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For the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s centennial season in 1990-91—also Sir Georg Solti’s final season as music director—fourteen works were commissioned, including Sir Michael Tippett‘s Byzantium.

The work was commissioned jointly by the CSO and Carnegie Hall (also celebrating its centennial that season), and was underwritten by Mr. and Mrs. A. Watson Armour III in memory of Mrs. Armour‘s sister Anne Wood Mitchell.

Solti conducted performances at Orchestra Hall on April 11 and 13, and again at Carnegie Hall on April 15 and 18, 1991. Soprano Faye Robinson was the soloist.

The composer contributed to the program note: “My own attraction to [Yeats’s poem], as a vehicle for composition, was twofold: firstly, the crystalline intensity of the poem itself offered a challenge in setting its verbal imagery to music; secondly, I identified completely with its emphasis on the notion of artifact, enshrining values that can be set against the impermanence of the everyday world and the complexities of the human beating heart.” The text for Byzantium can be found here.

Solti, Sir Michael Tippett, and Faye Robinson receive applause following the April 15, 1991, performance in Carnegie Hall

The work was recorded live during the Carnegie Hall performances for London Records. Michael Haas was the producer, John Pellowe was the engineer, and Sally Drew was the tape editor.

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