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Name of Work

Harbison, John (1938-)
North and South (Six Poems of Elizabeth Bishop) (2001)

Ballad for Billie (I)
Late Air
Breakfast Songs
Ballad for Billie (II)
“Dear, My Compass”


May 13, 2001

Lorraine Hunt Lieberson, Mezzo-Soprano (vocal)
Larry Combs, Clarinet
William Buchman, Bassoon
Gail Williams, Horn
Deborah Sobol, Piano
Joseph Genualdi, Viola
Rami Solomonow, Viola
Christopher Costanza, Cello

HARBISON-North and South (Six Poems of Elizabeth Bishop)

Composed in 1999

John Harbison comments on his new work:
North and South is a cycle of six settings of poems by Elizabeth Bishop. It is divided into two books, each of similar proportion. Book One, dedicated to Lorraine Hunt Lieberson, begins with the first of Bishop's Four Songs for a Colored Singer. In an interview with Ashley Brown, Bishop said, "I was hoping someone would compose the tunes for them. I think I had Billie Holiday in mind. I put in a couple of big words just because she sang big words well ... As for music in general: I'd love to be a composer." After the rhetorical opening comes a setting of a typically elusive love-and-loneliness Bishop incantation, "Late Air." The third poem, "Breakfast Song," was never published. It was transcribed, in progress, by Lloyd Schwartz while visiting Bishop during a hospital stay.

Book Two, dedicated to Janice Felty, begins with another, even more emphatic, declamation from the Songs for a Colored Singer. It is followed by "Song," a poem from the time of North & South, Bishop's first book, but published later. Finally, another very private lyric, "Dear, my compass," which was discovered by Lloyd Schwartz in an inn in Ouro Preto, Brazil, an eighteenth-century mountain town where Bishop bought a house in 1965. Schwartz writes, "Here is the unmistakable voice of Elizabeth Bishop, here the fairytale vividness and coloring-book clarity of images . . . ; the geographical reference—and restlessness—of the world traveler, the delicate yet sharply etched jokes ... the apparent conversational casualness disguising the formality of the versification; the understated yet urgent sexuality; even the identification with animals."

Performed May 13, 2001 (MCA)

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