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John Harbison

Publisher: AMP

Abraham (for double chorus and strings) (2004)
Text Writer
Bible: Genesis 17: 1-4
Associated Music Publishers Inc
Chorus and Orchestra/Ensemble
Year Composed
arr. 2019
6 Minutes
double SATB choir
Unavailable Explain this...
Programme Note
John Harbison Abraham (for double chorus and strings) (2004)

Related works:
   Abraham (for double chorus and brass)
   Abraham (for double chorus and strings)

Composer Note:
The Vatican is both ancient and very modern. As I worked toward this piece, issues familiar to Palestrina mingled with speed of light communication. Just a few weeks before the performance of Abraham, Pope John Paul II issued a chirography on sacred music that affirms the continuing importance of Gregorian chant in the composition of new works.

Abraham reflects this conjunction of the ancient and the new. The Old Testament text was chosen by a present-day committee including the Pope himself, his close associates, and Sir Gilbert Levine, conductor-architect of the concert. The committee listened to a number of motets I had composed for the Emmanuel Choir in Boston, and their reactions influenced the particular combination of old and new elements present in the piece: triadic harmony of an especially ancient cast, fused with recent formal and rhythmic concepts.

Abraham is constructed to embody musically what is necessary culturally and politically; the contemporary melding of ancient traditions is the essential first step toward peace in the twenty-first century. John Paul II, whose views on theological issues were conservative, remained steadfastly radical in his pacifism. In his address at the conclusion of the concert he emphasized points of congruency between Judaism, Islam, and Christianity: veneration for the Patriarch Abraham, and the resurrection of the dead. “Nourished by these convictions," he maintained, "Jews, Muslims, and Christians cannot accept that the earth be afflicted by hatred or that humanity be overwhelmed by endless wars.”

It was a privilege to offer Abraham for the Papal Concert of Reconciliation in January 2004.

In December 2018 I made a reduction, for practical purposes, from the original large symphonic brass section to string nonet, for performance by Emmanuel Music on April 27, 2019.

— John Harbison , March 2019

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