Flashes and Illuminations

Song Collection

Flashes and Illuminations is a song cycle for baritone and piano which sets the poetry of American poets Elizabeth Bishop, Michael Fried, and William Carlos Williams as well as Italian poet Eugene Montale and Polish poet Czesław Miłosz.

Date: 1996Composer: John HarbisonText: Elizabeth Bishop, Michael Fried, William Carlos Williams

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Composer's Note

Flashes and Illuminations was commissioned by Reader’s Digest/Meet the Composer for baritone Sanford Sylvan and pianist David Breitman. Honoring their long musical partnership, I composed a piece that falls equally to pianist and singer, from poets who invite sustained reflection.

The title comes, in part, form the “Flashes and Dedications” section of Eugenio Montale’s book La Bufera (The Storm), in which the poem “Sulla Greve” appears (the Greve is a small river near Florence). For Montale, the “flash” is a momentary perception of the natural world or a human interaction that brings sudden insight.

Each poem suggested to me a Montalean flash: sudden, muted lightning on the horizon.

–John Harbison


1. On the Greve (Eugene Montale)
2. Chemin de Fer (Elizabeth Bishop)
3. The Winds of Dawn (Michael Fried)
4. Cirque d’Hiver (Elizabeth Bishop)
5. To Be Recited to Flossie on Her Birthday (William Carlos Williams)
6. December 1 (Czesław Miłosz)

Sheet Music

Flashes and Illuminations

Composer(s): John Harbison

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