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Name of Work

Harbison, John (1938-)
Twilight Music for horn, piano, and violin

Con moto, flessibile - Presto - Antiphon: tempo giusto - Adagio, cantabile


Sep 25, 2005

Gail Williams, Horn
Joseph Genualdi, Violin
James Giles, Piano

Sep 26, 2005

Gail Williams, Horn
Joseph Genualdi, Violin
James Giles, Piano

HARBISON-Twilight Music

Composed in 1984

Longtime CCM friend John Harbison is one of America's most distinguished artistic figures. Among his principal compositions are four string quartets, four symphonies, the cantata The Flight into Egypt (Pulitzer Prize 1987), and three operas, including The Great Gatsby, commissioned by the Metropolitan Opera and premiered to great acclaim in 1999. (It was presented by Lyric Opera of Chicago in 2000.) Harbison's music is characterized by its exceptional resourcefulness and expressive range. He has written for every conceivable type of concert performance, ranging from the grandest to the most intimate, pieces that embrace jazz along with classical forms. He is also a gifted commentator on the art and craft of composition.

Harbison's 1999 song cycle North and South (Six Poems by Elizabeth Bishop) was commissioned by the Chicago Chamber Musicians and premiered by the group at Chicago's Museum of Contemporary Art in May 2001 as part of the first Composer Perspectives series. The cycle is dedicated jointly to mezzo-soprano Lorraine Hunt Lieberson, who gave the world premiere with CCM, and to mezzo-soprano Janice Felty.

Two major new works highlight Harbison's 2005-06 season: songs commissioned by the New York Philharmonic for Dawn Upshaw and a Double-Bass Concerto commissioned by the International Society of Double Bassists for a consortium of orchestras. Other recent compositions include an overture for the Boston Symphony to celebrate James Levine's first season as music director; Symphony No. 4 for the Seattle Symphony; a Piano Trio for the Amelia Trio, performed in Chicago last April at Ravinia and on WFMT; Four Psalms, commissioned for the Chicago Symphony to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the State of Israel; and the motet Abraham for the Papal Concert of Reconciliation in Rome.

Harbison has served as composer-in-residence for several U.S. orchestras and festivals and is active as a conductor of both orchestras and choirs. In 1998 he won the Heinz Award for the Arts and Humanities, a prize established in honor of the late Pennsylvania senator John Heinz by his wife, Teresa. The composer has also been honored by the Kennedy Center, Harvard University, and the MacArthur Foundation. Furthering the work of young composers is one of his prime interests: he serves on the boards of directors of the Copland Fund (as president) and the Koussevitzky Foundation.

He composed Twilight Music in 1984, resurrecting an instrumentation used most famously by Brahms in his Op. 40 Trio, a work that seems to seek reconciliation and fusion among three very different instrumental timbres. Brahms achieved his goal partly through his preference for the natural horn – not that newfangled and louder-toned valve horn – and through the mediating influence of his piano part, whose rich chords support the horn-violin dialogue (or argument). The approach taken by Harbison is rather different. He thinks the horn and the violin meet best under the cover of dusk. "[They] have little in common. Any merging must be trompe l'oreille [deceiving the ear], and they share material mainly to show how differently they project it." The piano, meanwhile, takes a commentator's role, punctuating the wind and string lines with seemingly random chords, or going off and exploring motives of its own. In view of Harbison's statement about the horn and violin meeting “casually at the beginning and part[ing] rather formally at the end," one could interpret the piece as a dating relationship between temperamental opposites that eventually goes awry because of fundamental misunderstanding, with the keyboard player fulfilling the role of a somewhat wayward and disengaged chaperone.

The "flexible" section begins with a dreamy dialogue between horn and violin. The piano contributes soft, plinking chords. A brief unison theme leads to a fast-moving passage for all three players, dancing through their full ranges. There are a couple of mini-cadenzas for the piano before the free-form, ruminative dialogue returns and earlier motives are re-considered; in Harbison's own words, horn and violin "follow the piano into a presto, which dissolves into the twilight half-tones that named the piece." The composer identifies the Antiphon movement as the "crux" of the piece. The dialogue here starts out rather deliberately, with horn and violin each having its own "say" about the musical material, reinforcing what the composer meant about how differently each player presents similar ideas. The piano again speaks separately, for the most part, though toward the movement's end motives are shared among all three. Placing the slowest-paced movement, Adagio cantabile, at the end of the piece somehow points out the odd relationships and erratic paces that have gone before. Both horn and violin are granted solo statements, almost arias, with piano accompaniment. Then the horn makes an aggressive assertion, picked up by the violin in its highest register, with the addition of chromatic twists and turns. The piano provides restrained commentary as the Adagio gradually fades away, like twilight evanescing into night.

Program Notes written by Andrea Lamoreaux

Performance date: September 25 & 26, 2005

Performance Audio