Christopher Rouse: Supplica


Christopher Rouse was commissioned by the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra and the Pacific Symphony in 2013 to compose a work for orchestra. Rouse came up with Supplica – a short orchestral work for a reduced ensemble. The piece was premiered by the PSO under Juraj Valcuha in April 2014 at the Heinz Hall for the Performing Arts. Supplica became an informal companion work to his Fourth Symphony, which he had completed earlier the same year. The title, deriving fro the Italian for ‘supplication’, remains a mystery as Rouse intended. He wrote in his programme notes:


“Both were works I felt an inner compulsion to write, but both also possess meanings for me that must remain personal. This certainly does not mean that either piece is intended to be ‘impersonal’ – rather that what I hope will be heard as both an intimate and an impassioned communication in sound must mean to each listener what it will, without further intercession or guidance from me.”


The Music

Around 10 minutes in duration, this Maherlian-like adagio piece is tinged with solemness from the start. The haunting harp opening that blossoms into the visceral string theme is rich in texture and harmony, however is deeply lyrical and emotional at the same time. The jarring dissonance towards the middle of the piece is quite unexpected after the much more lyrical beginnings, however this does add to mystery surrounding this piece. The heaviness of the texture makes laborious work for the strings, who seem to be guided towards a light, however their destination is never reached, as the piece falls back into the darkness of silence at the end. 

Rouse’s application of rich textures and harmonies add to the emotional impact of Supplica. The rumbling dissonance in the central section perhaps reflects that of a bad memory, which soon fades back into the back of the mind. The piece, as described by Rouse, is introverted and it is quite closed off from the listener who is trying to get in. The sombre ending leaves you with more questions than you started with – which Rouse would probably be pleased about.


Final Thoughts

Christopher Rouse’s Supplica is a real gem of an orchestral work that sees experimentation in texture and harmony. The sonorous strings add to the emotional aspect of the music, making it a truly gripping listen. 


Ⓒ Alex Burns

Happy Reading!

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