Christopher Rouse: Compline

Program Note

Christopher Rouse (b.1949)
Compline (1996)

Christopher Rouse is one of America's most prominent composers of orchestral music. His works have won a Pulitzer Prize and a Grammy Award, as well as election to the prestigious American Academy of Arts and Letters. Born in Baltimore in 1949, Rouse developed an early interest in both classical and popular music. He graduated from Oberlin Conservatory and Cornell University, where his principal teachers were George Crumb and Karel Husa. Rouse is currently a member of the composition faculty at the Juilliard School. In 2012, he began a three-year tenure as Composer in Residence with the New York Philharmonic.

While the Rouse catalog includes a number of acclaimed chamber and ensemble works, he is best known for his mastery of orchestral writing. His music has been played by every major orchestra in the United States, and numerous ensembles overseas including the Berlin Philharmonic, Sydney and Melbourne Symphonies, London Symphony, Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, Orchestre de Paris, Toronto Symphony, Orchestre National de France, Moscow Symphony,, as well as the BBC Symphony Orchestra and the radio orchestras of Helsinki, Frankfurt, Hamburg, Leipzig, Tokyo, Austria, and Berlin.

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.”

—Christopher Rouse