Rosalie Burrell: “Paved with Gold”

Some time ago, at the height of the winter, one short orchestral work by a young composer in New York, Rosalie Burrell, was featured here, a promising piece entitled – rightly so, given its mysterious nature – “Secret Gardens”; now, a few months later, her career beginning to unfurl, Burrell has received an advanced degree from the Mannes School of Music as well as several honours for her compositions along the way, including two for another, more recent orchestral work, “Paved with Gold”: this she loaded on her Soundcloud page in the midst of the spring, which now seems like an act of significant anticipation, as it is not anything especially vernal so much as the golden ambiance of high summer which this music conjures up.

The composition sets out at a considerable speed to start with, perhaps allegretto for around the first minute and a half, a span measured out by the tolling of bells, before it settles into something like an adagio or andante, in order to convey the simmer of satisfaction that the season at its peak can bring: a feeling that everything is in repletion or arrived at the extreme point of its ripeness, and will abide there for a little while yet.

As one might expect in the case of a composer who clearly knows her Stravinsky, very soon it dawns that here some manner of story is being told (or illustrated) – and, generally speaking, Burrell herself has declared her musical interest in narratives and narration in a short interview posted on Youtube.

Now, what type of story is it which is recounted in “Paved with Gold”?

Well, in the aggregate, her orchestration unrolls the story in a virtually visual-⁠pictorial manner, as though everything that is occurring musically has been placed at a definite distance from the listeners, beyond the reach of their hands: and then, one might observe that a reduction of spatial depth is involved in Burrell’s musical painting. For, instead of replicating, the music depicts the latter, and the events that seem to take place in this composition dance before the audience, much as do projections on a wall.

Because the allusive title suggests that what the composition is in some way about, is the United States, when this music, as it finishes, sounds as though it were rejoining its beginning, one could well reach the conclusion that while listening one finds oneself enclosed at the centre of a sonic equivalent of an old trompe-⁠l’œil panorama – and be prompted thus to wonder what, in our world of Behemoths, Leviathans, and Molochs, ever has become of the democratic vistas.