• John Harbison
  • Milosz Songs (soprano and orchestra) (2006)

  • Associated Music Publishers Inc (World)
  • 3(pic.afl).2(ca).2(bcl).2(cbn)/2.2.2(btbn).0/timp.3perc/hp.cel/str
  • Soprano
  • 34 min
  • Czeslaw Milosz
  • English

Programme Note

The published vocal score differs from the orchestral score; they are not to be used together. A vocal score for orchestral performances is available from the Rental Library.

Prologue: from Lauda
1. A Task
2. Encounter
3. You Who Wronged
4. When the Moon
5. O!
6. What Once Was Great
7. So Little
8. On Old Women
Epilogue: from Winter
Post-Epilogue: Rays of Dazzling Light

Composer Note
Milosz Songs were commissioned by the New York Philharmonic for performance by Dawn Upshaw — my first piece for the orchestra, my fourth for her. Writing for Dawn Upshaw has always encouraged me to try new things. This piece surrounds the singer with a concertino group of six players: three flutes, vibraphone, harp, and celeste. This concertino plays an important, varied role in every song. I thought of these players as satellites revolving around the path of the singer.

Milosz's poems are Epilogues for the twentieth century. He was witness to its most harrowing events. He draws us, unready, as he was, into the great sweep of that history. Always, he reacts, as in "Encounter," not "in sorrow, but in wonder."

As a reader I return again and again to such fierce, cunning, sweeping, mid-length poems as "Preparation," "Ars Poetica?," "No More," "Counsels." As a composer I am drawn to fragmentary short lyrics, grateful for their elusive melody, their barely reconciled dissonant elements, their embrace of the everyday.

In 1994, I made my first Milosz setting, "December 1" (part of Flashes and Illuminations for baritone and piano). That poem concludes:

I describe this for I have learned to doubt philosophy:
    and the visible world is all that remains.

Czeslaw Milosz was born in Szetejnie, Lithuania in 1911. He was part of the Polish Resistance movement during World War II, and was the cultural attachée with the Polish Embassy in Paris. He defected to France in 1951. From 1960 to 1999 he taught at the University of California, Berkeley.

Milosz received the Nobel Prize for literature in 1980. He died in Krakow in January 2004.

During his half-century in the US, Milosz became involved in the translation of his poems. Working with students and colleagues, as well as by himself, he produced vivid English versions.

I am grateful to Harper Collins Books for permission to use these translations from the Polish originals.

— John Harbison


Dawn Upshaw, soprano; Boston Modern Orchestra Project




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