• 2+pic.2+ca.2+Ebcl+bcl.2+cbn/4331/timp.4perc/hp.pf/str
  • 4 min

Programme Note

First performance:
May 14, 1998
San Francisco Symphony
Michael Tilson Thomas, conductor
San Francisco, CA

Composer note:

Agnegram was written to celebrate the 90th birthday of the San Francisco Symphony's extraordinary patron and friend Agnes Albert, and is a portrait of her sophisticated and indefatigably enthusiastic spirit. It is entirely composed of themes derived from the spelling of her name.

A - G - E are obviously the notes that they name. B is B-flat (as this note is called in German). S is E-flat, also a German musical term. T is used to represent one note, B-natural, the 'ti' of the solfege scale. From these arcane, but not unprecedented manipulations (Bach, Schumann and Brahms amongst others often did this kind of thing), a basic "scale" of eight unusually arranged notes emerges, from which all the themes are drawn. The piece itself is a march for large orchestra. The first part of the march is in 6/8 and is almost a mini-concerto for orchestra, giving brief sound-bite opportunities for the different sections of settling into a jazzy and hyper-rangy tune.

The middle section of the march, or trio, is in 2/4 and settles into a kind of sly circus atmosphere. Different groups of instruments in different keys make their appearance in an aural procession. First, the winds in C play a new march tune saying "Agnes Albert." Then, the instruments in F are heard playing the same tune. But as these instruments are transposing instruments, although the notes they play read A - G - N - E - S etc., the notes that are heard are completely different. They are followed by instruments in E-flat and B-flat until quite a jungle-like cacophony is built up -- punctuated by alternately elegant and goofball percussion entrances. The jazzy 6/8 tune reappears now in canon and the piece progresses to a jubilant and noisy ending.

—Michael Tilson Thomas © 1998