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John Harbison

Publisher: AMP

Piano Quintet (1981)
Associated Music Publishers Inc
Works for 2-6 Players
Sub Category
Mixed Ensemble
Year Composed
25 Minutes

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Programme Note
John Harbison Piano Quintet (1981)
Composer note:

The title page of the Piano Quintet (1981) bears the following dedication: “To Georgia O’Keeffe with affection and gratitude, from the artists, directors, and friends of the Santa Fe Chamber Festival.” The piece was begun at Token Creek, Wisconsin, four miles from Sun Prairie where its dedicatee, Georgia O’Keeffe, grew up. It was completed during the spring when I was resident composer at the American Academy in Rome.

Certain aims have governed my recent work, never more than in this piece: to give the medium what it requires; to strike a balance between the hermetic and the easily reachable, and make clear form of inherently complex emotion. In looking at the work of Georgia O’Keeffe it struck me that the point of contact was this characteristically American search for clarity out of complex forces. In opening my piece I thought of the unfilled parts of her canvases, the open space, and the pleasure of leaving something out.

This opening strain dominates the first movement of the quintet in spite of the energy of the contrasting material. The amplitude of the discourse is contradicted by the three concise character pieces which follow. The final elegy is, I trust, the only direct reference to difficult circumstances under which the piece was composed, reflecting in it open – ended form the unresolved questions it poses at every turn.

--John Harbison

  • Ensemble
    Apple Hill Chamber Players
    Philip Levy (Violin), Paul Cohen (Cello), Betty Hauck (Viola), Robert Merfeld (Piano), Rebecca Stout (Violin)
  • Ensemble
    Boston Symphony Chamber Players
    Jules Eskin (Cello), Burton Fine (Viola), Malcom Lowe (Violin), Lucia Lin (Violin), Gilbert Kalish (Piano)
Dedicated to Georgia O’Keeffe, this is a serious and ambitious work befitting the genre, in five movements, centered on an Intermezzo. Its gravitas again conjured notions of bigness or monumentality you might expect more in a symphonic or operatic than in any chamber realm.
Jessica Balik, San Francisco Classical Voice,17/05/2016
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