JOHN HARBISON | The Nine Rasas

Composer John Harbison

Tracks 15-19 | 19:40
Eran Egozy, clarinet
Noriko Futagami, viola
Yukiko Ueno Egozy, piano

Citing his most important influences as the Bach Cantatas, Stravinsky (whom he met in Santa Fe in 1963) and jazz, John Harbison’s music is distinguished by its exceptional invention and deeply expressive range. He has written for every conceivable type of concert genre, ranging from the grand opera to the most intimate; pieces that embrace jazz along with the classical forms. His prolific, personal, and greatly admired music written for the voice encompasses a catalogue of over 70 works including opera, choral, voice with orchestra, and chamber/solo works.


I was reading about the court of Ibrahim Adil Shah II, in the Indian kingdom of Bihapur, near the end of the seventeenth century. Ibrahim was a poet, lute player-singer, scholar, chess master, and patron of the arts. He invited many artists and craftsmen to join his court, where he led them in a quest to develop a theory of aesthetics which would reconcile ancient Greek theories of the humors of the body with the Sanskrit concept of the Nine Rasas. (Ibrahim wished to cross the Muslim divide between Shia and Sunni in exploring his own religious ideas, and became devoted to Hinduism, adopting for himself the Sanskrit title Jagatguru — World Teacher.)

The Nine Rasas and their application to the arts, especially music, became the theme of Ibrahim’s reign. I discerned from further reading that the music performed in that court (often danced as well) was received very physically, often aided by trance, drugs, and hallucination. It interested me especially that the Rasas were conceived as flavors, essences; and seem not to have been described, as in their inevitable appearance within our modern self-help movements, as moods, and emotions.

In my quest to write music of diverse musical characters, and as part of a continuing wayward interest in Hindu culture, I knew even before studying the concept of the Nine Rasas that I would write a piece with that title. I approach such a piece with no intention of a touristic borrowing from the musical speech of that culture, but rather with the pleasure of seizing a musical opportunity. In doing so I am aware of the tradition of long study toward the mastery of these “states” and the countering of them with their opposites or complements, nothing of which I claim to have undertaken, beyond the mirroring of such a practice in the sequences of my movements.

Deep into his dreamy pleasurable contemplation of aesthetic harmonies, lax about practical affairs of government, Ibrahim’s sultanate was overrun by his tough rival Malik Ambar, his city burned, his libraries shredded. It is amazing we still have some remains.

The opportunity to write this piece came from Eran Egozy, my friend and now colleague at Music and Theatre Arts MIT, whose clarinet playing I have long admired, most recently as principal in the splendid Emmanuel Music Performance of my opera, The Great Gatsby, and whose early musical development I once had opportunity to harry and encourage. The three performers in the first performance: Eran, Noriko Herndon, and Yukiko Ueno, all longtime musical companions, have been happily in mind throughout work on The Nine Rasas.

– John Harbison


The Nine Rasas was commissioned by Eran and Yukiko Egozy.


Video of world premiere performance (May 7, 2016)


© 2016 by Associated Music Publishers, Inc. (BMI) New York, NY