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William Albright remembered

Remembrances by Bassett, Bolcom, Lerdahl and Gompper.

Paul Griffiths, in the N.Y. Times caption of Bill Albright's death, reported: "William Albright, 53, Composer of Ragtime Music for the Organ."


53!! I have always thought of Bill as a young composer, and 53 still seems young to me.

53!! Aaron Copland once remarked that the public seemed to consider him (Copland) a young composer until he turned 60, at which time he became the Dean of American composers

Bill was indeed a young composer. Young and blazingly gifted, similar to several other remarkable young composers who died at even earlier ages: Mozart, Chopin, Schubert, Pergolesi, Gershwin. Yet Bill would have soon turned 54 , just 3 years younger than Beethoven. We had hoped that Bill would still be composing at 65, the age of Bach or older, as with Wagner, or Vaughn-Williams, or Schoenberg, or Haydn, or Ives. Or still composing at 80, as was Verdi while creating Falstaff, or reach 90, as did Ross Lee Finney, or Eubie Blake at the century mark.

"Wm. Albright, 53, Composer....."

Ah, yes indeed, certainly COMPOSER. Bill came to us in Ann Arbor as a sophomore and immediately made his mark as a gloriously talented composer and organist. He produced extraordinary music, had superb craft and a delightfully innovative imagination. Each of his works consisted of something special: witty, fun, powerful, unique. He was interested in many kinds of music. In his early years he performed on the Once Festivals, and was part of the off-beat "Grate Society." (G-r-a-t-e) He regularly premiered scores by his friends and colleagues.

"Wm. Albright, 53, Composer of Ragtime Music....."

Yes, he brought new life and vitality to a music fad that had swept the country in our grandparents' day. Bill thoroughly enjoyed coming up with new rags and performing old ones, playing stride piano, and building a repertory of his own music that he could perform on solo concerts. His rags were delightful, especially when played on the organ. Wm. Albright, 53, Composer of Ragtime Music for the Organ....."

His organ music is brilliant, powerful, unique. He discovered innovations that organists had never thought about, considered impossible, or avoided as violating the sacred canon of tradition. He brought new life and joy to a repertory in desperate need. His rich organ music led directly to a substantial group of non-organ works, such as Chasm, for orchestra, the lyrical Quintet for Clarinet and Strings, Spheara for piano and 4-channel computer-generated sound, the Harpsichord Concerto, and the lovely sacred choral works.

What master! - what a friend and colleague! What a legacy!!!

If only...
If only....
If only!!!

Leslie Bassett
Unitarian Church, Ann Arbor MI
September 28, 1998

Bill Albright is one of the half-dozen chief composers of the 20th century for organ, as well as a first-rank contributor to chamber, choral and orchestral music of our time. His black humor and profundity-in pieces like the 5 Chromatic Dances for piano-make his work essential and indispensable. I was his friend for years; together we spearheaded the ragtime revival. I will miss him deeply.

Bill Bolcom

Bill Albright and I knew each other most of our lives, from the summer of 1964 at Tanglewood. He was extraordinarily precocious as a composer and performer, and he already had a comprehensive knowledge of contemporary music. As colleagues at Michigan during 1985 to 1991 our friendship deepened.

Bill was an amazingly gifted musician. He did not broadcast his abilities; on the contrary, he often deprecated them even as he unconsciously conveyed his inner stature. He was both an imposing musical intellectual and an astonishing performer. Most of all, he was one of the most talented composers I have known. I admired him enormously and am grateful for the many beautiful and powerful pieces he created.

My heart always went out to Bill, because beyond his gifts, and beyond his occasional gruffness, he was a deeply vulnerable and caring human being. I am reminded of a private moment that confirms something of his inner nature. About ten years ago he came to my home for a dinner party. Not atypically, he suddenly disappeared. After awhile I looked for him and found him upstairs, in the dark rocking my two-year-old daughter Ruthie to sleep, in the sweetest, most tender way. He whispered, "This is the best!"

Fred Lerdahl

Bill Albright was to me and to many of my peers a mentor, teacher, colleague and friend. As a mentor, he was instrumental in helping to create careers, giving us opportunities for awards and grants, and showing us a professional level of discourse through our scores and its music. As a teacher, our lessons were often filled with probing questions attempting to reveal the center, the core of a composition-in reality, teaching us how to consider and comprehend our own music. He was, as a colleague, a stunning pianist and organist as well as a firm supporter and long-time member of SCI. Here in the vast midwest, he was also a composer who among others helped to create the Midwest Composers Symposium, a consortium of five universities. Finally, he was a friend, who shared with me not only compositional problems and solutions, but possible answers to many of life's uncertainties. In my estimation he was a true composer: we are full of respect and admiration for his music, for its power of statement, for its musicality. He will be missed.

David Gompper