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Bruce Adolphe (1955)

Memory Believes (a requiem)

December 3, 2023: Bruce Adolphe, Composer

Program notes from the composer:

Memory Believes (a requiem) is dedicated to the memory of my brother, Jonathan Adolphe (1952-2022).

The structure of the piece is as follows:

1. Meditation I for violin solo

2. Because I could not stop for Death (Emily Dickinson) for choir and quartet

3. Meditation II for cello solo

4. Are there not a thousand forms of sorrow(Ethan Canin) for choir and quartet

5. Meditation III for viola solo

6. Memory Believes (William Faulkner) for choir and quartet

7. Meditation IV for string quartet


1. Emily Dickinson, first stanza of Because I could not stop for Death:

“Because I could not stop for Death –
He kindly stopped for me –
The Carriage held but just Ourselves –
And Immortality.”

2. Ethan Canin, from A Doubter’s Almanac: “Are there not a thousand forms of sorrow? Is the sorrow of death the same as the sorrow of knowing the pain in a child’s future?” (Used with the kind permission of Ethan Canin.)

3. William Faulkner, from Light in August: “Memory believes before knowing remembers. Believes longer than recollects, longer than knowing even wonders.”

I chose the first stanza of the Emily Dickinson text because my brother certainly did not stop for Death. In his final year, struggling with the pain of pancreatic cancer, Jon worked at his art with remarkable determination and intensity, creating pieces that would go to galleries in Europe that he would never visit in person. The second text, by Ethan Canin, has haunted me ever since I read A Doubter’s Almanac in 2016, and it needs no commentary. I chose the quote from Light in August because Jon, who read most of the major writers of the 20th and early 21st centuries, was a fan of Faulkner’s poetic prose, and because this quote uniquely captures a truth about the tapestry of memory, believing, knowing, and wondering in language that is as precise and lyrical as music. Like music, my brother’s paintings, especially his last ones, inhabit a spectral topography of texture and space, where memories, some that we shared but many more forgotten, can exist as gestures that can be believed, and that will endure longer than their sources can possibly be recalled or known. We can only wonder.

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