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John Harbison

Publisher: AMP

North and South (for voice and ensemble) (2000)
Text Writer
Elizabeth Bishop
Associated Music Publishers Inc
Soloist(s) and Large Ensemble (7 or more players)
Year Composed
15 Minutes
Solo Instrument(s)
Mezzo-soprano [=soprano]

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Programme Note
John Harbison North and South (for voice and ensemble) (2000)
Composer Note:
North and South is a cycle of six settings of poems by Elizabeth Bishop, composed between 1995 and 1999. 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 because she sang big words well....As for music in general; I’d love to be a composer." After this rhetorical opening comes a setting of a typically elusive love-and-loneliness Bishop incantation, Late Air. The [text of the] third song, Breakfast Song, was not published. It was transcribed, in progress, by Lloyd Schwartz during a visit to Bishop while she was in the hospital.

— John Harbison

  • Ensemble
    Chicago Chamber Musicians
    Lorraine Hunt Lieberson and Emily Lodine, mezzo-sopranos
John Harbison is disinclined toward experimentalism, but he works in an idiom that is decidedly user-friendly...His song cycle North and South proudly displays its American roots, especially in the periodic use of blues archetypes.

In setting poems of Elizabeth Bishop, he elegantly shapes the music to the natural contours of the text, always beautifully rendered by the superb soprano Tony Arnold...

Michael Cameron, Chicago Tribune,01/01/0001
American composer John Harbison's chamber ensemble version of his 2000 Elizabeth Bishop poem settings, North and South, was commissioned and premiered by Chicago Chamber Musicians in 2001...The darkness and black humor of Bishop's poetry and the scoring for lower strings and winds seems better served by a lower vocal register in these lovely songs.
Andrew Patner, Chicago Sun Times,01/01/0001
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