On today’s date in 1986, at the New England Conservatory of Music’s Jordan Hall, a new choral work by the American composer John Harbison received its premiere performance.
This work, for soprano, baritone, chorus, and chamber orchestra, was entitled “The Flight into Egypt,” and would win the Pulitzer Prize for Music the following year.
The text for Harbison’s cantata is taken from the Gospel of Matthew -- Chapter 2, verses 13-23 in the King James Version -- and describes the Holy Family’s escape into Egypt after the birth of Jesus and King Herod’s subsequent slaughter of all new-born male children in an attempt to kill this newly-arrived threat to his throne.
“'The Flight,'" recalled Harbison, “began in a conversation with colleagues about Christmas texts. We talked about counseling experiences during Christmas season at Emmanuel Church, Boston, where we were all involved as musicians -- a time when need, isolation, and anxiety increase. We agreed that the darker side of Christmas needs representation, especially now, as the distance widens between the privileged and the less fortunate.
“At the beginning of 'The Flight into Egypt,'" Harbison continues, “is an oboe melody, long and florid, even rather exotic and forlorn, which is imitated by the other reed players. I subtitled this work a ‘sacred ricercar’ (ricercar meaning something in the texture to be searched out), the piece constantly hides and reveals its loyalty to the first elaborate oboe melody that guides the whole journey.”
Music Played in Today's Program
John Harbison (b. 1938)Flight into EgyptCantata Singers and Ensemble; David Hoose, cond.New World 80395