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The Late Composer Christopher Rouse's Organ Concerto Explores The Mysteries of Music as an Art Form

Credit: Jeff Herman
Composer Christopher Rouse

Music can be mysterious, even to those who spend their lives creating it. As WRTI’s Susan Lewis reports, the late composer Christopher Rouse pondered the profound power of music with his concerto for organ and orchestra.

Composer Christopher Rouse talked with WRTI's Susan Lewis about composing his organ concerto, and the mystery and joy in creating music.

Unlike some of his other works, Rouse’s organ concerto has no program or story. Instead, it explores the music itself—a combination of notes, rhythms, harmonies, and dynamics—and its ability to express emotion.

"The first movement is meant to be joyous and festive," said the composer.  "The middle movement...spiritual; the last movement is kind of a wild dance, a little diabolical perhaps."

With multiple colors and color combinations, the organ—and orchestra—are apt vehicles for this exploration. In writing music, said Rouse, technique and style were less important to him than expressivity. "Is it communicating something meaningful to the listener on an emotional level? That is the only thing I care about as a composer."

Rouse marveled at the mysteriousness of music:  "By which a series of vibrating frequencies, which inherently mean nothing—what does a C sharp mean? In and of itself it means nothing. Yet there’s this process of combining musical pitches and rhythms into an art that profoundly speaks to the human spirit."

Christopher Rouse, who won Pulitzer and GRAMMY Awards, wrote 10 other concertos, four symphonies, chamber music, and works for voice and orchestra.  He died on September 21, 2019. 

Listen to organist Paul Jacobs and The Philadelphia Orchestra perform Christopher Rouse's organ concerto on WRTI 90.1 on Sunday, April 25th at 1 PM on WRTI 90.1, and on Monday, April 25th at 7 PM on WRTI HD-2.

Susan writes and produces stories about music and the arts. She’s host and producer of WRTI’s TIME IN online interview series, and contributes weekly intermission interviews for The Philadelphia Orchestra in Concert series. She’s also been a regular host of WRTI’s Live from the Performance Studio sessions.