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About this Piece

Subtitled Fantasy for Solo Percussion and Orchestra, Der gerettete Alberich was written for Evelyn Glennie and completed in June 1997. The composer has written the following note:

“One of Richard Wagner’s most interesting decisions as creator of Der Ring des Nibelungen was to leave unclear the fate of Alberich, the villainous dwarf who has set in motion the inexorable machinery of destiny, leading in the end to the apocalyptic cataclysm which concludes Götterdämmerung. As is so often the case in Wagner’s operas, Alberich is more than a cardboard villain in the Italian mode — as memorable as he is, a Scarpia, for example, is thoroughly and irredeemably maleficent. Alberich, on the other hand — like Frederick of Telramund, or Klingsor, or even Fafner — is not entirely unsympathetic; however cruel his actions, they are often the result of mistreatment at the hands of others. It is the Rhinemaidens’ heartless mockery of him that leads Alberich to the theft of the gold, and it is Wotan’s treachery that goads Alberich into placing his mighty curse on the ring he has fashioned from the gold. (Indeed, Wotan is something of a mirror image to Alberich, an essentially sympathetic character whose actions are often devious, even ignoble.) Thus, it is possible with Alberich — and with many other Wagnerian villains — to recognize the inherent evil of his nature and deeds and yet still discern some measure of humanity in him and, in the process, to feel compassion for his plight.

“As Alberich’s whereabouts are unknown at the end of the Ring, it occurred to me that it might be engaging to return him to the stage, so to speak, so that he might wreak further havoc in what is quite literally the godless world in which Wagner has left us in the final pages of Götterdämmerung. The result was Der gerettete Alberich, whose title might best be translated as Alberich Saved, itself a reference to Georg Kaiser’s expressionist play Der gerettete Alkibiades. Rather than a concerto, Der gerettete Alberich is more of a fantasy for solo percussionist and orchestra on themes of Wagner, with the soloist taking on the ‘role’ of Alberich. Much of the musical material in the work is derived from a number of motives associated with Alberich in the Ring, among them the motives for the curse, the power of gold, the renunciation of love, annihilation, the Nibelungs, and, of course, the Ring itself. Only Wagner’s Redemption through Love motive stands beyond the ken of the other, Alberich-related motives I have used, though I have rather maliciously distorted it to suit the purposes of my ‘hero’.

“Notwithstanding the discernible tripartite structure of Der gerettete Alberich, this work is somewhat looser architecturally than other scores of mine to which I have appended the title ‘concerto’ – hence my decision to refer to it as a ‘fantasy’. Having said all of the above, it would now be absurd of me to aver that this work is not programmatic; however, it is fair to say that it is not a narrative piece in the manner of, say, Strauss’ Don Quixote. Beyond a brief passage in which Alberich serves a stint as a rock drummer (probably inspired, at least in part, by the wonderfully over-the-edge Wagner Reincarnated scenes in Ken Russell’s film Lisztomania), I was not attempting to paint specific pictures in this score. However, the listener is free to provide whatever images he or she likes to the sonic goings-on.”

— Orrin Howard