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Lou Harrison

Leta E. Miller

Publication Year: 2006

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.

Published by: University of Illinois Press

Series: American Composers


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Title Page, Copyright

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pp. v-vi

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pp. vii-viii

This retrospective assessment of Lou Harrison’s contributions to the twentieth-century musical landscape is an outgrowth of research we began in 1993. Our initial investigations led to several publications, most notably Lou Harrison: Composing a World ...

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1. Prelude

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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. ...

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2. Portrait: A Life in Music

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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. ...

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3. Percussion Music and Instrument Building: More than Just Noise

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pp. 36-47

in 1929 henry cowell , inspired by Edgard Varèse’s Hyperprism for 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, ...

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4. Passion for Asia: Inspirations from China, Korea, and Indonesia

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pp. 48-68

it was not coincidental that Jean Erdman found Lou Harrison’s Counterdance so 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; ...

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5. Purely in Tune: Exploring Just Intonation Systems

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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 ...

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6. Processes of Synthesis: Coherence and Variety

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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 ...

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7. Politics and Society: Activist Art, Activist Arguments, Activist Acts

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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. ...

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8. Peroration: System, Syncretism, and Style

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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 ...


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pp. 117-122

Selected works

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pp. 123-128

For further reading

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pp. 129-130

Suggested listening

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pp. 131-132

Compact disc contents

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pp. 133-136


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pp. 137-148

About the Author, Publication Information, CD Track Listing

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E-ISBN-13: 9780252091926
Print-ISBN-13: 9780252031205

Page Count: 168
Publication Year: 2006

Series Title: American Composers
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OCLC Number: 785782165
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Lou Harrison

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Subject Headings

  • Harrison, Lou, 1917-2003.
  • Composers -- United States -- Biography.
  • Harrison, Lou, 1917-2003 -- Criticism and interpretation.
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