John Harbison

John Harbison

1938 -

The vocal works of John Harbison include operas (such as A Winter's Tale and Full Moon in March) and song cycles. His opera The Great Gatsby was written for the Metropolitan Opera to celebrate James Levine's 25th year with the company. Of significant importance and beauty is his cycle Mottetti di Montale of 1980, which is "an engagement with Eugenio Montale’s love poems that recalls the Müller cycles of Schubert." (David St George, New Grove Dictionary)

Photo: John Harbison, G. Schirmer website, Katrin Talbot (Madison, WI)

Kyle Ferrill, baritone and Jennifer Snyder, piano, performed Harbison's "The Flute of Interior Time" at SongFest 2006. The YouTube video of that performance, provided in the media player to the right, is made possible through a collaboration between the Hampsong Foundation and SongFest.


Born in Orange, New Jersey, Harbison was influenced by jazz at an early age, playing piano in a jazz band at the age of 11. As he began to study composition, Bach and his cantatas played a key role in his development. He studied at Harvard, then in Berlin and Princeton. Another important musical event in Harbison's life was a summer spent in Santa Fe, observing rehearsals and performances of the complete Stravinsky operas.

Harbison became a professor at the Masschusetts Institute for Technology in 1969, serving as composer-in-residence with the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra and Los Angeles Symphony Orchestra during his professorship. After winning the Pulitzer Prize in 1987 for The Flight Into Egypt, Harbison won the MacArthur Fellowship as well as the Heinz Award.

Chords derived from jazz as well as shifting tonal centers (such as those found in Britten and Stravinsky) and allusive background elements play major roles in Harbison's songs and song cycles. Harbison also has an extensive number of instrumental pieces, merging eclectic elements from various stylistic periods into a cohesive and beautiful musical whole.

--Christie Finn

Songs & Song Collections BY Harbison (entered to date)

Audio PLaylist


CD / DVD / MP3