at the hands of a pair of ten-year old boys. I followed this case closely during the time I was composing my concerto and was unable to shake the horror of these events from my mind. The central movement of this work is an elegy dedicated to James Bulger's memory, a small token of remembrance for a life senselessly and cruelly snuffed out.

I completed my flute concerto in Fairport, New York on August 15, 1993, and it was composed through a joint commission from Richard and Jody Nordlof (for Carol Wincenc) and Borders Inc. (for the Detroit Symphony Orchestra). Its duration is approximately twenty-three minutes.

The orchestra required for the concerto's performance consists of three flutes, two oboes, two clarinets, two bassoons (2nd doubling on contrabassoon), four horns, two trumpets, three trombones, tuba, harp, timpani, percussion (three players), and strings. The percussion contingent consists of glockenspiel, xylophone, chimes, vibraphone, suspended cymbal, a pair of crash cymbals, rute, sandpaper blocks, tam-tam, tenor drum, snare drum, bass drum, and tambourine.

Christopher Rouse

Philadelphia Inquirer

David Patrick Stearns

Time is right for the truth of Flute Concerto

"New symphonies and concertos have a way of going into hibernation shortly after being born: Christopher Rouse's Flute Concerto, for one, was reasonably interesting as it came and went over its initial round of performances in the mid-1990s. Now, it returns in an era that needs it. The Philadelphia Orchestra premiere on Thursday at the Kimmel Center seemed made for this year, this month, this moment...

"Now out of the prosperous 1990s and into an era of threatened civil war in Iraq and plummeting corporate ethics, Rouse's concerto is an island of truth...

"Ten years ago, Philadelphia's conservative public might have resisted it. But Thursday's audience was visibly altered by this encapsulation of humanity's extremes of cruelty and kindness."

Detroit Free Press/American Record Guide

John Guinn

"The initial impression made by Christopher Rouse's new Flute that it's a certifiable hit. The 23-minute, five-movement work, commissioned jointly by [Carol] Wincenc and the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, caused many in the audience to deliver a standing ovation; where contemporary music is concerned, that sort of reaction is about as rare as a cat smiling. The tribute was deserved. The Baltimore-born Rouse, who won the Pulitzer Prize in 1993 for his Trombone Concerto, has crafted a moving work whose maturity places it well above the superficial sonic glitter sometimes passed off as worthwhile music as our century nears its end.

"...The slow outer movements, which bear the titles Amhrán (Gaelic for "song"), contain long, extremely fetching flute melodies of the kind nobody is supposed to be able to compose any more. The central movement is a moving elegy dedicated to James Bulger, the two-year-old British boy abducted and two ten-year-olds. It opens and closes with a bassoon solo...and also contains a sumptuous chorale played first by strings and later taken up by the entire orchestra...

"This concerto proves maturing as a composer and that he seems to have something both unique and worthwhile to say."


Stephen Ellis

Rouse takes CSO on wild ride

"The five-movement Flute Concerto (1993) is possibly the most expressive music Rouse has written.

"It opens and closes with flowing, soulful, seemingly improvised lines of Irish folk song — "perhaps not unlike some of the recordings of the Irish singer Enya," Rouse has pointed out. The second movement is a perky, joyful march. The middle movement is a "small token of remembrance" for James Bulger, the two-year-old English child enticed from a mall and killed by a pair of ten-year-olds...The fourth movement is a Scherzo that "keeps trying to actually state a jig, which gets finally stated only at the end." The final movement returns to the Concerto's opening mood..."

"...A grabber disc? You betcha."

American Record Guide

Mark L. Lehman

Rouse takes CSO on wild ride

"...Rouse does have a lighter side, apparent in the...Celtic-tinged arabesques given to the soloist in the Flute Concerto's allegros. Its central Elegia, however, a lament for the inexplicable cruelties that men visit on their own kind, is grieving and gloomy — as well, God knows, its should be. The broad, richly tonal, hymn-like funereal chorale with which Rouse solemnifies this sorrow, before crashing it into a sea of chaotic dissonance, is, I suppose, only too obvious — but it moved me nonetheless. What, after all, can one say or even think in the face of senseless brutality?"


David S. Gutman

Rouse takes CSO on wild ride

"This is the second disc of Christopher Rouse's music to have come my way this month and it confirms him as an individual and forceful presence..."

"The five-movement Flute in part a Gaelic reverie dedicated to the composer's wife but it also embodies a response to one of those "isolated, individual tragedies which serve to sensitize us to the potential harm that man can do to his fellow." Prompted by news of the James Bulger case, the third movement sets up a frankly emotive hymn in wide-eyed D major and inevitably snuffs it out. The composer has cited the work of the Irish singer Enya in connection with this concerto and it is certainly among the more accessible of his works: there's more clear diatonicism than rabid dissonance and plenty of quietly cathartic spiritual affirmation."

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