Lou Harrison

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Lou Harrison
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Background information
Birth nameLou Silver Harrison
Born(1917-05-14)May 14, 1917
Portland, Oregon, U.S.
DiedFebruary 2, 2003(2003-02-02) (aged 85)
Lafayette, Indiana, U.S.
Genres Contemporary classical music
Occupation(s)Composer

Lou Silver Harrison (May 14, 1917 – February 2, 2003) was an American composer. He was a student of Henry Cowell, and Arnold Schoenberg. He worked with noted Javanese Gamelan musician K. P. H. Notoprojo.

United States Federal republic in North America

The United States of America (USA), commonly known as the United States or America, is a country comprising 50 states, a federal district, five major self-governing territories, and various possessions. At 3.8 million square miles, the United States is the world's third or fourth largest country by total area and is slightly smaller than the entire continent of Europe's 3.9 million square miles. With a population of over 327 million people, the U.S. is the third most populous country. The capital is Washington, D.C., and the largest city by population is New York City. Forty-eight states and the capital's federal district are contiguous in North America between Canada and Mexico. The State of Alaska is in the northwest corner of North America, bordered by Canada to the east and across the Bering Strait from Russia to the west. The State of Hawaii is an archipelago in the mid-Pacific Ocean. The U.S. territories are scattered about the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea, stretching across nine official time zones. The extremely diverse geography, climate, and wildlife of the United States make it one of the world's 17 megadiverse countries.

Composer person who creates music, either by musical notation or oral tradition

A composer is a musician who is an author of music in any form, including vocal music, instrumental music, electronic music, and music which combines multiple forms. A composer may create music in any music genre, including, for example, classical music, musical theatre, blues, folk music, jazz, and popular music. Composers often express their works in a written musical score using musical notation.

Henry Cowell American composer, music theorist, pianist, teacher, publisher, and impresario

Henry Dixon Cowell was an American composer, music theorist, pianist, teacher, publisher, and impresario. His contribution to the world of music was summed up by Virgil Thomson, writing in the early 1950s:

Henry Cowell's music covers a wider range in both expression and technique than that of any other living composer. His experiments begun three decades ago in rhythm, in harmony, and in instrumental sonorities were considered then by many to be wild. Today they are the Bible of the young and still, to the conservatives, "advanced."... No other composer of our time has produced a body of works so radical and so normal, so penetrating and so comprehensive. Add to this massive production his long and influential career as a pedagogue, and Henry Cowell's achievement becomes impressive indeed. There is no other quite like it. To be both fecund and right is given to few.

Contents

Harrison is particularly noted for incorporating elements of the music of non-Western cultures into his work, with a number of pieces written for Javanese style gamelan instruments, including ensembles constructed and tuned by Harrison and his partner William Colvig. The majority of his works are written in just intonation rather than the more widespread equal temperament. Harrison is one of the most prominent composers to have worked with microtones.

World music is a musical category encompassing many different styles of music from around the globe, which includes many genres including some forms of Western music represented by folk music, Jazz, as well as selected forms of ethnic music, indigenous music, neotraditional music, and music where more than one cultural tradition, such as ethnic music and Western popular music, intermingle.

Java island of Indonesia

Java is an island of Indonesia, bordered by the Indian Ocean on the south and the Java Sea on the north. With a population of over 141 million or 145 million, Java is the home to 56.7 percent of the Indonesian population and is the world's most populous island. The Indonesian capital city, Jakarta, is located on its northwestern coast. Much of Indonesian history took place on Java. It was the centre of powerful Hindu-Buddhist empires, the Islamic sultanates, and the core of the colonial Dutch East Indies. Java was also the center of the Indonesian struggle for independence during the 1930s and 1940s. Java dominates Indonesia politically, economically and culturally. Four of Indonesia's eight UNESCO world heritage sites are located in Java: Ujung Kulon National Park, Borobudur Temple, Prambanan Temple, and Sangiran Early Man Site.

Gamelan Indonesian traditional ensemble

Gamelan is the traditional ensemble music of Java and Bali in Indonesia, made up predominantly of percussive instruments. The most common instruments used are metallophones played by mallets and a set of hand-played drums called kendhang which register the beat. Other instruments include xylophones, bamboo flutes, a bowed instrument called a rebab, and even vocalists called sindhen.

Biography

Harrison was born in Portland, Oregon, but moved with his family to a number of locations around the San Francisco Bay Area as a child. He graduated from Burlingame High School in Burlingame, California in 1934, then he moved to San Francisco. [1] The diverse music which he was to be exposed to there, including Cantonese opera, Native American music, Mexican music, and jazz as well as classical music, was to have a major influence on him. He also heard recordings of Indonesian music early in life.

Burlingame High School (California)

Burlingame High School is a public high school in Burlingame, California, United States. It is part of the San Mateo Union High School District (SMUHSD).

Burlingame, California City in California, United States

Burlingame is a city in San Mateo County, California. It is located on the San Francisco Peninsula and has a significant shoreline on San Francisco Bay. The city is named after diplomat Anson Burlingame and is often referred to as the City of Trees due to its numerous eucalyptus groves. Burlingame is known for its high residential quality of life with a walkable downtown area and excellent public school system. In September 2018, the median home value in Burlingame was $2.3M. As of the 2010 U.S. Census, Burlingame had a population of 28,806.

Cantonese opera Chinese opera tradition originating in Guangdong province

Cantonese opera is one of the major categories in Chinese opera, originating in southern China's Guangdong Province. It is popular in Guangdong, Guangxi, Hong Kong, Macau and among Chinese communities in Southeast Asia. Like all versions of Chinese opera, it is a traditional Chinese art form, involving music, singing, martial arts, acrobatics, and acting.

Harrison took Henry Cowell's "Music of the Peoples of the World" course, and also studied counterpoint and composition with him. In 1941, he went to the University of California at Los Angeles to work at the dance department as a dancer and accompanist. While there, he took lessons from Arnold Schoenberg which led to an interest in Schoenberg's twelve-tone technique. [2] The pieces he was writing at this time, however, were largely percussive works using unconventional materials, such as car brake drums, as musical instruments. These pieces were similar to those being written by John Cage around the same time, and the two sometimes worked together.

Counterpoint relationship between voices that are harmonically interdependent (exhibiting polyphony) yet independent in rhythm and contour

In music, counterpoint is the relationship between voices that are harmonically interdependent (polyphony) yet independent in rhythm and contour. It has been most commonly identified in the European classical tradition, strongly developing during the Renaissance and in much of the common practice period, especially in the Baroque. The term originates from the Latin punctus contra punctum meaning "point against point".

Musical composition aesthetic ordering and disposing of musical information

Musical composition, or simply composition, can refer to an original piece or work of music, either vocal or instrumental, the structure of a musical piece, or to the process of creating or writing a new piece of music. People who create new compositions are called composers. Composers of primarily songs are usually called songwriters; with songs, the person who writes lyrics for a song is the lyricist. In many cultures, including Western classical music, the act of composing typically includes the creation of music notation, such as a sheet music "score," which is then performed by the composer or by other instrumental musicians or singers. In popular music and traditional music, songwriting may involve the creation of a basic outline of the song, called the lead sheet, which sets out the melody, lyrics and chord progression. In classical music, orchestration is typically done by the composer, but in musical theatre and in pop music, songwriters may hire an arranger to do the orchestration. In some cases, a pop or traditional songwriter may not use written notation at all, and instead compose the song in their mind and then play, sing and/or record it from memory. In jazz and popular music, notable sound recordings by influential performers are given the weight that written or printed scores play in classical music.

Twelve-tone technique method of musical composition devised by Arnold Schönberg to ensure that all 12 notes of the chromatic scale are equally often, so that the music avoids being in a key

The twelve-tone technique—also known as dodecaphony, twelve-tone serialism, and twelve-note composition—is a method of musical composition first devised by Austrian composer Josef Matthias Hauer, who published his "law of the twelve tones" in 1919. In 1923, Arnold Schoenberg (1874–1951) developed his own, better-known version of 12-tone technique, which became associated with the "Second Viennese School" composers, who were the primary users of the technique in the first decades of its existence. The technique is a means of ensuring that all 12 notes of the chromatic scale are sounded as often as one another in a piece of music while preventing the emphasis of any one note through the use of tone rows, orderings of the 12 pitch classes. All 12 notes are thus given more or less equal importance, and the music avoids being in a key. Over time, the technique increased greatly in popularity and eventually became widely influential on 20th-century composers. Many important composers who had originally not subscribed to or even actively opposed the technique, such as Aaron Copland and Igor Stravinsky, eventually adopted it in their music.

In 1943, Harrison moved to New York City, where he worked as a music critic for the Herald Tribune . [2] While there he met Charles Ives, became his friend, and did a good deal in bringing Ives to the attention of the musical world, which had largely ignored him up to that point. With the assistance of his mentor Cowell, Harrison prepared and conducted the premiere of Ives's Symphony No. 3, and in return received help from Ives financially. When Ives won the Pulitzer Prize for Music for that piece, he gave half of the money to Harrison. Harrison also edited a large number of Ives's works, receiving compensation often in excess of what he billed. [3]

<i>New York Herald Tribune</i> newspaper

The New York Herald Tribune was a newspaper published between 1924 and 1966. It was created in 1924 when the New York Tribune acquired the New York Herald. It was widely regarded as a "writer's newspaper" and competed with The New York Times in the daily morning market. The paper won at least nine Pulitzer Prizes during its lifetime.

Charles Ives American composer

Charles Edward Ives was an American modernist composer, being one of the first American composers of international renown. Previously, his music was largely ignored during his life, and many of his works went unperformed for many years, but later the quality of his music was recognized and he came to be regarded as an "American original". He was also among the first composers to engage in a systematic program of experimental music, with musical techniques including polytonality, polyrhythm, tone clusters, aleatory elements, and quarter tones. His experimentation foreshadowed many musical innovations that were later more widely adopted during the 20th century. Hence, he is often regarded as the leading American composer of art music of the 20th century.

Pulitzer Prize for Music prize awarded for music

The Pulitzer Prize for Music is one of seven Pulitzer Prizes awarded annually in Letters, Drama, and Music. It was first given in 1943. Joseph Pulitzer arranged for a music scholarship to be awarded each year, and this was eventually converted into a prize: "For a distinguished musical composition of significant dimension by an American that has had its first performance in the United States during the year."

Harrison supported and promoted the music of a number of unconventional composers in addition to Ives. These included Edgard Varèse, Carl Ruggles, and Alan Hovhaness. [4]

Edgard Varèse French composer

Edgard Victor Achille Charles Varèse was a French-born composer who spent the greater part of his career in the United States.

Carl Ruggles American composer

Charles Sprague "Carl" Ruggles was an American composer. He wrote finely crafted pieces using "dissonant counterpoint", a term coined by Charles Seeger to describe Ruggles' music. His method of atonal counterpoint was based on a non-serial technique of avoiding repeating a pitch class until a generally fixed number such as eight pitch classes intervened. He wrote painstakingly slowly so his output is quite small.

Alan Hovhaness Armenian-American composer

Alan Hovhaness was an American composer. He was one of the most prolific 20th-century composers, with his official catalog comprising 67 numbered symphonies and 434 opus numbers. The true tally is well over 500 surviving works since many opus numbers comprise two or more distinct works.

Harrison taught music at various colleges and universities, including Mills College from 1936 to 1939 and again from 1980 to 1985, San Jose State University, Cabrillo College, Reed College, and Black Mountain College. In 1953 he moved back to California, settling in Aptos near Santa Cruz, where he lived the rest of his life.

Following in the path of Canadian composer Colin McPhee, who had done extensive research in Indonesian music in the 1930s and wrote a number of compositions incorporating Balinese and Javanese elements, Harrison's style began to change, showing the influence of gamelan music more clearly if only in timbre: "It was the sound itself that attracted me. In New York, when I changed gears out of twelve tonalism, I explored this timbre. The gamelan movements in my Suite for Violin, Piano, and Small Orchestra [1951] are aural imitations of the generalized sounds of gamelan". [5] Virgil Thomson (with whom Harrison also studied) gave him a copy of Harry Partch's book on musical tuning, Genesis of a Music , which prompted Harrison to start writing music in just intonation. [6] He did not abandon equal temperament altogether, but often expressed a desire to do so. In an oft-quoted comment referring to the frequency ratios used in just intonation, he said, "I'd long thought that I would love a time when musicians were numerate as well as literate. I'd love to be a conductor and say, 'Now, cellos, you gave me 10:9 there, please give me a 9:8 instead,' I'd love to get that!"

Although much influenced by Asian music, Harrison did not visit the continent until a 1961 trip to Japan and Korea and a 1962 trip to Taiwan. [7] He and his partner William Colvig later constructed a tuned percussion ensemble, using resonated aluminum keys and tubes, as well as oxygen tanks and other found percussion instruments. They called this "an American gamelan," in order to distinguish it from those in Indonesia. [They also constructed?] gamelan-type instruments tuned to just pentatonic scales from unusual materials such as tin cans and aluminium furniture tubing. He wrote "La Koro Sutro" (in Esperanto) [8] for these instruments and chorus, as well as "Suite for Violin and American Gamelan." In addition, Harrison played and composed for the Chinese guzheng zither, and presented (with Colvig, his student Richard Dee, and the singer Lily Chin) over 300 concerts of traditional Chinese music in the 1960s. [9]

He was a composer-in-residence at San Jose State University in San Jose, California during the 1960s. The university honored him with an all-Harrison concert in Morris Daley Auditorium in 1969, featuring dancers, singers, and musicians. The highlight of the concert was the world premiere of Harrison's depiction of the story of Orpheus, which utilized soloists, the San Jose State University a cappella choir, as well as a unique group of percussionists.

Like many other 20th-century composers, Harrison found it hard to support himself with his music, and took a number of other jobs to earn a living, including record salesman, florist, animal nurse, and forestry firefighter.

Harrison was outspoken about his political views, such as his pacifism (he was an active supporter of the international language Esperanto), and the fact that he was gay. He was also politically active and informed, including knowledge of gay history. He wrote many pieces with political texts or titles, writing, for instance, Homage to Pacifica for the opening of the Berkeley Headquarters of the Pacifica Foundation, and accepting commissions from the Portland Gay Men's Chorus (1988 and 1985) and by the Seattle Men's Chorus to arrange (1987) his Strict Songs, originally for eight baritones, for "a chorus of 120 male singing enthusiasts. Some of them good; some not so good. But the number is so fabulous". [10] Lawrence Mass [11] describes:

With Lou Harrison...being gay is something affirmative. He's proud to be a gay composer and interested in talking about what that might mean. He doesn't feel threatened that this means he won't be thought of as an American composer who is also great and timeless and universal.

Janice Giteck [12] describes Harrison as:

unabashedly androgynous in his way of approaching creativity. He has a vital connection to the feminine as well as to the masculine. The female part is apparent in the sense of beingness. But at the same time, Lou is very male, too, ferociously active and assertive, rhythmic, pulsing, and aggressive.

On November 2, 1990, the Brooklyn Philharmonic premiered Harrison's fourth symphony, which he titled Last Symphony. He combined Native American music, ancient music, and Asian music, tying it all together with lush orchestral writing. A special inclusion was a series of Navajo "Coyote Stories." He made a number of revisions to the symphonies before completing a final version in 1995, which was recorded by Barry Jekowsky and the California Symphony for Argo Records at Skywalker Ranch in Nicasio, California in March 1997. The CD also included Harrison's Elegy, to the Memory of Calvin Simmons (a tribute to the former conductor of the Oakland Symphony, who drowned in a boating accident in 1982), excerpts from Solstice, Concerto in Slendro, and Double Music (his collaboration with John Cage). [13]

Harrison and Colvig built two full Javanese-style gamelan, modeled on the instrumentation of Kyai Udan Mas at U.C. Berkeley. One was named Si Betty for the art patron Betty Freeman; the other, built at Mills College, was named Si Darius/Si Madeliene. Harrison held the Darius Milhaud Chair of Musical Composition at Mills College from 1980 until his retirement in 1985. One of his students at Mills was Jin Hi Kim. He also taught at San Jose State University and Cabrillo College.

Personal life

Harrison lived for many years with Bill Colvig in Aptos, California. He and Colvig purchased land in Joshua Tree, California, where they designed and built the Harrison House Retreat, a straw bale house.

Harrison died in Lafayette, Indiana, from a heart attack while on his way to a festival of his music at The Ohio State University.

Harrison's music

Many of Harrison's early works are for percussion instruments, often made out of what would usually be regarded as junk or found objects such as garbage cans and steel brake drums. He also wrote a number of pieces using Schoenberg's twelve tone technique, including the opera Rapunzel and his Symphony on G (Symphony No. 1) (1952). Several works feature the tack piano, a kind of prepared piano with small nails inserted into the hammers to give the instrument a more percussive sound.

Harrison's mature musical style is based on "melodicles", short motifs which are turned backwards and upsidedown to create a musical mode the piece is based on. His music is typically spartan in texture but lyrical, and harmony usually simple or sometimes lacking altogether, with the focus instead being on rhythm and melody. Ned Rorem describes, "Lou Harrison's compositions demonstrate a variety of means and techniques. In general he is a melodist. Rhythm has a significant place in his work, too. Harmony is unimportant, although tonality is. He is one of the first American composers to successfully create a workable marriage between Eastern and Western forms."

An often used technique is "interval control", in which only small number of melodic intervals, either ascending or descending, are used, without inversion. [14] For example, for the opening of the Fourth Symphony, the permitted intervals are minor third, minor sixth, and major second. [14]

Another component of Harrison's aesthetic is what Harry Partch would call corporeality, an emphasis on the physical and the sensual including live, human, performance and improvisation, timbre, rhythm, and the sense of space in his melodic lines, whether solo or in counterpoint, and most notably in his frequent dance collaborations. The American dancer and choreographer Mark Morris used Harrison's Serenade for Guitar [with optional percussion] (1978) as the "basis of a new kind of dance. Or, at least, one I've [Morris] never seen or done before." [15]

Among Harrison's better known works are the Concerto in Slendro, Concerto for Violin with Percussion Orchestra, Organ Concerto with Percussion (1973), which was given at the Proms in London in 1997; the Double Concerto (1981–82) for violin, cello, and Javanese gamelan; the Piano Concerto (1983–85) for piano tuned in Kirnberger #2 (a form of well temperament) and orchestra, which was written for Keith Jarrett; [16] and a Concerto for Piano and Javanese Gamelan; as well as four numbered orchestral symphonies. He also wrote a large number of works in non-traditional forms. Harrison was fluent in several languages including American Sign Language, Mandarin and Esperanto, and several of his pieces have Esperanto titles and texts, most notably La Koro Sutro (1973). [8]

Like Charles Ives, Harrison completed four symphonies. He typically combined a variety of the musical forms and languages that he preferred. This is quite apparent in the fourth symphony, recorded by the California Symphony for Argo Records, as well as his third symphony, which was performed and broadcast by Dennis Russell Davies and the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra. Russell Davies also recorded the third symphony with the Cabrillo Music Festival orchestra.

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References

  1. Leta E. Miller, liner notes for Argo CD 455 590–2
  2. 1 2 Miller, Leta. "Lou Harrison - In Retrospect". Liner notes. New World Records.
  3. Miller & Lieberman (1998) [ page needed ]
  4. http://www.public Archived 2013-07-11 at the Wayback Machine radio.org/tools/media/player/composersdatebook/0207/020407_datebook.ram
  5. Miller & Lieberman (1998) , p. 160
  6. Aaron, Peter (29 September 2011). "Lou Harrison: Outsider Inside". Chronogram . Archived from the original on 15 February 2013. Retrieved 4 January 2013.
  7. Miller & Lieberman (1998) , p. 141
  8. 1 2 Lou Harrison Centennial Birthday Celebration, 1917-2017, part 2 of 5.
  9. MetroActive Music | Bill Colvig
  10. Miller & Lieberman (1998) , p. 98
  11. Miller & Lieberman (1998) , p. 190
  12. Miller & Lieberman (1998) , p. 194
  13. Argo Records liner notes
  14. 1 2 Leta E. Miller and Fredric Lieberman (Summer, 1999). "Lou Harrison and the American Gamelan", American Music, Vol. 17, No. 2, p.168.
  15. https://www.nytimes.com/2003/03/23/arts/dance-mark-morris-the-making-of-my-dance.html
  16. American Made - Books - Baltimore City Paper Archived 2011-03-08 at the Wayback Machine

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