To Wake the Dead
1. How it ends (4:02)
2. Riverrun (ballad of Perse O'Reilly) (4:31)
3. Pray your prayers (2:30)
4. Instruments (1:54)
5. Forget, Remember (3:34)
6. Sod's brood, Mr. Finn (2:57)
7. Passing Out (7:22)

Stephen Albert's To Wake the Dead
To Wake The Dead, Albert's 1978 composition, is a cycle of six songs and one instrumental interlude, with lyrics pulled from the text of Finnegans Wake.


1. How it ends

Oaks of ald lie in peat
Elms leap where askes lay
Phall if you will, rise you must
In the nite and at the fading

What has gone,
How it ends,
Today's truth
Tomorrow's trend.

Forget remember
The fading of the stars
Forget . . . Begin to forget it.

2. Riverrun (ballad of Perse O'Reilly)

Have you heard of one Humpty Dumpty
How he fell with a roll and rumble
And curled up like Lord Olafa Crumple
By the butt of the Magazine Wall
Of the Magazine Wall
Hump helmet and all

He was once our king of the castle
Now he's knocked about like a rotten old parsnip
And from Green Street he'll be sent
By the order of his worship
To the penal jail of Mount Joy
Jail him and Joy.

Have you heard the one Humpty Dumpty
How he . . .

-- Riverrun, riverrun
Past Eve and Adam's
From swerve of shore to
Bend of bay --

. . . How he fell with a roll and a rumble
And not all the kings's men nor his horses
Will resurrect his corpus
For their's no true spell in Connacht or Hell
That's able to raise a Cain.

-- Riverrun, riverrun --

3. Pray your prayers

Loud hear us
Loud graciously hear us
O Loud hear the wee beseech of thees
We beseech of these of each of thy unlitten ones
Grant sleep

That they take no chill
That they ming no merder, no chill
Grant sleep in hour's time

Loud heap miseries upon us
Yet entwine our arts entwine our arts with laughter low.

Loud hear us
Hear the we beseech of these.

Say your prayers Timothy.

4. Instruments (Voice Tacet)

5. Forget, Remember

Rush, my only into your arms
So soft this morning ours
Carry me along
I rush my only into your arms.

What has gone
How it ends
Today's truth
Tomorrow's trend.


6. Sod's brood, Mr. Finn

What clashes here of wills
Sod's brood be me fear
Arms apeal
With larms appalling
Killy Kill Killy a-toll a-toll.
What clashes here of wills
Sod's brood

He points the death bone . . .

Of their fear they broke
They ate wind
They fled
Of their fear they broke
Where they ate there they fled
Of their fear they fled
They broke away.

O my shining stars and body.

Hold to now
Win out ye devil, ye.

. . . And the quick are still
He lifts the life wand
And the dumb speak.

Ho Ho Ho Ho Mister Finn
You're goin' to be Mr. Finnagain
Come day morn and O your vine
Send-days eve and ah, your vinegar.
Ha Ha Ha Ha Mister Fun
Your goin' to fined again.

7. Passing Out

Loonely in me loonelyness
For all thei faults I am passing out,
O bitter ending.
I'll slip away before they're up
They'll never see nor know nor miss me.

And it's old, it's sad and weary
I'll go back to you
My cold father
My cold mad feary father
Back to you.

I rush only into your arms.
So soft this morning ours
Carry me along
Like you done through the toy fair
The toy fair

Fist we pass through grass
behush the bush to.
To whish a gull
Far far crys
Coming far
End here
Us then Finnagain
Take, bussoftlhe memormee
Till thou sends the
Away alone
a last a loved
along the

Liner notes from the Delos CD

Liner notes by Richard Freed:
Stephen Albert was born in New York on February 6, 1941.
From the beginning, Albert has pursued a truly independent course, not as a rebel or an "outsider," but simply as a creative thinker who developed a personal outlook without regard for what may have been "in" or "out" in musical fashions, but with apparent concern for expression and communication. (Among the composers of the past whom he mentions as influential in his own work are Sibelius, who is generally undervalued today, as well as Brahms, Mahler and Stravinsky, who are certainly "in," and, in Albert's earlier years, Bartok and Ives.)
To Wake the Dead, composed 1977-1978, marked the beginning of Albert's response to that [James Joyce] literary stimulus. The song cycle TreeStone was the second, RiverRun the third, and Flower of the Mountain, composed for Lucy Shelton in 1985, brought the total of his Joycean works to four. Since the motivation for the first three of these came from Finnegans Wake, and Flower of the Mountain is a setting of the final pages of Molly Bloom's long soliloquy in Ulysses, it is surprising to have Albert tell us the A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man was the only work of Joyce's he had read in its entirety when he composed most of these works. "I didn't really read Finnegans Wake from beginning to end," he says; "I used it more or less as a reference work, the way other composers might use the Bible, finding certain passages in it that lend to musical treatment of a direct sort, such as actual song settings, or a more indirect sort, such as my symphony. The symphony in not really a programmatic work in the accepted sense: it represents my response to a Joycean stimulus, but that response is not the type that involves an attempt at direct imagery."
Albert is attracted, he says, to "the very musical rhythm of Joyce's language; among 20th-century poets, only T.S. Eliot and perhaps Yeats strike me as being more musical in that respect. The flashes of imagery are marvelous, and there is that convoluted nostalgia -- for under all his artful disguises and arcane language one finds a basic Irish sentiment which I for one like so much. In his work I discovered what I regard as a foreign language -- a language enormously suggestive of English, and of course directly related to English, but essentially a foreign language. Through this invented language he has been able to elusively chronicle man's endurance of tragedy and the whole human comedy . . . Finnegans Wake does not produce literal or direct images for me, but works in terms of generalized suggestions and impressions. This stimulus produces a sort of mental atmosphere that provides for me an escape from contemporary America -- in much the same way, I suppose, that the theological stimuli to which Bach responded provided him an escape from the realities of early 18th-century Leipzig."
To Wake the Dead, Albert's earliest response to the stimulus of Finnegans Wake, was given its premiere in New York on March 21, 1979, by Pro Musica Moderna, which group recorded it at that time; the performance by the Twentieth Century Consort on the present disc was recorded 18 months later and was originally issued on LP by the Smithsonian Institution in 1982. In addition to the soprano solo, the score, subtitles "Six Sentimental Songs and an Interlude after Finnegans Wake," calls for flute (doubling alto flute and piccolo), clarinet (doubling bass clarinet), violin (doubling viola), cello, piano, and harmonium.
Working with Joyce's actual words dictated a less sumptuous approach than that of the symphony. [RiveRun] The colors in this work are somewhat sharper, the textures relatively rougher, the themes more angular; but within this more restricted range there is a remarkable variety, enhancing that of the expressive content of the texts. The six songs are truly songful in their treatment of the basic human concerns which the symphony treats more expansively, and they constitute a true "cycle," held together by subtle musical links as well as their common literary source -- and, indeed, a distillation of much of that source's essence. In an earlier note on this work, kenneth Slowik suggested that a "useful summary of its major themes," is provided in these lines from Joseph Campbell's famous study A Skeleton Key to Finnegans Wake:

Tim Finnegan of the old vaudeville song is an Irish sod carrier who gets drunk, falls off a ladder, and is apparently killed. His friends hold a death watch over his coffin; during the festivities someone splashes him with whiskey, at which Finnegan comes to life again and joins the general dance . . Finnegan's fall from the ladder is Lucifer's fall, Adam's fall, the setting sun that will rise again, the fall of Rome, a Wall Street crash . . . It is Humpty Dumpty's fall and the fall of Newton's apple. And it is every man's daily recurring fall from grace . . . By Finn's coming again (Finn-again) -- in other words, by the reappearance of the hero -- . . . Strength and hope are provided for mankind.

The brief instrumental interlude placed in the center of the cycle exploits the color potentials of the ensemble in a concise and energetic gesture which serves as a sort of summing-up and an ingathering of strength for the rest of the tale, without allowing momentum -- or attention -- to slacken.

CD Information

To Wake the Dead is available on CD from Delos Records. It is played by the 20th Century Consort and conducted by Christopher Kendall, with Lucy Shelton singing soprano. It is paired with Albert's Symphony RiverRun, with Rostropovich conducting the National Symphony Orchestra of Washington, D.C. The serial number is: Delos D/CD 1016.
You may listen to sound samples and/or purchase Stephen Albert CDs online from below:

Albert: RiverRun, To Wake the Dead / Rostropovich
Stephen Albert / Audio CD / Released 1989

More Albert

TreeStone -- (1982) Another song cycle form Finnegans Wake, based loosely on the Tristan and Iseult legend.

Symphony RiverRun -- (1983) A symphony in four movements, its overall musical theme taking Finnegans Wake as its source of inspiration.

Distant Hills -- (1987-89) For tenor, soprano & orchestra. Based on texts from Ulysses, this two-piece suite contains Sun's Heat and Flower of the Mountain.

--A. Ruch
14 December4 2000
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