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Of Reminiscences and Reflections

About the Work

Quick Look Composer: Gunther Schuller
Program note originally written for the following performance:
National Symphony Orchestra: Oliver Knussen, conductor/Leila Josefowicz, violin, plays Knussen May 7 - 9, 2009
© Peter Laki
In this heart-wrenching memorial for his wife of 49 years, singer and pianist Marjorie Black, Gunther Schuller recaptured the grand tragic tone of Mahler and Shostakovich without actually sounding the least bit like them. The work compresses despair, lament, and a celebration of life, into a short work for orchestra in five interconnected movements. The work begins without any warning with a passionate outburst, dominated by powerful woodwind and brass figures, followed by a meditative duet for English horn and contrabassoon. Then the violins take over with an expressive, unaccompanied melody in the highest register of the instruments. The second section, a dramatic Allegro, includes a wild polyrhythmic episode for percussion alone.

The third section—the slow movement of this condensed symphony—gets progressively slower and slower; a "walking" melody played by the woodwind in various combinations is followed by a transition in less regular rhythm with vibraphone, harp, celesta and contrabassoon and finally by an intensely personal, haunting solo for the French horn (Schuller's own instrument!). After an extremely intricate and witty scherzando section for woodwind, the grandiose outburst from the opening returns to close the piece with a powerful and grief-filled 12-note chord.

This work was commissioned by the Louisville Orchestra and premiered by that group under the composer's direction on December 2, 1993. With it, Schuller reached a high point in his 50-year career as one of America's most exciting and versatile composers. His achievement was publicly recognized when he won the 1994 Pulitzer Prize in Music for Of Reminiscences and Reflections.