One of Richard Wagner’s most interesting decisions as creator of Der Ring des Nibelungen was to leave unclear the fate of Alberich, the villainous dwarf who has set in motion the inexorable machinery of destiny, leading in the end to apocalyptic cataclysm, which concludes Gotterdammerung. As is so often the case in Wagner’s operas, Alberich is more than a cardboard villain in the Italian mode—as memorable as he is, a Scarpia, for example, is thoroughly and irredeemably maleficent. Alberich, on the other hand—like Frederic of Telramund, or Klingsor, or even Falfner—is not entirely unsympathetic; however, cruel his actions, they are often the result of mistreatment at the hands of others. It is the Rhinemaidens’ heartless mockery of him that leads Alberich to the theft of the gold, and it is Wotans’ treachery that goads Alberich into placing his mighty curse on the ring he has fashioned from the gold (indeed, Wotan is something of a mirror image to Alberich, an essentially sympathetic character whose actions are often devious, even ignoble). Thus, it is possible with Alberich—and with many other Wagnerian villains—to recognize the inherent evil of his nature and deeds and yet still discern some measure of humanity in him and, in the process, to feel compassion for his plight.
As Alberich’s whereabouts are unknown at the end of the Ring, it occurred to me that it might be engaging to return him to the stage, so to speak, so that he might wreak further havoc in what is quite literally the godless world in which Wagner has left us in the final pages of Gotterdammerung. The result was Der Gerettete Alberich, whose title might best be translated as “Alberich Saved,” itself a reference to Georg Kaiser’s expressionist play Der gerettete Alkibiades. Rather than a concerto, Der gerettete Alberich is more of a fantasy for solo percussionist and orchestra on themes of Wagner, with the soloist taking on the “role” of Alberich. Much of the musical material in the work is derived from a number of motives associated with Alberich in the Ring, among them the motives for the curse, the power of gold, the renunciation of love, annihilation, the Nibelungs, and, of course, the Ring itself. Only Wagner’s “Redemption through Love” motive stands beyond the ken of the other Alberich-related motives I have used, though I have rather maliciously distorted it to suit the purposes of my “hero.”
Notwithstanding the discernible tripartite structure of Der gerettete Alberich, this work is somewhat looser architecturally than other scores of mine to which I have appended the title “concerto”—hence my decision to refer to it as a “fantasy.” Having said all of the above, it would now be absurd of me to aver that this work is not programmatic; however, it is fair to say that it is not a narrative piece in the manner of, say, Strass’ Don Quixote. Beyond a brief passage in which Alberich serves a stint as a rock drummer (probably inspired, at least in part, by the wonderfully over-the-edge Wagner reincarnated scenes in Ken Russell’s film, Lisztomania), I was not attempting to paint specific pictures in the score. However, the listener is free to provide whatever images he or she likes to the sonic goings-on.
Der gerettete Alberich was composed for percussionist Evelyn Glennie (to whom it is dedicated) and a commissioning consortium of the London Symphony Orchestra, the Cleveland Orchestra, the Philadelphia Orchestra, and the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra. The soloist's battery consists of four wood blocks, four log drums, four tom-toms, two bongos, two timbales, a snare drum, a steel drum, a marimba, two guiros, a pedal-operated bass drum, and a drum set. The orchestration calls for piccolo, two flutes, three oboes, three clarinets, three bassoons, six horns, three trumpets, three trombones, tuba, harp, timpani, percussion (three players), and strings. The percussion section makes use of chimes, antique cymbals, xylophone, castanets, tam-tam, bass drum, suspended cymbal, four tom-toms, anvil, and a thunder sheet.
Completed on June 7, 1997, Der gerettete Alberich lasts approximately twenty-two minutes in performance.
— Christopher Rouse
This program note may be reproduced free of charge in concert programs with a credit to the composer.