Albright, William

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William Albright Papers

The materials in this online repository form part of a larger William Albright manuscript collection held by the Bentley Historical Library. For a more complete index to the materials, please consult the online finding aid for the:

For questions or more information, please contact the Bentley Historical Library's Division of Reference and Access Services

Organist, composer, and University of Michigan faculty member; was born in Indiana in 1944 and died in 1998. Best known for his piano and organ performance as well as his role in launching a revival of ragtime. Albright composed for single instruments, ensembles, and orchestras and also composed hymns as the music director for the First Unitarian Universalist Church of Ann Arbor, Michigan. This online collection includes digitized sound recordings created from analog materials held by the Bentley Historical Library.

William Hugh Albright was born in Gary, Indiana in 1944. He received his early training at Juilliard and Eastman School of Music, and he earned three degrees from the University of Michigan: Bachelor of Music (Composition) in 1966, Master of Music (Composition) in 1967, and Doctor of Musical Arts (Composition) in 1970. He studied composition with Ross Lee Finney and Leslie Bassett at Michigan, with George Rochberg while he was at the University of Pennsylvania, and with Olivier Messiaen at the Paris Conservatory in 1968-1969. He studied organ with Marilyn Mason at Michigan. He was married twice--to Sarah Ann (Kirk) Albright and Pamela Ann Decker--and had two children, John Kirk Albright and Elizabeth Mae Albright.

Albright is probably best known for his piano and organ performances. He was recognized as a premier organist, performing throughout Europe and North America. He helped to bring about a revival of ragtime, in the vein of Scott Joplin and James P. Johnson, and he sought the inclusion of ragtime and other types of popular music in many of his modernist compositions.

Albright was a prolific composer for many types of single instruments (especially the organ) and ensembles, and for orchestra. He also composed hymns, and was the music director for the First Unitarian-Universalist Church of Ann Arbor, Michigan.

A member of the composition department faculty of the School of Music at the University of Michigan, he participated in a number of innovative projects, such as the famous Once Festival held in Ann Arbor, and the Electronic Music Laboratory.

Albright composed Organbook I, Organbook II, and Organbook III for his principle instrument. They are some of his most popular works and were inspired by a work by one of his mentors, Olivier Messiaen, Livre d'Orgue.

He composed during the sixties and seventies a number of works containing features associated with modernism, such as graphic notation and atonality. (See, for example, Tic and Organbook I.) By the early 1990s, Albright had distanced himself from "New Music" far enough to be less interested in making new music for the sake of the new, beginning to allow more conventional elements back into his works. Rustles of Spring, 1994 is an example of the directions he was taking near the end of his life. After 1994, Albright listed "The Four Expressions" that were represented by his works: aggression, sensuality, humor and spirituality. Take That for four drummers with 16 large drums (1972) he classified as aggression, "Fantasy-Mazurka" from Five Chromatic Dances for piano solo (1976) as sensuality, Doo-dah for three alto saxophones (1974) and King of Instruments for narrator and organ solo (1978) as humor, and Chasm: Symphonic Fragment for orchestra (1985-89) and "Recessional" from Organbook I for solo organ (1967) as spirituality. (William Albright Papers, Box 1, series "Biographical Materials," folder "Miscellaneous").

The range of Albright's music is described in his entry in The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians:

"Although his early organ works reflect the influence of Messiaen in their colourful registration and chromaticism, Albright's later works often combine a complex rhythmic and atonal style with elements of American popular music. Though his works are formally concise, he stresses the value of music as communication and the supremacy in music of intuition, imagination and beauty of sound." (1980 ed. s.v. "Albright, William Hugh," by Don C. Gillespie.)

Please note:

Copyright has not been transferred to the Regents of the University of Michigan.

Access to digitized sound recordings may be limited to the reading room of the Bentley Historical Library, located on the Ann Arbor campus of the University of Michigan.

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