• André Previn
  • Penelope (2019)

  • G Schirmer Inc (World)

Commissioned by The Boston Symphony Orchestra, The Ravinia Festival, Aspen Music Festival and School, and The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, on the occasion of the composer's 90th birthday.

realized by David Fetherolf
Unavailable for performance.

  • 2vn, va. vc, pf
  • Soprano, Narrator
  • 38 min
  • Tom Stoppard
  • English

Programme Note

Previn's Penelope, the Long Trip to the Stage

André Previn died before completing his final composition — a monodrama about Homer's Penelope, commissioned by The Boston Symphony Orchestra, The Ravinia Festival, Aspen Music Festival and School, and The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts — but he had nevertheless done very substantial work on it. André's commissioners, publisher, and agents consulted among themselves and asked me, his editor of 22 years and close friend, to gather up what he had done and, if possible, to bring it to conclusion.

I was cautious about taking on the task as I wanted to be sure I could respect André's intentions. My deep familiarity with his work, the fact that he had done such significant work on it, and the tremendously helpful input from the musicians who were to perform the work, as well as crucial assistance from André's son, Matthew, gave me confidence that I would be able to honor both André's intentions and his memory with my labor.

About two weeks after André's death I met his son, Matthew, at the apartment and was given a pile of manuscript pages. As was often the case with André's compositions, there were no bar numbers and few page numbers. Luckily, Tom Stoppard's text was there, which guided me in putting the pages in correct order. However, there were many more pages than needed; in some, text was unaccompanied while in others the same text was accompanied. There were also some pages which were barely sketched in. I got everything in order and had my first meeting with soprano Renée Fleming, the Emerson Quartet's first violinist, Eugene Drucker, and pianist Simone Dinnerstein. I went through the manuscript with them and we decided that I should set everything André had set, and then in rehearsal we would see what worked.

André had told me that Penelope was about 37 minutes long, but at our first rehearsal we discovered that it was nearly an hour, and that Renée had far more sung text than her previous conversations with André had suggested she would have. They had conceived of Renée sharing the text with an actor, who would read some of Penelope's lines as well as many of those assigned to others. Luckily, she had her own libretto with sections marked "spoken" and "sung." I immediately recognized much of the music André had set was marked "spoken." So I went back to the manuscript.

I replaced many of the sung parts with the other pages I had found with text which was spoken. Some of these parts were accompanied by the quartet or piano, and some were just spoken. (At one point in the manuscript André had written "too long, no acc.") I was pleased to do this as some of the set text had rather weak accompaniment which seemed more like André's sketches than his finished product. It was as if André was playing around with things he knew wouldn't be set and, in some of them (none that I used) there were even other orchestral instruments written in. I'll bet he was hearing a full orchestration of the work in the future.

I sent the new score to Renée and Gene, and they sent back suggestions for some further nips and tucks, which I gladly considered and mostly used. Last, I gave Penelope the dedication I know André would have used: to Renée. It's been such a pleasure, if a melancholy one, to see this through with Renée, Gene, Simone, and the others.

We present to you the final realization of Penelope, with music by André Previn, and text by Tom Stoppard.

— David Fetherolf

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