The New York Philharmonic presents the World Premiere of One Sweet Morning by John Corigliano

Alan Gilbert, who led Mahler’s “Resurrection” Symphony in the orchestra’s official 9/11 commemoration concert, now turns to one of New York’s great composers for a contemporary view of the human condition. The world première of John Corigliano’s “One Sweet Morning,” a meditation on war and peace which makes use of texts by Homer, Miłosz, Li Po, and the eponymous poem by Yip Harburg, features the beloved mezzo-soprano Stephanie Blythe; music by Dvořák (the richly moving Seventh Symphony) and by Corigliano’s mentor Samuel Barber rounds out the program. (Sept. 30 and Oct. 1 at 8 and Oct. 4 at 7:30.)

The events commemorating the 10th anniversary of the terrorist attacks in New York include a premiere of a work by American composer John Corigliano, set to a poem by the late Czesław Miłosz.

Entitled One Sweet Morning, the piece is a commission from Alan Gilbert, Music Director of the New York Philharmonic.

Each of the work’s four movements is set to a poem from a different age and country, sung by mezzo-soprano Stephanie Blythe.

The first is A Song on the End of the World by the Polish Nobel Prize winning poet Czesław Miłosz, written in Warsaw in 1944 in an English translation by his son, Anthony.

The remaining words include a section of Homer’s Iliad ,War South of the Great Wall by the 8th century Chinese poet Li Po and One Sweet Morning by Edgar Yipsel ‘Yip’ Harburg, the lyricist of The Wizard of Oz and Finian’s Rainbow.

The work will be premiered at the New York Philharmonic on 30 September, with two more performances, on 1 and 4 of October. (mk/pg)

Czesław Miłosz - A Song On the End of the World

On the day the world ends
A bee circles a clover,
A fisherman mends a glimmering net.
Happy porpoises jump in the sea,
By the rainspout young sparrows are playing
And the snake is gold-skinned as it should always be.
On the day the world ends
Women walk through the fields under their umbrellas,
A drunkard grows sleepy at the edge of a lawn,
Vegetable peddlers shout in the street
And a yellow-sailed boat comes nearer the island,
The voice of a violin lasts in the air
And leads into a starry night.
And those who expected lightning and thunder
Are disappointed.
And those who expected signs and archangels' trumps
Do not believe it is happening now.
As long as the sun and the moon are above,
As long as the bumblebee visits a rose,
As long as rosy infants are born
No one believes it is happening now.
Only a white-haired old man, who would be a prophet
Yet is not a prophet, for he's much too busy,
Repeats while he binds his tomatoes:
No other end of the world will there be,
No other end of the world will there be.


Programme Note

Text: Milosz, Homer, Li Po, Harburg

Notes on One Sweet Morning JOHN CORIGLIANO

When Alan Gilbert asked me to write a work commemorating the 10th anniversary of “9/11”, I frankly had no idea what to do. I did know what not to do, and that was to write a piece of abstract orchestral music.

Alan wanted a large-scale work – approximately a half hour in length. While I could see writing an orchestral meditation, I could not see extending that to a half-hour (Mahler notwithstanding.) 

And if I wrote a work that had meditative sections, but also dramatic and extroverted sections, then I would fall into a terrible trap. So many in the audience of this piece will have images of the frightful day itself—jet liners crashing into the World Trade Center, people jumping to their deaths from the top of the buildings, and the final collapse of the towers themselves—burned into their retinas. How can one hear music of any dramatic surges without imagining these events accompanying the music—or vice versa? Inevitably, the piece would become a tone poem of that unimaginable day – something I never intended and did not want. Yet how could I instruct the audience to ignore their own memories?

Obviously, then, I needed to write a piece with words. I needed other images both to refute and complement the all-too-vivid ones we’d bring with us into the concert hall. But which images: and how would they pertain to the subject, as well as each other? 

The answer was as obvious as it was dispiriting. Ten years later, that day is more calmly remembered as just one in a continuum of terrible days. September 11th, 2001 was discrete and specific: but war and its anguishes have been with us forever. I needed a cycle of songs that would embed 9/11 into that larger story. So I chose four poems (one of them part of an epic poem) from different ages and countries.

The first poem— Czeslaw Milosz’s “A Song on the End of the World,” written in Warsaw in 1944— sets a tranquil scene: a vista of serenity that still hints at the possibility of chaos to come. The poet’s descriptions of everyday matters turn chilling when he notes, “No one believes it is happening now.” My setting for these words is hushed and motionless, never rising in volume and intensity. 

Shattering the calm is the second poem: that portion of Homer’s Iliad chronicling a massacre led by the Greek prince Patroclus. Each kill is described in detail; the music, too, strives for the brutal and unsparing. 

“War South of the Great Wall,” by the 8th century poet Li Po, follows. Its cool, atmospheric language views a bloody battle from a great remove: warriors seem to “swarm like armies of ants.” The narrator’s poise collapses only when she reveals “my husband – my sons – you’ll find them all there, out where war-drums throb and throb.” Her anguish, and the battle that is its cause, surge in an orchestral interlude, climaxing with the orchestra alone meditating on the narrator’s themes. 

The orchestra, diminishing in intensity, introduces the poem that gives the cycle its name: “One Sweet Morning,” by E. Y. (“Yip”) Harburg, a name that might surprise audiences who know it principally from his sparkling lyrics for such plays and movies as “The Wizard of Oz” and “Finian’s Rainbow.” But Harburg also wrote a few volumes of light and not-so-light verse, and it was in one of those that I came upon this deep and tender lyric.

“One Sweet Morning” ends the cycle with the dream of a world without war – an impossible dream, perhaps, but certainly one worth dreaming. In this short poem, Harburg paints a beautiful scene where “the rose will rise…spring will bloom…peace will come….one sweet morning.”


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