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John Harbison

Publisher: AMP

IF (monodrama for soprano and ensemble) (2017)
Commissioned by Boston Musica Viva in honor of the 50th Anniversary of Boston Musica Viva, the Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival, and the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center.
Work Notes
Available for performances after March 2020.
Text Writer
Friedrich Hölderlin, translated from the German by the composer
Associated Music Publishers Inc
Soloists and Large Ensemble (7+ players)
Year Composed
15 Minutes
Unavailable Explain this...
Programme Note
John Harbison IF (monodrama for soprano and ensemble) (2017)
Composer note:
My first orchestra piece, Diotima (1975), comes from the early stages of a lifelong preoccupation with the poetry of Friedrich Hölderlin (1770-1843). The poem, Diotima, partakes of the poet's recreation, in his Odes and Elegies, of the ideals of Ancient Greece.

In his mid-thirties, under increasing pressure from the intensity of his imaginative and spiritual ambitions, and his chaotic personal life, Hölderlin's mental stability collapsed. A carpenter and admirer of his poetry, Ernst Zimmer, compassionately sheltered him, as it turned out, for forty-three years (over half the poet's life). Hölderlin continued to write, in a very different manner: simpler, more naive, but still eloquent. The poem, If from the Distance (Wenn aus der Ferne) is one of the first poems of this after-period. It is evidently written in the voice of Susette Gontard, the great love of the poet's life, saying what he would have longed, in vain, for her to say to him. Their separation and her subsequent sudden death were central to his mental breakdown, and the poem appears to be the only treatment of that situation during his long existence in Zimmer's cottage.

My determination to set the poem in English precipitated various attempts at translating it, finally completed during two weeks in Dresden in 2015, the process indivisible from the making of the monodrama, IF, as a piece of music.

— John Harbison

[Marc] Neikrug said it's difficult to describe If. ("How would you describe green?" he asked), but he calls it a dramatic and "emotionally engaging" piece. When he first listened to the work, he said he was enamoured by its final minutes. "They just take you someplace else," Neikrug said. "Magical."
Albuquerque Journal,14/07/2019
Harbison's vocal line is more dramatic than lyrical…moving from woe to bitterness to irony with perfect conviction and plausibility.…The instrumental setting is, in Harbison's customary manner, formally lucid, balanced, evocative of earlier music without imitating it. It has a refrain that emerges between stanzas, and the climax in the penultimate stanza is, both in the vocal and instrumental parts, completely satisfying.
Vance R. Koven, Boston Musical Intelligencer,22/10/2018
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