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Augusta Read Thomas

Publisher: G. Schirmer

Aureole (2012)
Work Notes
Audio clip courtesy of DePaul University
G Schirmer Inc
Year Composed
8 Minutes
Programme Note
Augusta Read Thomas Aureole (2012)
Augusta Read Thomas’s new orchestral work is designed specifically to precede a performance of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony. Her respect for her compositional predecessor is obvious from her explanation of the title:

The title, AUREOLE, refers to an encircling ring of light; radiance surrounding the head or the whole figure in the representation of a sacred personage or saint; a halo of concentric circles of light seen around a luminous body, especially around the sun or moon.

AUREOLE alludes tangentially to certain fundamental tonal centers of Beethoven Symphony Number 9 in D minor Op. 125.

Surely the sacred personage in this situation is Beethoven himself. Thomas’ use both of tonal centers and intervals crucial to the Ninth Symphony is a musical aureole around the earlier composer’s work.

The work opens with a single pitch, the note D, Beethoven’s symphony’s tonal center. Fanfare-like repeated notes in the trumpets and violins, marked “blazing,” add an A shortly thereafter, creating the interval of a fifth – the open-sounding sonority with which Beethoven’s symphony also begins. The fanfares continue in ever-changing rhythms, moving around the orchestra and creating the composer’s desired “shimmering” effect. The winds and brass land on a chord centered around the pitch B-flat (the single other most important pitch in Beethoven’s symphony) to close the introduction.

The strings immediately jump in, turning the introduction’s repeated notes into a driving rhythmic ostinato centered on the very same B-flat; the marking is “animated and sparkling.” The melodic line explodes, hurling fast-moving sixteenth notes up and down the orchestral register and all around the ensemble. The tempo slows down a bit for a section marked “energized,” and sustained notes make a reappearance, with murmuring triplets underneath. The driving sixteenth notes return quickly, though, just as vigorously as before and are only stopped with a reminiscence of the introduction’s fifths. “Lively and playful” flute and clarinet solos give way to an “incandescent” section made up of sustained harmonies whose ever-changing orchestrations give it a dynamic, fluid character. A rhapsodic trombone solo leads to a return of the shimmering repeated notes and the re-emergence of the introduction’s fanfares. The frenzied melodic activity of the earlier fast section is recalled but interrupted by the final return of the stark, bright fifths. Harmonies built out of this interval comprise a short but luminous coda. The final chord of the work is, again, fifths: D, A, and E – the very first and the very last notes of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony. An “encircling ring of light” indeed.

—Michael Lewanski

  • Ensemble
    Various Artists
    Nimbus Alliance:
  • 07 OCT 2017
    Aureole Country Premiere
    Contemporary Music Festival in Kiev
    Kiev, Ukraine
    National Symphony Orchestra of Ukraine
    Victor Yampolsky, conductor
  • 28 SEP 2017
    Hult Center, Eugene, OR
    Eugene Symphony
    Francesco Lecce-Chong, conductor
  • 19 AUG 2017
    Door Country, Wisconson
    The Peninsula Music Festival
    Victor Yampolsky, conductor
  • 07 DEC 2016
    Jordan Hall Boston, MA
    New England Conservatory
    Andrew Litton, conductor
  • 04 AUG 2016
    Aureole Country Premiere
    Stockholm, Sweden
    Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra
    Robert Trevino , conductor
  • 21 MAY 2016
    Lancaster, PA
    Lancaster Symphony Orchestra
    Stephen Gunzenhauser, conductor

    Other Dates:
    22 May - Lancaster, PA
  • 10 FEB 2016
    Bloomington, IN
    Indiana University Jacobs School of Music
    Rani Calderon, conductor
  • 31 OCT 2015
    Aureole UK Premiere
    Barbican Centre, London, UK
    BBC Symphony
    Andrew Litton, conductor
  • 25 OCT 2014
    New London, CT
    Eastern Connecticut Symphony
    Toshiyki Shimada, conductor
  • 26 APR 2014
    Wheaton, IL
    Wheaton College
    Daniel Sommerville, conductor

    Other Dates:
    27-30 April; 1-9 May - Wheaton, IL
  • 09 JUN 2013
    Buffalo, NY
    June in Buffalo
  • 29 MAY 2013
    Aureole World Premiere
    Orchestra Hall, Chicago, IL
    DePaul University Orchestra
    Cliff Colnot, conductor

Completed in 2013, Aureole receives from the DePaul University Symphony Orchestra and conductor Cliff Colnot a performance that revels in the exuberant sonoroties of the music. Benefitting from the admirably sure intonation of the Orchestra's players, the fanfare-like figurations at the piece's opening are broadly but rousingly phrased, providing an apt introduction to the generally high spirits of the music that follows. When darker harmonies invade, momentum is maintained both by Maestro Colnot and by the Orchestra, but neither the pace of the performance nor the jocularity of the atmosphere that the music conjures seems forced.
Joseph Newsome,,01/05/2014
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