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Charles Fussell and “Right River Variations”


Charles Fussell (b. 1938) is an American composer from New England. He studied at the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, where he worked with Thomas Canning and Bernard Rogers, and then at the Hochschule für Musik Berlin with Boris Blacher. During his time in Germany, he also attended master classes with Friedelind Wagner at Bayreuth. Later he worked as an assistant to and was a close friend of the composer Virgil Thomson . For decades, he had a decisive influence on the Boston music scene: as the first artistic director of the Boston Festival of New Music New Music Harvest, founder and director of the New England Composer’s Orchestra, and a professor of composition and music theory at Boston University . He also teaches at the Rutgers University.

Fussell has specialized largely in symphonic and chamber music that features voices, and he writes for the voice comfortably and idiomatically. He has an authentic gift for text setting, and his vocal lines are unabashedly lyrical and expressive. His works include five symphonies, one of which, Wilde, a symphony for baritone and orchestra on a libretto by Will Graham, was conceived as a sketch about the British author Oscar Wilde and was runner-up for the 1991 Pulitzer Prize. In addition, he wrote Julian for choir, soloists and orchestra, based on a work by Gustave Flaubert, and the chamber drama Cymbeline based on a story by William Shakespeare . For the hundredth anniversary of the death of Walt Whitman in 1992, he created the compositions Specimen Days for baritone, chorus and orchestra with text by Will Graham after Whitman’s poems, and Being Music. High Bridge Prelude for orchestra was inspired by the poetry of Hart Crane.

An important figure in the musical life of Boston for over twenty years, Fussell received scholarships and grants from the Ford Foundation and the Aaron Copland Fund for Music, and a Fulbright Fellowship.. In 1992 he received a citation and an award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. Several of his compositions have been recorded, including a Concerto for Cello and String Orchestra, The Astronaut’s Tale, and Right River Variations. His music is programmed frequently by Boston ensembles, in particular Collage New Music, The Cantata Singers, and the Boston Modern Orchestra Project. Fussell is also active as vice president of the Virgil Thomson Foundation. Fussell’s music is eclectic, incorporating folk song as easily as serial techniques. He has written in a variety of genres including the opera Caligula.

The following work by Fussell is included in my collection:

Right River, Variations for Cello and String Orchestra (2000).


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