Final Alice is back – you go girl

May 13, 2008

In 1976, America was all excited about being 200 years old and many of its major orchestras participated in consortium commissioned works. One of those works that I loved was called “Final Alice” by David Del Tredici. In fact it wasn’t only I that loved the work, the piece got standing ovations no matter where it was performed by large orchestras across the US. It was that catchy, tonal hook (the major 6th) that we couldn’t get out of our head.

I’ll never forget when he came to NEC and played that obsessive part of the piece on the piano for us. We were hooked. Or at least I was.

“Final Alice” appeared several years after George Crumb’s “Ancient Voices of Children” and George Rochberg’s Third String Quartet, and eight years after Terry Riley’s “In C” and Steve Reich’s “Come out” so I don’t see this as a trail blazing work in terms of the return of tonality. Tonality seemed to be returning anyway. The day of the Darmstadt power was coming to an end. At least for me it was. Even Leonard Slatkin agreed:

“Final Alice changed the face of music in this country overnight,” recalls Leonard Slatkin, the National Symphony Orchestra’s music director, who was in the Chicago audience that night. “It destroyed all conceptions of what ‘new music’ was supposed to be, and many composers will tell you that they were now liberated to write how they felt. It was the start of a revolution.”

What was odd to me was that after the LP of “Final Alice” disappeared, it never got released on CD, so a whole generation of post-death-of-the-LP composers and music lovers, never got to hear the piece. Too bad. Even now, I can’t find anything except for a bit torrent download of the piece. anywhere (I’ll try to rip part of the LP so you can hear it. If anyone knows whether this has been released, let me know.)

Why the neglect of such a terrific AND popular piece? Is David too gay? Too tonal? The musical figures too obsessive? Too catchy? I’m always baffled that Ades, or Carter, or Birtwhistle can get anything recorded, but a piece that changed our world, even if only for a few years — why has no one released it? I guess it will just have to be a mystery.

Three cheers to Mr Slatkin who brought back the work again to bring it to Washington D.C. last weekend. Stephen Brooks wrote a terrific article letting everyone know.


David Del Tredici

you go girl


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