Andrew Imbrie: A Composer Worth Knowing Better

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Andrew Imbrie wrote his Requiem in 1984 in memory of his son John, who died in 1981 at the age of 19.(Photo: Schirmer)
Andrew Imbrie wrote his Requiem in 1984 in memory of his son John, who died in 1981 at the age of 19.(Photo: Schirmer)

Andrew Imbrie (1921-2007) is a composer whose work is worth knowing better.

My introduction to Imbrie was the world premiere of his Requiem, given by the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra and Chorus in 1985. Edo de Waart conducted and the soprano soloist was Jane Bryden.

Imbrie, long based in San Francisco, wrote his Requiem in 1984 in memory of his son John, who died in 1981 at the age of 19. I’ve seen photographs of John, who was bound for medical school. There are no images to be found on line, but he was a beautiful young man.

By comparison, Gabriel Fauré’s Requiem in D minor is gentle in its promises of redemption. Giuseppe Verdi’s is operatic, large and dramatic. Amadeus Wolfgang Mozart’s – unfinished as it was – gave us the passion of the mass for the dead in strict classical form.

Andrew Imbrie’s Requiem can’t help being very personal. Here, he gives you the grief and the anger of a father who has buried a child:

[audio src="http://wosu.org/audio/classical/2011/IMBRIE1.mp3"]

In his Requiem Imbrie inserts three poems between the traditional Latin verses. To the Evening Star by William Blake; Prayer by George Herbert, and Death Be Not Proud by John Donne:

Andrew Imbrie studied with Nadia Boulanger in Paris and with Roger Sessions at Princeton and, later, at Berkeley. Imbrie served on the music faculty of the San Francisco Conservatory for many years.

He describes his musical style:

My music does not strive to be American like my nationality, nor Scottish like my ancestry. It is neither experimental nor conventional.  Composing for me is a process of drawing out the consequences,  (as I perceive them) of an initial idea. Once an idea has become specific enough, it begins to generate its own continuation. The sense of the large structure becomes increasingly clear as the as the work progresses.

Okay, but in Imbrie’s Requiem, I still feel the chaos and the rage of a bereaved parent, right in the gut.

You can hear it on Musica Sacra this Sunday night at 8 on Classical 101.

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