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Roy Harris

From Academic Kids

Roy Ellsworth Harris (February 12, 1898October 1, 1979) was an American classical composer who wrote much music on American subjects and is perhaps best known for his Symphony No. 3.

Harris considered it very significant that he was born on Abraham Lincoln's birthday in a log cabin in Lincoln County, Oklahoma. He studied piano with his mother, and later clarinet. Formally, he studied at the University of California at Berkeley.

At the recommendation of Aaron Copland, Harris studied in Paris from 1926 to 1929 with Nadia Boulanger, who also taught such American composers as Walter Piston, Elliott Carter, Virgil Thomson, and Philip Glass.

Serge Koussevitzky championed Harris's Symphony No. 1, "1933", and it became the first American Symphony ever recorded on LP, with Koussevitzky conducting the Boston Symphony Orchestra.

Since 1933, Harris taught at Mills College, where his students included William Schuman and Peter Schickele (of P. D. Q. Bach fame).

His Symphony No. 3, written in 1938, joined the American repetoire during the same era as works by Aaron Copland and Virgil Thomson. The first edition of Kent Kennan Wheeler's The Technique of Orchestration quotes three passages from this Symphony, to illustrate good orchestral writing for cello, timpani and vibraphone, respectively. The book quotes no other Harris symphonies. Few other American symphonies have acquired such a firmly entrenched position in the standard performance repertory as has this one, due much to the championship of the piece by Leonard Bernstein, as well as his several recordings of it.

Harris wrote fourteen other symphonies. He was a prolific choral composer, but wrote no operas.

His music, while often abstract, is known for its optimistic, American tone. Musicologist John Canarina describes the "Harris style" as "exuberant horn passages and timpani ostinatos."

Other notable works by Harris include:

  • Andante for Orchestra
  • Epilogue to Profiles in Courage - JFK
  • Piano Sonata
  • Concerto for String Quartet, Piano, and Clarinet
  • Piano Quintet
  • Symphony No. 6, Gettysburg
  • Symphony No. 10, Abraham Lincoln

References

  • Robert Layton, editor, A Guide To The Symphony, Chapter 18, "The American Symphony", by John Canarina.
  • Kent Kennan Wheeler, The Technique of Orchestration.
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