Songbook for Annamaria (String Quartet No. 1) —2001

Songbook for Annamaria (String Quartet No. 1) was composed for the Colorado String Quartet, commissioned by the Arizona Friends of Chamber Music. It is recorded by the Corigliano Quartet on the album Robert Maggio: String Quartets.


  1. we’re bound away… (Shenandoah)
  2. when you wake … (All the Pretty Little Horses)
  3. jimmy crack corn … (Blue Tail Fly)
  4. …all the live long day (I’ve Been Working on the Railroad)


Program Note

I began composing Songbook for Annamaria (String Quartet No. 1) in January of 2001. Near the end of that month, my grandmother, Marie Basili, passed away, and my daughter, Annamaria, came into my life (after a long-awaited adoption). Annamaria is named, in part, after her great grandmother, and this music is both a dedication to the memory of Marie Basili and a celebration of the arrival of Annamaria LaSalle Maggio. The quartet explores widely varied emotional landscapes, opening with passionate, vigorous music that reflects the beginning of my journey into parenthood. The second movement is both a lullaby and a farewell. The third movement is a playful scherzo, marked “with a buzzing energy.” The final movement is a passacaglia, whose repetitive motion was inspired by the endless demands and the boundless love I have found in fatherhood. Each movement in this songbook is based on an old popular tune (see the movement titles), which provides further insight into the extramusical “theme” of each movement (e.g. the hard-driving work ethic of the railroad song, on which the passacaglia is based, suggests the round-the-clock duties of the parent). In addition, these songs are personal favorites of mine: some of them my parents sang to me when I was a child, and some of them I now sing to Annamaria.


…four well-known old tunes that were favorites of his adopted daughter. The tunes…are surrounded with concepts that contribute to several moments of real emotional meaning…Thanks, Robert, I think you have something special there.

D. Moore, American Record Guide

 …honest and sincere…musical invention, subtle wit, and theatrical timing…You just want to hear it again…

David Patrick Stearns, Philadelphia Inquirer

The Tucson Convention Center’s Leo Rich Theatre was packed and humming with excitement Wednesday night as the Arizona Friends of Chamber Music premiered a string quartet piece it commissioned from American wunderkind Robert Maggio.

Set to play the piece was the world-class Colorado String Quartet – unusual in the chamber music milieu for being an all-women ensemble.

But the evening began not with music, but with talk, as Maggio strode onto the stage to say a few words about his piece. He proved eloquent, energetic and humorous in discussing his work: Songbook for Annamaria (String Quartet No. 1).

Inspired by both his grandmother (who died just after he received the commission) and his daughter (whom he adopted the same month), the piece proved both a lullaby and a farewell. Maggio built each of its four movements on an American folk song: “Shenandoah,” “All the Pretty Little Horses,” “Jimmy Crack Corn (Blue Tail Fly)” and “I’ve Been Working on the Railroad”.

Maggio is known for being “gorgeous in sound yet lean in method,” and this latest piece embodied those traits. Its spareness was especially notable, heard between Mozart and Dvorák. At times, Maggio’s melodic lines were keen and stabbing, piercing the outlines of an old lullaby with fear and angst. At other times, his melodies floated free above whirring harmonies. The jaunty tip-toe appearance of “Jimmy Crack Corn” in pizzicato amused the audience in the third movement.

In all of the first three movements, the folk songs were at times recognizable. By far the most beautiful and intellectually rewarding part of the piece, however, was the fourth movement, a passacaglia, whose repetitive harmonic motion, Maggio said, was inspired by both the endless demands and the infinite love of fatherhood. Passacaglias combine unchanging harmonies with ever-changing melodic variations. This one unrolled with the relentless swooping of the sea – at times with as hard-driving a work ethic as the railroad song it was based on. In the end, it faded gently into quiet.

In comparison to stereotypes about contemporary classical music, Maggio’s work is not uncomfortable; at its best it is indeed lovely. It is by no means easy, however, requiring taut attention throughout.

Jennifer Lee Carrell, Arizona Daily Star, January 10, 2003