Obituary: William Albright

THERE ARE virtually no pianists left today to maintain the age- old tradition of the composer- performer, the tradition that produced Mozart, Beethoven, Paderewski and Rachmaninov. But it has survived rather better among organists, and William Albright was one of its brightest representatives.

Albright was born in Gary, Indiana, in 1944. As a child he moved with his family to West Orange, New Jersey, before going as a 15-year-old to New York, to the Preparatory Department of the Juilliard School of Music. In 1962, however, he returned to the Mid-West, to Ann Arbor in Michigan, to study for a BMus. His composition teachers there were Ross Lee Finney and George Rochberg; later, in 1968-69, he also took lessons from Olivier Messiaen in Paris. That BMus was only the first of the three degrees that the University of Michigan was eventually to award him, and almost inevitably he joined the faculty, teaching composition from 1970 and succeeding Leslie Bassett as chair of the Composition Department.

Albright's career was spangled with distinctions: an award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, two Fulbright awards, two Guggenheim Fellowships, the Queen Marie-Jose Prize, and many more. In 1993 the American Guild of Organists elected him Composer of the Year - as well they might, for he contributed generously to the organ repertoire.

He had a bright reputation as a performer. He was an organ recitalist of world stature, travelling widely in the US in particular. He was also an assiduous explorer of the rag tradition - he recorded, among much else, the complete piano rags of Scott Joplin.

As a practising musician, Albright was almost bound to write accessible music (there are few arch- modernists among people who also play the stuff), and the mix of the twin disciplines of composing and performing in turn guaranteed that his teaching would be supportive and understanding. A common thread in comments from his students in Michigan is his generosity, his enthusiasm in deploying his expertise to help them round thorny problems - and his considerable personal warmth.

Albright's music covers a wide range of genres, orchestral, vocal, chamber and instrumental. He described it as "generous, eclectic and maximal" and said, "I enjoy and prefer messy diversity to boring unity." He occasionally explored theoretical questions in his compositions, employing 12-tone rows, and he was much occupied by pitch relationships. But his music generally welcomes the listener - even the titles beckon: Take That, Doo-dah, Peace Pipe, That Sinking Feeling.

Several of his orchestral pieces have a concertante element, often for his own instrument, the organ, a Gothic Suite (1973) and Bacchanal (1980) among them. The chamber music shows the healthy eclecticism of his ear: Albright wrote for the standard combinations, of course, but also for a wide range of unusual sonorities - double-bass and harpsichord, two bassoons, four percussionists, horn and organ, and more. He took a lively interest in electronic music; indeed, he was head of the electronic studio at Michigan. There are two operas, Cross of Gold (1975) and The Magic City (1978), and several substantial choral works, not least a Mass in D and the Chichester Mass (both 1974).

But it is his pieces for piano and, especially, for organ that are best known. One of them Flights of Fancy, a "ballet for organ" (an innovative idea) composed in 1991-92, has reached a wide audience thanks to an Albany CD recorded by Pamela Decker and supervised by Albright. Flights of Fancy illustrates many of the salient characteristics of Albright's music. It is perfectly laid out for the instrument and highly resourceful in exploring unexpected colours and combinations. It is inclusive: most unusually for an organ work, it includes a "Tango fantastico", a "Ragtime Lullaby" and a "Shimmy" - and it ends with a rousing, tongue-in-cheek "Fight Song" for the American Guild of Organists.

William Hugh Albright, composer, organist and teacher: born Gary, Indiana 20 October 1944; twice married (one son, one daughter); died Ann Arbor, Michigan 17 September 1998.

Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment
Chloe-Jasmine Whicello impressed the judges and the audience at Wembley Arena with a sultry performance
TVReview: Who'd have known Simon was such a Roger Rabbit fan?
News
Rumer was diagnosed with bipolarity, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder: 'I was convinced it was a misdiagnosis'
peopleHer debut album caused her post-traumatic stress - how will she cope as she releases her third record?
Arts and Entertainment
Nick Frost will star in the Doctor Who 2014 Christmas special

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Friends is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year
TV
Arts and Entertainment
A spell in the sun: Emma Stone and Colin Firth star in ‘Magic in the Moonlight’
filmReview: Magic In The Moonlight
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Maisie Williams plays 'bad ass' Arya Stark in Game of Thrones

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Liam Neeson said he wouldn't

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Meera Syal was a member of the team that created Goodness Gracious Me

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The former Doctor Who actor is to play a vicar is search of a wife

film
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Pointless host Alexander Armstrong will voice Danger Mouse on CBBC

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell dismissed the controversy surrounding

music
Arts and Entertainment
Jack Huston is the new Ben-Hur

film
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Cara Delevingne modelling

film
Arts and Entertainment
Emma Thompson and Bryn Terfel are bringing Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street to the London Coliseum

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Thicke's video for 'Blurred Lines' has been criticised for condoning rape

Robin Thicke admits he didn't write 'Blurred Lines'

music
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Matt Damon as Jason Bourne in The Bourne Ultimatum (2007)

film
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black

Review: Cilla, ITV TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Tom Hardy stars with Cillian Murphy in Peaky Blinders II

TV
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

    Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

    Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
    Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

    Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

    The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
    The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

    Scrambled eggs and LSD

    Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
    'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

    'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

    Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
    Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

    New leading ladies of dance fight back

    How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
    These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

    Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

    Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
    Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

    Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

    His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam