• John Harbison
  • Quintet for Winds (1979)

  • Associated Music Publishers Inc (World)
  • fl, ob, cl, bn, hn
  • 23 min

Programme Note

Composer note:

Quintet, the Naumburg Foundation commission, was a welcome opportunity, because I admired Aulos’s playing, because I had been writing a string of impractical pieces, and because I regarded the writing of a quintet for woodwinds as challenging. It is not a naturally felicitous combination of instruments, such as a string quartet. I was determined to deal in mixtures rather than counterpoints, and to strive for a classical simplicity of surface – to maximize what I felt to be the great strength of the combination, the ability to present things clearly. The piece especially emphasizes mixtures and doublings and maintains a classically simple surface. It is extremely challenging to play, and one of the principal rewards of the piece has been the opportunity to work with a number of resourceful, inquisitive, and fearless wind players in the mutually beneficial expansion of their repertory.

Ever since Marsyas, a flute-playing satyr engaged in competition with the string player Apollo, was flayed alive for being unable to sing and play at the same time, wind players have been sentenced to forage in a sparse and undernourished musical literature. Now things are changing. Wind players, forced to be part of the musical present, are shaping a future for themselves through their energy and advocacy of new compositions. The collaboration with the Aulos's Quintet has been rewarding, composer and performer enjoying and needing each other’s skills. Aulos's Quintet gave the first performance in Boston’s Jordan Hall on April 15, 1979, and subsequently recorded it for CRI. The piece has been performed by many groups – most notably the Emmanuel Wind Quintet, who have performed it over forty times and gave the first New York City performance in 1980.

--John Harbison

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