Hila Plitmann: The Acrostic Song from “Final Alice” — Steampunk Classical

Plitmann II

Soprano Hila Plitmann singing the final movement of David Del Tredici’s Final Alice with the Detroit Symphony, Leonard Slatkin conducting. (Note, “Del” is a given name, and not part of an Italian surname.)

Steampunk Classical.

What a concept!

In 1975-76, David Del Tredici wrote the first-ever (and perhaps only) “Steampunk” piece of classical orchestral music. (It is based upon Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland, after all.) The music is very accessible, and in general tonal and melodic, though there are episodes of dissonance and finally, chaos.

The final movement of Final Alice is the Acrostic Poem epilogue to one of the “Alice” books. The first letters of each line of the poem together spell out Alice Pleasance Liddell, the name of the girl Carroll based Alice on. Tredici instructs all the orchestral players who can, to hiss out like a steam engine the name of each of the first letters. That’s what the strange sounds you are hearing are. There’s also a rather obvious Elgar quote or homage, I think, too.

Video after the jump!

The gargantuan work starts starts in media res, with the narrator declaiming from Alice, and then the narrator is almost drowned out by the orchestra’s starting to tune up. The pitches of the open strings of the string instruments are materials Tredici keeps returning to. After about 80 minutes (which is why the score specifies the soprano/sprecher/narrator to be miked and amplified), the orchestra grinds to a halt as the soprano counts to 13 in Italian, and then the oboe sounds the Tuning A—to start the piece?

Or, to wake us up.

Because, it was all a dream anyway.

So, here’s live video from Detroit of Mrs. Eric Whitacre’s contributing to the family fisc, and the poem itself.


A boat, beneath a sunny sky
Lingering onward dreamily
In an evening of July

Children three that nestle near,
Eager eye and willing ear,
Pleased a simple tale to hear

Long has paled that sunny sky;
Echoes fade and memories die;
Autumn frosts have slain July.

Still she haunts me, phantomwise,
Alice moving under skies
Never seen by waking eyes.

Children yet, the tale to hear,
Eager eye and willing ear,
Lovingly shall nestle near.

In a Wonderland they lie,
Dreaming as the days go by,
Dreaming as the summers die;

Ever drifting down the stream
Lingering in the golden gleam
Life, what is it but a dream?

The National Endowment for the Arts commissioned Final Alice for the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in celebration of the U.S. Bicentennial, and in honor of Sir Georg Solti. For the longest time, as delighted as I am that Final Alice exists, I could not make sense of the decision to commission an American composer to write an orchestral work based on a classic of British literature as a celebration of the 200th Anniversary of the Declaration of Independence… .

I have belatedly realized that it makes perfect sense, because Tredici’s work is bold, brash, and self-confident; it tears up the rulebook; it wears its heart on its sleeve; and it is not unacquainted with tragedy. In a word it is: American.

The only available recording (Solti, Chicago, Barbara Hendricks) has cuts to fit onto one CD, and it appears to be available only from Amazon. There are no hi-res downloads.

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One Reply to “Hila Plitmann: The Acrostic Song from “Final Alice” — Steampunk Classical”

  1. Pingback: Please Kickstart SACDs of David Del Tredici’s complete “Child Alice”! – The Tannhäuser Gate

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