Stephen Albert

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Stephen Albert

Stephen Joel Albert (6 February 1941 – 27 December 1992)[1] was an American composer. He is best known for his Symphony No. 1 RiverRun (1983) and Cello Concerto (1990) written for Yo-Yo Ma, both of which won a Pulitzer Prize for Music. He died suddenly in a 1992 automobile accident, having just sketched out his Second Symphony. The work was subsequently completed by Sebastian Currier, and his death sparked musical tributes from composer colleagues such as Aaron Jay Kernis and Christopher Rouse.

Life and career[edit]

Born in New York City, Albert began his musical training on the piano, French horn, and trumpet as a youngster. He first studied composition at the age of 15 with Elie Siegmeister,[2] and enrolled two years later at the Eastman School of Music, where he studied with Darius Milhaud and Bernard Rogers (1958–1960) Following composition lessons in Stockholm with Karl-Birger Blomdahl, Albert studied with Joseph Castaldo at the Philadelphia Musical Academy (BM 1962); in 1963 he worked with George Rochberg at the University of Pennsylvania. In 1965 he won a Rome Fellowship to study in Rome at the American Academy.[3]

From 1985 to 1988 he worked as the Seattle Symphony's composer-in-residence.[1][4]

His notable students included Daniel Asia and Dan Coleman.

Albert was killed in an automobile accident in Truro, Massachusetts on Cape Cod on 27 December 1992.[5][6][7]

Awards and honors[edit]

Stephen Albert won the 1985 Pulitzer Prize for Music for his Symphony No. 1, RiverRun.[5][6] He posthumously won a Grammy Award in 1995 in the Best Classical Contemporary Composition category for his Cello Concerto as performed by Yo-Yo Ma[8] in a 1990 recording with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, conducted by David Zinman.[9]

Aaron Jay Kernis dedicated his 1993 composition for piano quartet Still Movement with Hymn in memory of Albert.[10] The slow movement of Christopher Rouse's 1994 Symphony No. 2 is also dedicated to the memory of Albert, who was a colleague and close friend of Rouse.[11]


A number of Albert's works were based on James Joyce texts. Finnegans Wake inspired three of Albert's pieces: To Wake the Dead, TreeStone, and Symphony RiverRun. [12] Albert's paired "Distant Hills" arias Flower of the Mountain and Sun's Heat were based on Ulysses, and the song "Ecce Puer" from Joyce's poem of the same name.[13]

His famous Concerto for Violoncello and Orchestra started out as a request by the Baltimore Symphony in 1987 for a 15-minute orchestral piece. In 1988 the commission was changed to a concerto for Yo-Yo Ma. The composer credited Ma with his help completing the work. Albert started with material drawn two earlier works from 1988, "Anthem and Processionals" and "The Stone Harp." He started the composition in 1989 and finished in 1990. The premiere was on 31 March 1990 and featured Yo-Yo Ma along with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra conducted by David Zinman. A revised version was featured on a 1993 album, "The New York Album."[13]

According to Yo-Yo Ma, the composition was a "kind of catharsis." It incorporated struggles in his life, including his writer's blocks and the death of his father. The work is dedicated to the memory of his father.[13]



  • Concerto for Violoncello and Orchestra (1990) – 30 minutes
  • Distant Hills (orchestra version) (1989) – 31 minutes
  • Flower of the Mountain from "Distant Hills" (orchestra version) (1985) – 16 minutes
  • In Concordiam (1986) – 17 minutes
  • Into Eclipse (orchestra with voice version) (1981) – 30 minutes
  • Sun's Heat from "Distant Hills" (orchestra version) (1989) – 15 minutes
  • Winter Canticle (1991) – 14 minutes
  • Wolf Time (1968) – 20 minutes

Ensemble (7 or more players)[edit]

  • Distant Hills (chamber version) (1989) – 31 minutes
  • Flower of the Mountain from "Distant Hills" (chamber version) (1985) – 16 minutes
  • Sun's Heat from "Distant Hills" (chamber version) (1989) – 15 minutes
  • TreeStone (1983) – 45 minutes


  • Tribute (1988) – 9 minutes


  • Bacchae: A Ceremony in Music (1967) – 8 minutes


  • Ecce Puer (1992) – 6 minutes
  • Rilke Song – On Nights Like This (1991) – 5 minutes
  • The Stone Harp (1988) – 14 minutes
  • To Wake the Dead (1977) – 25 minutes
  • Wedding Songs (1964) – 10 minutes


  1. ^ a b Randel, Don Michael, ed. (1996). "Albert, Stephen (Joel)". The Harvard biographical dictionary of music. Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap Press of Harvard Univ. Press. pp. 11. ISBN 0-674-37299-9.
  2. ^ "Albert, Stephen Joel". Who Was Who in America, 1993–1996, vol. 11. New Providence, N.J.: Marquis Who's Who. 1996. p. 3. ISBN 0-8379-0225-8.
  3. ^ "History of the Rome Prize in Music Composition" (PDF). Retrieved 13 February 2015.
  4. ^ "Stephen Albert". G. Schirmer Inc. October 1996. Retrieved 28 December 2011.
  5. ^ a b Kozinn, Allan (29 December 1992). "Stephen J. Albert, 51, Composer; Won a Pulitzer for His 'Riverrun'". The New York Times. Retrieved 5 April 2015.
  6. ^ a b "Stephen Albert". Variety. 4 January 1993. Retrieved 5 April 2015.
  7. ^ Wigler, Stephen (29 December 1992). "Stephen Albert, his melodious music helped define the 'New Romanticism'". The Baltimore Sun. Retrieved 9 May 2015.
  8. ^ "The 1995 Grammy Winners". The New York Times. 3 March 1995. Retrieved 8 June 2015.
  9. ^ Grayson, David. Liner notes to "The New York Album." 1994.
  10. ^ Kernis, Aaron Jay (1988). "Still Movement with Hymn". G. Schirmer Inc. Retrieved 1 June 2016.
  11. ^ Rouse, Christopher. Symphony No. 2: Program Note by the Composer. 1994. Retrieved 5 April 2015.
  12. ^ Ruch, Allen (6 June 2022). "Joyce Music: Stephen Albert". The Modern Word.
  13. ^ a b c Grayson, David.
  14. ^ Price, Walter (23 April 1989). "STEPHEN ALBERT: Symphony "RiverRun"; National Symphony..." Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 9 May 2015.
  15. ^ Dickinson, Peter (June 1990). "Albert In Concordiam; Treestone". Gramophone. Retrieved 9 May 2015.
  16. ^ Schwartz, Steve (August 2007). "ALBERT: Symphony No. 1 'RiverRun'. Symphony No. 2. – Russian Philharmonic Orchestra/Paul Polivnick". Classical CD Review. Retrieved 9 May 2015.

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