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About the John Harbison Canon

“Thirteen panels, a pause for the staircase, then six panels. Each panel a given height and width, and most likely seen from a distance of at least twenty feet. The music and staves clear; the panels opaque. The railing running the length of the new upper story.

To these visual conditions, certain other imperatives might be added — the need to evoke music’s origins, a ceremonial or permanent reference. Thus the music is a canon at the fifth, allowing both parts, with different clefs, to be graphically equivalent, allowing each panel to be half new, half old. The melody is based on the ancient Gregorian chant tune for Veni Creator Spiritus, one of the oldest musical texts we possess.

One panel was auditioned; or more precisely, eye-balled, in my living room at twenty feet away. Though predominantly a graphic event, the music can be performed by voices and/or instruments.

It was a pleasure to be able to donate this unusual hybrid composition to MIT Music and Theater Arts, and I am glad that Cherry and Mary Emerson’s generosity has made its integration into the Library a reality.”

Program notes by John Harbison, Institute Professor of Music from program for the Dedication of the Rosalind Denny Lewis Music Library December 4, 1996

sheet music of the John Harbison Canon, page 1

sheet music for the John Harbison Canon