Born in New York City on 6 April 1921, Andrew Imbrie studied with Leo Ornstein, Nadia Boulanger, and Roger Sessions, with whom he studied from 1937 to 1948. He has taught at the University of California at Berkeley since 1949, and at the San Francisco Conservatory since 1970. Imbrie has composed works for orchestra, chorus, chamber ensemble, and stage, and his music has been praised for its profound integrity, ardent expression, and an intense drive and conviction. Imbrie’s list of prestigious commissions and honors begins from his earliest days as a composition student. The first of his five string quartets, written while at Princeton, won the New York Music Critics’ Circle Award in 1944. Other commissions include works for the New York Philharmonic, San Francisco Symphony, Halle Orchestra, San Francisco Opera, the Naumburg Foundation, Ford Foundation, and the Pro Arte Quartet. His awards include the Prix de Rome, two Guggenheim Fellowships, The Walter M. Naumburg Recording Award, and membership in the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters. Andrew Imbrie passed away on Dec. 5, 2007 at his home in Berkeley, CA.
Songs of Then and Now (1998)
The title of this group of songs can have two meanings: one that draws attention to the variety of texts used, from Shakespeare to the twentieth century; the other referring to the ages of the singers, who have just crossed the threshold and are now young adults. [The piece was commissioned by a children's chorus -- this interpretation is of course less salient for the women of MIT.] ’Then’ refers to vivid memories of recent childhood; ‘now’ suggests a wide-open world of discovery. ‘Singing’ (Robert Louis Stevenson) acts as an introduction, perhaps as an excuse for starting the journey through music. ‘who knows if the moon’s a balloon’ (e. e. cummings) is a fantasy of total happiness. ‘Blow, Blow Thou Winter Wind’ (Shakespeare) gives us pause in its description of newly discovered human frailty. The fourth song, ‘anyone lived in pretty how town” (cummings), is a kind of centerpiece: I chose it because it picturesquely portrays the lives of an ordinary, but loving, married couple named ‘anyone’ and ‘no-one,’ and their relationship with other people. It is the longest and most substantial song of the group. ‘Come Unto These Yellow Sands’ (Shakespeare) is essentially a dance by a group of young women, and is followed by ‘Full Fathom Five’ (Shakespeare) with its intuition of mortality and magic. ‘hist whist’ (cummings) is not sung, but whispered, spoken, and shouted. It attempts to portray everything scary that nevertheless makes one giggle. The final song, ‘The Land of Nod’ (Stevenson) brings back musical ideas from the opening song but develops them further. The journey is not over, of course, but night is falling, and it is time to dream.
— Andrew Imbrie
Songs of Then and Now was commissioned by the San Francisco Contemporary Music Players and the San Francisco Girls Chorus with funding from the Creative Work Fund, a collaborative initiative of the Walter and Elise Haas Fund, the Columbia Foundation, the Miriam and Peter Haas Fund, and the Evelyn Walter Haas Jr. Fund. The work received its premiere in September 1998 with Nicole Paiement leading the Contemporary Music Players and the San Francisco Girls Chorus under the artistic direction of Sharon Paul.