Dorian Prelude —1989

Commissioned by the New York Youth Symphony as part of its First Music Series, Dorian Prelude was premiered at Carnegie Hall under the baton of music director Samuel Wong. It was subsequently performed by the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Jesus Lopez-Cobos.

Program Note

“How sad it is,” murmured Dorian Gray with his eyes still fixed upon his own portrait…“I shall grow old, and horrible, and dreadful. But this picture will remain always young…If it were only the other way! If it were I who was to be always young, and the picture that was to grow old! For that—I would give everything! I would give my soul for that!” —Oscar Wilde, THE PICTURE OF DORIAN GRAY.

In Wilde’s novel, Dorian Gray somehow manages to make a Faustian pact (with an internal devil?) in order to exchange places with his portrait, thus preserving himself as a work of art. “Dorian Prelude” may be interpreted using Wilde’s story as a program: the dramatic structure of the music closely resembles that of the novel, as it contrasts the unnatural preservation of Dorian’s physical appearance (despite the advance of time) with the slow, secret decay of his portrait (and thus his soul).

“Ah! realize your youth while you have it. Don’t squander the gold of your days, listening to the tedious, trying to improve the hopeless failure, or giving away your life to the ignorant, the common, and the vulgar…Live! Live the wonderful life that is in you! Be always searching for new sensations. Be afraid of nothing…A new Hedonism—that is what our century wants. The world belongs to you for a season.”


Other individual string players came to the fore in the premiere performance of Mr. Maggio’s work, which the Youth Symphony commissioned as part of its First Music series. The 25-year-old composer, taking inspiration from Oscar Wilde’s “Picture of Dorian Gray,” has produced an imaginative and vibrant concert overture. Its orchestration, which proved striking even in the rich context of this program [Ravel: “Ma Mere l’Oye”, Stravinsky: “Rite of Spring”], gives way on three occasions to passages featuring four solo strings — violins, then violas and finally cellos.

James R. Oestreich, The New York Times, November 28, 1989

…an almost nervously energetic piece that moves through various mental/spiritual states.

Ray Cooklis, The Cincinnati Enquirer, February 9, 1991

There was a premiere, and an important one: 25-year-old Robert Maggio’s Dorian Prelude, taken, if you will believe it, from Oscar Wilde’s “The Picture of Dorian Gray.” The imagination that conceived of that attribution extended to the imagination of Maggio’s orchestration and masterful calculation of effects. His compositional vocabulary is wondrously eclectic, allowing him to say exactly what he wished to express here. The emotional tenor of the work was admirably sustained, and the performance must have been all that the composer could wish for. When commissions are handed out by future organizations, perhaps it is time to skip over oft-commissioned Charles Wuorinen and let Robert Maggio show what further he can do.

Bert Wechsler, The New York Daily News, November 28, 1989

…an impressive orchestral essay based on the Oscar Wilde novel. Invention is rife here, with its contrast of youthful elation (gleefully intoned by the clarinet) and the cynicism of age (shards of sound at the end).

Mary Ellyn Hutton, The Cincinnati Post, February 9, 1991