Two events conspired to bring about Virtuoso Alice (1984), my first piano composition in more than twenty years. One was the commissioning request from Michael Sellars, director and founder of the William Kapell Piano Foundation, for a work to celebrate the grand, romantic tradition of piano playing. Another was an evening spent listening, for the first time, to rare recordings of legendary "golden age" pianists—Hofmann, Friedman, de Pachmann, Rachmaninoff, et al. So moved was I by the expressive idiosyncrasy of their playing—the unexpected, extravagant rubati and the breathtaking, effortless-sounding technical feats—that I decided to compose a piece memorializing and exploiting such pianistic virtues. Simultaneously, the idea of a paraphrase came to mind. The Harvard Dictionary of Music defines paraphrase as a "reworking and free arrangement of well-known melodies, such as Liszt's concert paraphrases of Wagnerian operas.'
In Virtuoso Alice, I chose a melody of my own for this elaboration or "free arrangement"the "Acrostic Song" from Final Alice, written in 1976 for soprano and orchestra. The first part of Virtuoso Alice, though pianistically elaborate and highly embellished, follows the path of the original song quite faithfully. The second part, "Fantasia," is more freely associative and ranges through distant keys with bravura embellishment. This leads to a cadenza, then a reminiscence of the opening Acrostic theme and finally a repeated bell-tone, tolling an insistent, dissonant F-natural amid swirling, rising A major scale figures. Even as the motion quiets and the piece ends, this F-natural continues and is never resolved—a gentle, stabbing pain, throbbing on and on.
Virtuoso Alice is dedicated to Anton Nel, who premiered it.
- David Del Tredici, 2001