The Right to Pleasure

Song Collection

The Right to Pleasure is a song cycle by John Harbison setting the poetry of Jessica Fisher.

Date: 2013Composer: John HarbisonText: Jessica Fisher

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Composer Note

The Right to Pleasure


The Right to Pleasure is a song cycle by John Harbison setting the poetry of Jessica Fisher.

Composer note:

The Right to Pleasure is a set of songs based on four poems by Jessica Fisher, from her book Frail-Craft (2007). I owe the discovery of this remarkable book to Louis Glück, who generously shared, in the form of the books themselves, her work with the Yale Series of Younger Poets.

Each song is dedicated to a singer:

1)    My Russian Lullaby: Jazimina Macneil

2)    The Right to Pleasure: Lynn Torgove

3)    Brancusi’s Head: Abigail Levis

4)    Flayed: Janice Felty

Two of these singers, Felty and Torgove, have sung my pieces over many years. Levis and Macneil are talented young mezzos I met during my teaching at Songfest, Los Angeles. It was there that a reading of two of the movements by the excellent duo of Kasia Sadek and Lisa Stepanova suggested that an eventual alternate version of the piece, for singer and string ensemble, would be desirable.

I believe that song, in the concert music world, must be a very inclusive medium, embracing everything from unaccompanied folk song to maximum intricacy of texture and ranginess of affect. Nevertheless, I was surprised by the blizzard of sound that sprung from the second and fourth songs at the first performance, by Kasia Sadek and Mark McNeill.

What the composer wants from every poet they enlist (without their compliance except at a pure business level) is to find a way to a kind of piece they hadn’t written before. The imagined second version of the piece, with string quintet or string orchestra, was prepared for Network for New Music, Philadelphia, for a premiere on April 6, 2014.

— John Harbison

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