Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
Lou Harrison

Lou Harrison

Leta E. Miller
Fredric Lieberman
Copyright Date: 2006
Pages: 168
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Lou Harrison
    Book Description:

    Music's inclusivity--its potential to unite cultures, disciplines, and individuals--defined the life and career of Lou Harrison (1917-2003). Beyond studying with leading composers of the avant-garde such as Henry Cowell and Arnold Schoenberg, conducting Charles Ives's Pulitzer Prize-winning Third Symphony, and staging high-profile percussion concerts with John Cage, Harrison has achieved fame for his distinctive blending of cultures--from the Chinese opera, Indonesian gamelan, and the music of Native Americans to modernist dissonant counterpoint. Miller and Lieberman also pull readers into Harrison's rich world of cross-fertilization through an exploration of his outspoken stance on pacifism, gay rights, ecology, and respect for minorities--all of which directly impacted his musical works. Though Harrison was sometimes accused by contemporaries of "cultural appropriation," Miller and Lieberman's brisk study makes it clear why he is now lauded as an imaginative pioneer for his integration of Asian and Western musics, as well as for his work in the development of the percussion ensemble, his use of found and invented instruments, and his explorations of alternative tuning systems. Harrison's compositions are examined in detail through reference to an accompanying CD of representative recordings.

    eISBN: 978-0-252-09192-6
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

Export Selected Citations Export to NoodleTools Export to RefWorks Export to EasyBib Export a RIS file (For EndNote, ProCite, Reference Manager, Zotero, Mendeley...) Export a Text file (For BibTex)
  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
    (pp. vii-x)
  4. 1 Prelude
    (pp. 1-8)

    IN A WORLD DIVIDED between splitters and clumpers, Lou Harrison placed himself squarely among the latter. Harrison spent most of his creative life bringing things together: diverse art forms, contrasting musical styles, and instruments or compositional processes from different cultures. HisFourth Symphony(1990), for instance, includes a medieval dance from Western Europe along with Native American Coyote stories chanted in Gregorian style over an accompaniment imitating the Indonesian gamelan (an orchestra composed primarily of percussion, which we describe in chapter 4). He wrote a concerto for p’i-p’a (Chinese lute) with string orchestra, featured Western solo instruments with the gamelan,...

  5. 2 Portrait: A Life in Music
    (pp. 9-35)

    JUST AS LOU HARRISON savored relationships among diverse musics, so he delighted in interacting with diverse individuals. Friends and colleagues, critics and collaborators, performers and conductors often remarked on how quickly and non-judgmentally they were welcomed into his circle of friends, advisers, and confidants. As Dancer Mark Morris said, “Either you know Lou and . . . are his best friend, or you’ve never heard of him.”¹

    The importance Harrison placed on personal relations left its mark on his professional development: he favored communal performing groups such as the gamelan and the percussion ensemble, and enjoyed playing in them himself....

  6. 3 Percussion Music and Instrument Building: More than Just Noise
    (pp. 36-47)

    IN 1929 HENRY COWELL, inspired by Edgard Varèse’sHyperprismfor winds and percussion, published an article “The Joys of Noise” in which he confessed to instituting “an operation . . . calculated to undermine musical standards.” Noise, wrote Cowell, is an essential component of all musics: from the drums of Africa, to the variegated percussion of Asian musics, to the consonants ina cappellavocal music, to the scrape of the violin bow against the strings. Noise “has been to music as sex to humanity,” he suggested, “essential to its existence but impolite to mention.” He urged that it be...

  7. 4 Passion for Asia: Inspirations from China, Korea, and Indonesia
    (pp. 48-68)

    IT WAS NOT COINCIDENTAL that Jean Erdman found Lou Harrison’sCounterdanceso apt for her Balinese bird dance. The same sonic preferences that attracted Harrison to the percussion ensemble drew him to the Indonesian gamelan, fundamentally a percussion orchestra that includes keyed metallophones with trough or tubular resonators; bossed gongs of various sizes, some suspended and others laid horizontally on rope supports; and drums. Though a flute, bowed and plucked strings, and solo or choral voices may join the ensemble, the gamelan’s essential quality is its wide range of resonant metal—from the brittle, shimmering sound of thick bars struck...

  8. 5 Purely in Tune: Exploring Just Intonation Systems
    (pp. 69-80)

    TEMPERED TUNING SYSTEMS were designed to solve a problem inherent in acoustics: no mathematical process can generate a scale that includes both pure (3:2) fifths and pure (2:1) octaves; that is, no power of 2:1 will ever equal a power of 3:2. The ancient Greeks (by legend, Pythagoras) discovered that pure musical intervals are related by proportions measurable by the comparative lengths of vibrating strings: the octave 2:1, the fifth 3:2, the fourth 4:3, the major third 5:4, the minor third 6:5, and so on (demonstrated on the enclosed CD, track 12.) Mathematicians also recognized the impossibility of tuning a...

  9. 6 Processes of Synthesis: Coherence and Variety
    (pp. 81-93)

    IN THE PREVIOUS three chapters we have examined in some detail the main strands in the Harrison fabric. But his skill—and the essence of his uniqueness—lies in his ability to weave these fibers into an attractive and original cloth. By the time Harrison returned to California in 1953, he had encountered the main influences that would impel his creativity and direct the development of his musical style—percussion, instrument building, dance, Chinese and Indonesian musics, melody, counterpoint, and tuning systems. Some he had studied and explored in detail; others awaited deeper understanding through research and travel. What remained,...

  10. 7 Politics and Society: Activist Art, Activist Arguments, Activist Acts
    (pp. 94-107)

    LOU HARRISON NEVER separated political issues and social criticism from his music: he wrote both angry anti-war pieces and works promoting social change. Furthermore, his creativity was sometimes affected by world events; for example, he stopped composing entirely during the 1991 Gulf War. He even imposed idealistic (though unenforceable) restrictions on the use of his music: the introductory notes to theSuite for Symphonic Stringsstipulate that “the right of any government or agency thereof . . . to use this work or any portion of it in any shape, form, or likeness, as propaganda, is reserved by the composer,...

  11. 8 Peroration: System, Syncretism, and Style
    (pp. 108-116)

    IN DISCUSSIONS OF compositional process, Lou Harrison often contrasted himself with Harry Partch, Arnold Schoenberg, and John Cage, all of whom shared a fundamental concern with novel systems from which their music flowed. “I, on the contrary, always used just what I wanted when I wanted it or needed it,” Harrison told us glibly.¹ His demurral, however, begs for scrutiny. Although he may not have built overarching theoretical structures that controlled major creative periods, Harrison nevertheless devoted considerable thought to theoretical subjects and developed personal systematic methods.

    Though Harrison’s works are not governed by a single overriding precompositional method, he...

  12. NOTES
    (pp. 117-122)
    (pp. 123-128)
    (pp. 129-130)
    (pp. 131-132)
    (pp. 133-136)
  17. INDEX
    (pp. 137-148)
  18. Back Matter
    (pp. 149-158)