• John Harbison
  • Magnum Mysterium (1987)

  • Associated Music Publishers Inc (World)
  • 2tpt, hn, tbn, tba
  • 16 min

Programme Note

First performance:
January 15, 1989
Saturday Brass Quintet
Merkin Concert Hall
New York, NY

Composer note:
Magnum Mysterium, for brass quintet, is a group of four meditations far removed from the outgoing, brilliant character often associated with the medium. Its existence owes much to encouragement of the Saturday Brass Quintet, who commissioned the work and is giving its first performance, assuring the composer of the viability of such a piece in the brass quintet literature.

The opening movement begins with a calm and sonorous choral statement, destined to return at the close of the piece. These lead to trance-like, floating melismas in the trumpets, while the lower voices continue the chorale-like chords of the opening.

The second movement pastoral is at one simple in character and complex in structure; most of the material returns at least once, but the ordering of these returns is unpredictable and the most straightforward rhythms clothe the richest harmonies.

The only fast movement, the third, is conceived as an antiphon, with calls and answers tumbling upon each other, fading away, re-grouping and finally dissolving.

The final section takes up and transforms the pealing of the previous movement, and resolves it into a sustained incantation, in which the reflective, inward character of the pieces as a whole is clear.

— John Harbison

This work was formerly known as the Christmas Concerto.

Pastoral — Berceuse