Six American Painters was commissioned by radio station WGUC Cincinnati in honor of Ann Santen, for performance by Cincinnati Symphony principal flutist Randall Bowman. Bowman gave the first performance on the Linton Music Series, April 14, 2002, with Timothy Lees, violin, Michael Strauss, viola, and Eric Kim, cello.
Each of the movements was begun as a musical description of six paintings in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Eventually they ranged further and it seemed more helpful to name them for the painters rather than for the specific paintings.
I wanted to evoke the artists' after-images, rather than any of the individual paintings. When you look at a picture, you take away with you a general impression, a mood or color, that dominates the details; in music, on the other hand, one is apt to remember the details, a tune or a harmony. I wanted these movements to be a perceivable whole, an act of seeing.
Most of my viewing was done at the Metropolitan Museum in New York. Like many musicians, I've always felt that looking at art has been the least alert of the things I do. I hoped to develop my visual sense; I did a lot of research, and I spent many hours looking at paintings.
The movements tend toward brevity. I had two intentions: not too slow, and not too long.
I also made, for the oboist Peggy Pearson, a version of oboe and strings, replacing one of the movements, adapting others. She gave its first performance on the Winsor Music Series with Bayla Keyes, violin, Mary Ruth Ray, viola, and Rhonda Rider, cello.
The movements are as follows:
IV. Homer (flute)
— John Harbison
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