The Music of Elizabeth Alexander


A sparkling orchestral work capturing the fluidity and delight of water

Maji is the Swahili word for water, but it is much more than that. Its Arabic root “ma” means not only “water,” but also “luster or splendor,” often in reference to a diamond. True to its etymological root, Maji opens with sparkle, but this bright beginning soon takes a more winding path, creating an ever-changing flow of shimmering movement.

Instrumentation: (2222, 2421, 3 percussionists, timpani, piano, strings)

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Composer Notes

Composer Notes

maji \mah’-jee\ n. [Swahili] water

This word captured my imagination at once: there, in two short syllables, was a word which held both the beauty of water, and the suggestion that it is as precious as a jewel.

In my orchestral portrayal of this magical living substance, each musical idea flows into the next naturally but unpredictably: picture a small creek in which water gurgles and bubbles, creates swirling eddies, shimmers from within its still surface, widens into a slow deep pool, and then suddenly rushes into a narrow channel. This image of flowing, continuous movement is Maji’s guiding principle; indeed, whenever musical themes make reappearances — just as in Heraclitus’ ever-changing river — they are never the same twice.



Premiere: Minnesota Philharmonic Orchestra / Joseph Schlefke (St. Paul, MN)
Saint Paul Central High School Orchestra / Matthew Oyen (St. Paul, MN)