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Pilgrim Soul (2011)

For English horn and two violins

First performance: Matthew Kuhn, English Horn; Alyssa Kuhn, Violin; and Julieta Mihai, Violin
Carnegie Hall, 10 February 2011

[Pilgrim Soul may also be performed by Bass Flute and two violins. In addition, a version which is one octave lower than the original has been made for Bassoon (Trombone or cello) and two cellos.
First performance of the Bass Flute version: Hannah Donnelly, bass flute; Alison Sall, violin; Jenna Michael, violin
Grand Valley State University New Music Ensemble, 25 March 2017
First performance of the Bassoon and cello version: Matthew Wildman, Bassoon; Lydia de Leeuw, cello; Jessica Hu, cellos University of Michigan, 11 March 2017
Duration: 10 minutes

BUY SCORE (for English horn and violins)
BUY SCORE (for bass flute and violins)
BUY SCORE (for solo bassoon and 2 cellos)

CD Available
Chamber & Piano Works

This work is available on
Chamber & Piano Works.


Audio sampler Pilgrim Soul runs from 5:37-6:52


Mr. Kuhn commissioned the first 4.5 minutes of PILGRIM SOUL. Augusta was taken with the beauty of the colors of the trio and later composed an additional 5.5 min. of music on her own initiative.  Thus the composition is twice as long as what was commissioned.

Program Note:

Pilgrim Soul was commissioned by Matthew Kuhn as a surprise fiftieth birthday gift for his wife Alyssa Kuhn and it was premiered on her exact fiftieth birthday: 10 February, 2011 at Weill Hall in Carnegie Hall by Matthew Kuhn, English Horn; Alyssa Kuhn, Violin; and Julieta Mihai, Violin.

The music of Augusta Read Thomas is majestic, it is elegant, it is lyrical, it is "boldly considered music that celebrates the sound of the instruments and reaffirms the vitality of orchestral music." (Philadelphia Inquirer) Her deeply personal music is guided by her particular sense of musical form, rhythm, timbre, and harmony.  But given the striking individuality and voice, her music is affected by history — in Thomas' words, "Old music deserves new music and new music needs old music." For Thomas, this means cherishing her place within the musical tradition and giving credit to those who have forged the musical paths she follows and from which she innovates. "You can hear the perfumes of my metaphorical grandparents," Thomas states, "there is a wonderful tradition that I adore, I understand, and care about, but I also have my two feet facing forward."  Thomas' vision toward the future, her understanding of the present, and her respect for the past is evident in her art, in her teaching, and in her citizenship.

When Director of the Festival of Contemporary Music at Tanglewood last summer, Augusta's welcome-letter started, "Music's eternal quality is its capacity for change, transformation and renewal. No one composer, style, school of thought and practice or historical period can claim a monopoly of music's truths."

Most striking in her music, though, is its exquisite humanity and poetry of the soul. The notion that music takes over where words cease is hardly more true than in Thomas' nuanced and colorful musical voice.

Augusta recounts that Matthew asked for a short work, he also specified its ravishingly beautiful instrumentation, and she remembers that he remarked, "that the general 'tone' of the music was to be introspective, soulful, passionate, showing love, and perhaps even sorrow."  Continuing on, Matthew mentioned "I am not interested in a flashy, million-notes-flying-by, dazzling, fanfare-like trio for this 'particular' occasion."

With Matthew's wishes in her mind and ear, she set out to compose a work of soul, melodious beauty, rich long lines, and masterful intricately-woven counterpoint.

Robert Walters, English horn, Cleveland Orchestra Mr. Walters played the English horn on the Wyastone recording of Pilgrim Soul

Pilgrim Soul was inspired by this beautiful and heartfelt poem by William Butler Yeats:

When You Are Old

When you are old and grey and full of sleep,
And nodding by the fire, take down this book,
And slowly read, and dream of the soft look
Your eyes had once, and of their shadows deep;
How many loved your moments of glad grace,
And loved your beauty with love false or true,
But one man loved the pilgrim Soul in you,
And loved the sorrows of your changing face;
And bending down beside the glowing bars,
Murmur, a little sadly, how Love fled
And paced upon the mountains overhead
And hid his face amid a crowd of stars.

Augusta said about Pilgrim Soul, "Although this music is highly notated, precise, carefully structured, thoughtfully proportioned, and so forth... and as you have 3 independent musicians elegantly working together, from the very specific and nuanced text, I like my music to have the feeling that it is organically being self-propelled — on the spot.  As if we listeners, the audience, are overhearing a CAPTURED IMPROVISATION."

"I like my music to be played so that the "inner-life" of the different rhythmic syntaxes is specific, with characterized phrasing of the many colors, characters, and harmonies, etc.— keeping it ultra alive — such that it always sounds spontaneous."

"For their sublime, precision and technical mastery, I deeply thank these musicians who tonight play my notations in this manner."

Recently, Augusta said, "The desire to make music comes from very deep inside and from profound necessity. The urge to make and share music (to communicate, if you will) is vivid, and implied in this passion to express is a recipient of the expression — someone, anyone who is a willing listener.  We composers write music that craves a listener and believe that if one creates music that is honest, personal, and human, and is technically and imaginatively elegant in its articulation, it will find its audience — whoever or wherever they may be."

Program Note

from the Nimbus CD (Nimbus Alliance NI 6258)

The deep, more intense mien of Pilgrim Soul strikes an introspective note. Scored for the unusual combination of cor anglais and two violins, it takes its title from a line in W.B. Yeats' poem "When you are old", and indeed, the poem itself acted as the spur for the work's meditative character. The cor anglais is very much a primus inter pares voice, with the two violins either shadowing the wind instrument's ruminations or goading it into greater flights of eloquence. The generally more open, diatonic harmonic environment that the music inhabits here emphasizes the work's sense of a long, continuous, Mahler-like song without words. As it finally subsides, one senses that the song may not be done yet: it could start up again in another long, lyrical wave.

— Paul Pellay

Selected Reviews

Katherine Buzard, Chicago Classical Review "Next was a piece by Ear Taxi founder Augusta Read Thomas called Pilgrim Soul (2011) for English horn and two violins. Taking its name from a line of William Butler Yeats’s poem “When you are old,” Pilgrim Soul features three independent but interconnected voices, the wistful strains of the English horn at the center. Ertz played with moving lyricism."

Louis Harris, Third Coast Review, October 2, 2021 "Pilgrim Soul, a trio for two violins and English horn, creates a reflective aural pallet. A soulful wail on English Horn is soon joined by the violins playing backing chords in a drone-like fashion. This music is very characteristic of how Thomas can achieve..."

Gary Higginson, Review: Augusta Read Thomas - Chamber & Piano Works (Nimbus NI 6261)
"Listening to Pilgrim Soul, scored for cor anglais and two violins, is indeed something approaching a spiritual experience. The tension I have detected in the earlier pieces is prevalent here in the way Thomas uses harmony, dynamics and counterpoint. The cor anglais seems at times to anticipate the violin lines or to initiate them. The work is based on a poem of Yeats." (Nimbus Alliance NI 6261)

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Augusta Read Thomas's works, please contact G. Schirmer Inc..