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John Harbison

Publisher: AMP

Cortège (2008)
Commissioned by Bradford and Dorothea Endicott for Frank Epstein and the New England Conservatory Percussion Ensemble
Associated Music Publishers Inc
Works for 2-6 Players
Sub Category
Percussion Ensemble
Year Composed
15 Minutes
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Programme Note
John Harbison Cortège (2008)
As soon as I began considering this percussion piece my dear and irreplaceable friend Donald Sur took his place in it. This it not the moment to try to describe Donald Sur as composer (with a unique ear for the incantatory power of percussion instruments) or as comrade (ideally the piece has some of that, even some anger, after ten years, at losing him).

This piece took a long time in conception, very little at the writing desk, where each of the three movements was essentially written straight out. The first was a drafted during a reception for one of MIT’s most distinguished professors, Millie Dresselhaus, on party-favor postcards, in green crayon. The second, which refers most directly to Donald Sur’s oblique sensibility, was mostly written on the Eastern Regional train.

I had expected to be writing the piece in Italy, a trip that was unexpectedly cancelled. The place I had rented in Umbria was between two churches, who were to ring their bells at least hourly from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. The agency issued a provident warning to their composer client, but I actually like the idea. It became part of the rhymes, refrains, and rituals of this cortege, closing out the third movement.

— John Harbison

Sample Pages

This item is available via Print on Demand from the G. Schirmer Library.

Set: $45

  • 26 FEB 2011
    Eugene, OR
    University of Oregon
    Sean Wagoner, conductor

    Other Dates:
    8,14 April - Eugene, OR
  • 01 MAY 2009
    MIT Tribute to John Harbison
    Cambridge, MA
    Massachusetts Institute of Technology
    Fred Harris, conductor
  • 01 MAY 2009
    Cambridge, MA
    MIT Wind Ensemble
    Fred Harris, conductor
  • 25 NOV 2008
    Madison, WI
    University Of Wisconsin
  • 13 APR 2008
    Cortège World Premiere
    Boston, MA
    New England Conservatory Percussion Ensemble
    Frank Epstein, conductor

Cortège (2008) by John Harbison (born 1938) is a tribute to his fellow composer, Donald Sur (1935-1999)… he crafts a tribute that mixes loving elements (which listeners will expect) with some rather angry ones (which they will not). Cortège may have more personal resonance for Harbison than for a general audience, but its use of percussion is certainly adept.,11/08/2011
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