The Woman Where We Are Living —2014

This work was commissioned by The Crossing, Donald Nally, conductor.

Program Note

On November 25, 1901, a 51-year-old woman named Auguste Deter (1850-1906) was admitted to the Hospital for the Mentally Ill and Epileptics in Frankfurt, and was examined by German Physician Alois Alzheimer (1864-1915). Deter’s initial symptoms included impaired memory, aphasia, disorientation, and psychosocial incompetence. Her condition gradually worsened, and she started losing other cognitive functions and experiencing hallucinations. Because of her age, Deter was diagnosed with presenile dementia; today, the diagnosis would be early-onset Alzheimer’s Disease. Deter died in April 1906, aged 55.

The text of The Woman Where We Are Living is excerpted from Alzhimer’s journal entries in which he chronicles his observations of and conversations with Deter. The music explores the fluctuating states of Deter’s deteriorating mind. Mahler’s Symphony No. 4 premiered the same day as Alzheimer and Deter first met. Its theme of spiritual transformation and meditation on the journey toward innocence serve as a point of departure for this score. The Woman Where We Are Living begins with a quotation from the final moments of Mahler’s Fourth: the voice of a child describing a pastoral vision of Heaven.

The Woman Where We Are Living is dedicated to my mother.

Written for the Crossing’s Month of Moderns 2014 as a result of the Knight Foundation Arts Challenge Composer Competition Commissions and premiered at the Crane Arts Icebox.


The Woman Where We Are Living, for chorus and harp, is a masterly look at Alzheimer’s disease taken from Dr. Alois Alzheimer’s journal entries about a patient with encroaching brain deterioration, whom he met in 1901. Texts are both observations of and dialogues with the patient that show dwindling faculties, sometimes musically illustrated with canonic writing spinning round and round without leading anywhere. The patient’s viewpoint also had increasing harmonic haze, in contrast to the doctor’s clear, emphatic rhythms. The nine movements are, at times, symbolically truncated, cut off as a musical thought just before fruition. Under Donald Nally, the Crossing sang with more than its typical comprehension: The singers seemed to live the piece from the inside out.- David Patrick Stearns, Philadelphia Inquirer

“…a brilliantly innovative – and even, in its way, consoling – cycle of excerpts from the journals of Alois Alzheimer about the first patient to be diagnosed with the disease that bears his name.”
– Matthew Westphal, Philadelphia Inquirer



1. Die englischen Stimmen

Die englischen Stimmen Ermuntern die Sinnen

Daß alles für Freuden erwacht.

2. The reactions of the pupils to light

The reactions of the pupils to light and accommodation are instantaneous.

Tongue has normal mobility, dry, yellow-red-brown.

No disturbance in speech articulation.

She frequently interrupts herself in the articulation of words during the interview

(as if she did not know whether she had said something correctly or not).

She has dentures.

No facial nerve differences.

Muscular strength: at the left side considerably reduced compared with the right side.

Patellar reflex normal.

Radial reflex is slightly (but not relevantly) rigid.

Cardiac ictus is not felt.

Cardiac obtusity not enlarged.

The second pulmonary and aortic tones are not accentuated.

She suddenly says, Just now, a child called. Is he there?

3. Wie Heißen Sie?

Wie heißen Sie?




Wie heißt Ihr Mann?

Auguste, I think.

Ihr Mann?

Ah, my husband.

Sind Sie verheiratet?

To Auguste.

Frau Deter?

Yes, yes, Auguste Deter

Wie alt sind sie?

Fifty one.

Wo wohnen Sie?

Oh, have you been to our place?

4. When she was brought from the isolation room

(I will not be cut)

When she was brought from the isolation room to the bed she became agitated, screamed, was non-cooperative;

showed great fear and repeated

I will not be cut.

I do not cut myself

5. Wo wohnen Sie?

Wo wohnen Sie?

I can tell you, I must wait a bit.

Was habe Ich bitten Sie nur?

Well, this is Frankfurt am Main.

Auf welcher Straße wohnen Sie?

Waldemarstreet, not, no…

Wann haben Sie geheiratet?

I don’t know at present. The woman lives on the same floor.

Welche Frau?

The woman where we are living.

6. When the doctor enters the room

(Make yourself comfortable)

When the doctor enters the room she tells him to stay away

other times she greets him as if he were a dear guest.

Make yourself comfortable, until now I haven’t had time.

7. Welche Frau?

Welche Frau?

Wann haben Sie geheiratet?

Auf welcher Straße wohnen Sie?

Was habe Ich bitten Sie nur?

Wo wohnen Sie?

Wie alt sind sie?

Wie heißt Ihr Mann?

Wie heißen Sie?

8. She acts as if she were blind

(I must put myself in order)

She acts as if she were blind

touching the other patients on their faces

and when asked what she is doing, replies

I must put myself in order

9. When she died, she was examined

(Here and everywhere, here and now)

When she died, she was examined by two of Alzheimer’s colleagues, who recorded the death in her medical file as follows:

During the morning exitus letalis; cause of death: septicaemia due to decubitus; anatomical diagnosis: moderate hydrocephalus (external internal); cerebral atrophy; arteriosclerosis of the small cerebral blood vessels; ? ; pneumonia of both inferior lobes; nephritis.

Wo sind Sie jetz?

Here and everywhere, here and now

Wo sind Sie in diesem Moment?

This is where I will live.