• John Harbison
  • Symphony No. 6 (2011)

  • Associated Music Publishers Inc (World)
  • 3(pic)3(ca)3(bcl)3(cbn)4331timp.3perc+cimb[pr pf]str
  • Mezzo Soprano
  • 25 min

Programme Note

First performance:
January 12, 2012
Paula Murrihy, mezzo-soprano
Boston Symphony Orchestra
David Zinman, conductor
Boston, MA

Composer note:
Symphony No. 6 was commissioned by the Boston Symphony Orchestra, James Levine, Music Director. It is dedicated to James Levine in friendship and gratitude.

These two sentences are far from formalities.

The piece begins with a setting of a poem by James Wright, for high voice and chamber orchestra. In the succeeding movements the singer is no longer heard, the orchestra is significantly larger. Certain passages from the poem maintain a presence through what follows. “As long as this evening lasts,” “I hope to pay my reverence.” “This evening, in winter, I pray for the stone-eyed legions of the rain To put off their armor.” The concluding lines of the poem are rendered in terms which define much of the rest of the piece.

The first idea I wrote down was a detailed fragment which seemed very promising. This sketch was lost for over six weeks, during which I tried to reproduce it. These resulted in paraphrases and derivations — whatever I could remember of the lost material. When it was found I understood that these recollections could all find place in the piece, the original sketch would not.

Much later I was haunted by a missing sonority, a granulated, silvery sound, mysterious, even ominous, a punctuation for the end of large paragraphs. Arriving late for a class given by percussionist Nick Tolle for the Tanglewood Composition Fellows, I heard that sound. It turned out to be a Cimbalom, which plays a brief but important part of the narrative.

I am fortunate that David Zinman, who has conducted splendid performances of so many of my pieces, leads the first performances of this symphony.

— John Harbison

John Harbison
Symphony No. 6
Text: Movement I

As long as this evening lasts,
I am going to walk all through and around
The Temple of Diana.
I hope to pay my reverence to the goddess there
Whom the young Romans loved.
Though they learned her name from the dark rock
Among bearded Greeks,
It was here in the South of Gaul they found her true
To her own solitude.
For here surely the young women of Gaul
Glanced back thoughtfully over their bare
White shoulders and hurried away
Out of sight and then rose, reappearing
As vines and the pale inner hands of sycamores
In the green places.
This evening, in winter,
I pray for the stone-eyed legions of the rain
To put off their armor.
Allow me to walk between the tall pillars
And find the beginning of one vine leaf there,
Though I arrive too late for the last spring
And the rain still mounts its guard.

–James Wright
(Used by permission of the author)


View Score