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Alan Stout in 1971

The Chicago Symphony Orchestra family notes with sorrow the passing of Alan Stout, composer and longtime composition and theory professor at Northwestern University. Stout died yesterday, February 1, 2018, at the age of 85.

Stout’s music was first performed by the Orchestra on two concerts given at Northwestern University’s Cahn Auditorium on May 29 and 31, 1967, when Esther Glazer was soloist in Movements for Violin and Orchestra with Henry Lewis conducting. Soon thereafter, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra presented four world premieres by Stout, under the batons of Seiji Ozawa, Sir Georg Solti, and Margaret Hillis, at the Ravinia Festival and in Orchestra Hall.

On August 4, 1968, Ozawa led the world premiere of Stout’s Symphony no. 2 at Ravinia. The work was commissioned by the Ravinia Festival Association through a grant from the Illinois Arts Council, and the performance was made possible by a Composer Assistance Grant from the National Endowment for the Arts.

World premiere of Stout’s Second Symphony at the Ravinia Festival on August 4, 1968

The symphony was “vivid [and] multi-dimensional . . . a collection of musical rituals,” according to Thomas Willis in the Chicago Tribune. “The work is a marvelous tapestry of textures, combining a superior craftsmanship, a remarkable ear, and encyclopedic knowledge of the inventions of his colleagues, [including] Messiaen, Penderecki, Elliott Carter, and Pierre Boulez . . .”

The composer’s Symphony no. 4 was commissioned by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in celebration of its eightieth season and dedicated to Georg Solti, who led the world premiere performances on April 15, 16, and 17, 1971. The score calls for a small chorus, and members of the Chicago Symphony Chorus were prepared by assistant director Ronald Schweitzer.

The following year, Solti also led the world premiere of Stout’s George Lieder (Poems from Das neue Reich) on December 14, 15, and 16, 1972, with baritone Benjamin Luxon as soloist.

Composer and conductor review the score of the George Lieder in December 1972 (Terry’s photo)

Stout’s large-scale Passion for Soloists, Chorus, and Orchestra was commissioned by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra with assistance from the National Endowment for the Arts and was dedicated to Margaret Hillis and the Chicago Symphony Chorus. Hillis led the world premiere performances on April 15, 16, and 17, 1976. Soloists included Mary Sauer on organ, Elizabeth Buccheri on piano, along with soprano Phyllis Bryn-Julson, tenors Frank Little and John McCollum, baritones Leslie Guinn and LeRoy Lehr, and bass Monroe Olson.

The premiere of Stout’s Passion, on which the composer worked for over twenty years, was a “monumental undertaking [and] provided the most difficult music the Chorus has undertaken since Fritz Reiner brought Margaret Hillis here in 1957 to found the now internationally known ensemble,” wrote Willis in the Chicago Tribune. “Stout fashions his church Latin text into curtains and tapestries of sound. Like a sonic aurora borealis, they expand and contract as needed, supplying intimate but still objective commentary on an emotional-laden event, creating towering climaxing as the peak points of the action, or providing canopies of tightly woven, often contrapuntal sheets of sound against which other portions of the action can take place.”

Detail from the first section of Stout’s Passion, with markings by Margaret Hillis

 

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Composer and conductor review the score of the George Lieder in December 1972 (Terry’s photo)

With the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Georg Solti led two world premieres by American composer and Northwestern University music professor Alan Stout.

The first was the world premiere of Stout’s Symphony no. 4, given on April 15, 1971. It had been commissioned by The Orchestral Association for the 80th season and was dedicated to Solti. The work also incorporates a small chorus, and for these performances members of the Chicago Symphony Chorus (prepared by associate director Ronald Schweitzer) were engaged.

According to Arrand Parsons‘s program note, “Although the chorus is used in an instrumental manner at several points in the score, in the Chorale of the fourth movement it is used to project the Latin text which is taken from Chapter 5 of The Lamentations of Jeremiah. . . . The score of Symphony no. 4 utilizes the musical language of this day without following any single line. Expressive and dramatic use of sound and of sonorous groupings is the principal motivating force in the music; a wide range of densities and textures is to be found organized in a way which may best be described as architectonic. Orchestral clusters of sound often serve as the foundation for the projection of thematic elements. The symphony is of a sectional nature, but with a continuity running from beginning to end, often punctuated by floods of sound, and with a sensitive orchestration which gives coherence to the whole.”

The second Stout premiere conducted by Solti was the George Lieder (Poems from Das neue Reich), given on December 14, 1972. English baritone Benjamin Luxon was the soloist.

According to Parsons, “The George Lieder, based on an ‘Epigraph’ and three poems from Stefan George‘s Das neue Reich (The New Kingdom), comes from 1962. In this work Stout has captured in the music the expressive mood of the poetry—the poems are all love poems of a mystical, transcendental nature. The first and second songs are set to the last poems written by George. They speak ‘about a sweet and burning light that drives even the steadfast soul hard to the abyss,’ wrote Ernst Morwitz in his commentary on the poet’s works. Musically, the first poem is set to quiet contemplation; the second song takes its cue for an intense and driving musical realization from the words: ‘Into deepest calm/In contemplative day/Suddenly intrudes a glimpse/Of unimagined terror/Disturbing the soul. . . .’ The final song, again in the words of Morwitz, ‘tells of the flawless and slender flame that shines victorious in consuming passion.’ This sustained piece builds to a climax on the words, ‘Ich küsse dich mit jedem duft [I kiss you with every scent],’ and then gradually dissolves into silence (niente).”

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Theodore Thomas

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