Pulitzer Prize- and Grammy-winning composer Stephen Albert, whose tragic death in December of 1992 stunned the music world, was recognized in his lifetime for a body of work at once powerful, dramatic, colorful, and deeply emotive. Contemporary in sound, yet firmly rooted in traditional compositional techniques, Albert's music sought to establish links with fundamental human emotions and musical archetypes. He drew inspiration from the rich emotional palette of 19th-century music, and sought to discover, within the context of a personal 20th-century idiom, new connections with music of the past.
Born in New York City on 6 February 1941, Albert began his musical training on the piano, French horn, and trumpet as a youngster. He first studied composition at the age of 15 with Elie Siegmeister, and enrolled two years later at the Eastman School of Music, where he studied with Bernard Rogers. Following composition lessons in Stockholm with Karl-Birger Blomdahl, Albert studied with Joseph Castaldo at the Philadelphia Musical Academy (BM 1962); in 1963 he worked with George Rochberg at the University of Pennsylvania.
Stephen Albert won the 1985 Pulitzer Prize in Music for his symphony RiverRun, and from 1985 to 1988 served as composer-in-residence with the Seattle Symphony. He received commissions from the Chicago, National, Pittsburgh, Baltimore, and Seattle symphonies, The Philadelphia Orchestra, the New York Philharmonic, the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, and the Library of Congress. Among his other awards and honors were two MacDowell Colony fellowships, a Huntington Hartford Fellowship, two Guggenheim fellowships, two Rome Prizes, and grants from the Martha Baird Rockefeller Fund, the National Endowment for the Arts, the Ford Foundation, and the Alice M. Ditson Foundation.
From 1988 to the time of his death, he was professor of composition at the Juilliard School of Music. He had also taught in the Lima, Ohio public schools (under a Ford Foundation grant as composer-in-residence), and at the Philadelphia Musical Academy (1968-70), Stanford University (1970-71), and Smith College (1974-76).
The works of James Joyce provided Albert with a
potent creative stimulus; Finnegan's Wake and Ulysses
served as springboards for his symphony RiverRun, Treestone,
Flower of the Mountain, and Sun's Heat. His last
works included the Cello Concerto, commissioned by the
Baltimore Symphony for Yo-Yo Ma (and recorded by them on the Sony
Classical label) and Wind Canticle, a clarinet concerto for
David Shifrin and The Philadelphia Orchestra. Symphony No. 2
for the New York Philharmonic, completed in short score at the time of
his death, received its premiere in November 1994. Recordings of
Albert's music are available on the Nonesuch, Delos, New World, CRI,
and Smithsonian Collection labels.
This interview was recorded on the telephone on December
9, 1990. Portions were used (along with recordings) on WNIB
in 1991, 1993 and 1996. A copy of the unedited audio was given
the the Oral History American Music Archive of Yale University.
This transcript was made and posted on this website in
Award-winning broadcaster Bruce Duffie was with WNIB, Classical 97 in Chicago from 1975 until its final moment as a classical station in February of 2001. His interviews have also appeared in various magazines and journals since 1980, and he now continues his broadcast series on WNUR-FM, as well as on Contemporary Classical Internet Radio.You are invited to visit his website for more information about his work, including selected transcripts of other interviews, plus a full list of his guests. He would also like to call your attention to the photos and information about his grandfather, who was a pioneer in the automotive field more than a century ago. You may also send him E-Mail with comments, questions and suggestions.