Christopher Rouse - Composer

Press and Program Notes


Violin Concerto

Program Note by the Composer

I completed my Violin Concerto on August 18, 1991 in Fairport, New York. This twenty-minute score was composed for Cho-Liang Lin via a commission from the Aspen Music Festival and funded in part by a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts.

I have long been drawn to the two-movement concerto form as exemplified by Bartok's Violin Concerto No. 1, and I resolved to structure my own concerto with a generally similar architecture. The opening movement is an elegiac barcarolle which begins with the soloist alone; gradually he is joined by other first desk string players from the orchestra until a string quartet has been formed. The "rocking motion" which typifies the barcarolle intensifies following the sudden entrance of the entire orchestra as the solo violin weaves an increasingly florid line over it. The movement's central section offers a contrast through a seemingly heightened metabolic rate (although the fundamental tempo remains unchanged), and it is followed by an extended passage for soloist and orchestral strings which gradually lowers the musical metabolism again before yielding to an altered recapitulation of material heard earlier in the movement. The movement concludes with a somewhat spectral passage featuring the soloist accompanied by timpani and plucked low strings, with occasional interjections from harp and celesta.

The second movement, a toccata, follows without pause and requires enormous virtuosity of the solosit. It is cast in a rondo form (A-B-A-C-A) and is characterized by a more colorful orchestration as well as by its often extremely quick tempi. Most of the important musical material is presented in the A sections, with the B and C sections furnishing variations upon it, the former being a rather fast, capricious waltz and the latter a breathlessly racing prestissimo. An interpolated reminiscence of the barcarolle delays the appearance of the final A section, and this in turn gives way to a perpetual motion cadenza which makes extraordinary demands upon the soloist's technique. A few bars of orchestral coda bring the concerto to a close.

As I was working on the piece, I became increasingly aware that it was conceived very much in the grand manner of romantic concerti from Brahms to Szymanowski and as a result felt little need to exploit various even mildly unusual performing techniques. The entire approach to the handling of the solo part was derived from this tradition, and even the notion of utilizing a musical manner drawn from gondolier songs (barcarolle) and virtuoso display music (toccata) seems "romantic" in retrospect. The language of the concerto is, of course, more dissonant than that found in nineteenth century counterparts, though there are areas of traditional tonality in my concerto, and an overall orientation of C minor (first movement) and D minor (second movement) is detectable. I also find this to be one of my more "objective" compositions, lacking as it does any stated or unstated program, though I hope that the use of a term such as "objective" will not lead the listener to conclude that my aim was an inexpressive one.

The concerto is dedicated to Cho-Liang Lin.

Christopher Rouse

Albany Times Union

Ron Emery

"Rouse's Violin Concerto comes close to being the best violin concerto composed in the last 25 years. Its two-movement form has a rhapsodic, slightly elegiac quality with melody aplenty and a tight structure...

"With the sterility of New Age music drumming or drooping around us, it is moving indeed to come across a work as full of passion as this is."

Baltimore Sun

Stephen Wigler

"There are moments in the Violin Concerto...that evoke Bruckner — particularly in some glorious-sounding brass chorales in each of its two, connected movements and in its ominous, Fafnir-like tread.

"Rouse's treatment of the solo instrument puts it — as it is not in many other contemporary concertos — at the center of things. The work, which runs about 25 minutes, is organized around the violin in ingenious ways. It opens with an extended, yearning violin cadenza; the first movement Barcarolle ends with yet another cadenza in much the same mood — this time accompanied by a persistent heartbeat by the timpani and lower strings with some exquisite interjections by the harp and celesta; and the piece ends with yet another cadenza — this time in perpetual motion and packed with furious 16th notes and flying double stops.

"It is a beautiful work, accessible yet challenging..."

Music Manual

Vienna, Austria


"When Richard Wagner left the Götter to vanish in the Dämmerung, the dwarf Alberich finally hopped onto the stage.

"[quote from CD booklet]," explains Christopher Rouse about his motivation for Der gerettete Alberich. Therefore this work is neither concerto nor instrumental drama; much more, Rouse forms a study in character and voice in sublime Klangfarben and fluid dialogues: from the closing chords of the opera follows the surprise and disillusionment about the only life-form in scraping ideas and raining-down drum figures.

"Before calming sound-scenes from discreet opera quotations, marimba motives dot Alberich's forehead with sweat, as he thinks about his way forward. Then his ego triumphs in an orgiastic and often dissonant heavy metal dwarf-dance with drumset, which the magnificent soloist Evelyn Glennie (to whom the work is dedicated) takes on with the same virtuosity as all other percussion instruments. Because Rouse considers the figure of Alberich irreverently, it becomes a modern symbol of grotesque power fantasies, and the Götterdämmerung becomes a nightmare.

"Complementing this is also the Violin Concerto, a critical diagnosis of the times in sounds that vibrate restively in the Barcarola and have a violent mimicry in the Toccata. Rapture creates an almost foreign effect in this environment; its rapturous polyphony, like a tonal hologram, provides for unsuspected listening experiences.

"Leif Segerstam has prepared sensuality in Rouse's style in the best possible way for the ears, and this recording therefore has reference status."

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