Author Topic: Roy Harris (1898-1979)  (Read 42138 times)

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Offline vandermolen

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Roy Harris (1898-1979)
« on: June 13, 2009, 12:31:37 PM »
I wanted to add something to the Harris thread and was surprised to see that there wasn't one. I was going to say how much I admired a new discovery - Symphony No 11 (1967), which I came across on an Albany CD. The 11th Symphony is in one movement, dedicated to Harris's wife it is described in the notes as his 'last autobiographically invested symphonic statement'. I rate it highly - it is a powerful, dark and characteristic work, opening with an extended piano sequence.  Harris wrote 13 symphonies. Of those I have heard my favourites are the 3rd (considered one of the greatest American symphonies), the 6th, 7th and 1st. Of the famous No 3, the best recording I know is from Leonard Bernstein on Sony (better than the DGG remake I think). There is a fine historic recording of Symphony 7 conducted by Eugene Ormandy. I first came across Harris as my older brother had a great CBS LP featuring the Bernstein recordings of Harris's Third Symphony and Bernstein's own Symphony No 1 ('Jeremiah'). These were IMHO the greatest recordings of both works.  Harris is clearly influenced, like so many other composers of his time by Sibelius but his own style is very recognizable.  Symphony No 11 is a fine work I think:

"Courage is going from failure to failure without losing enthusiasm" (Churchill).

snyprrr

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Re: Roy Harris (1898-1979)
« Reply #1 on: June 14, 2009, 12:56:15 AM »
Ah, you beat me to the punch! ;D

Sibelius 7 and Harris 3 are probably it for me, and obviously the connection exists.

I could go on about No.3.

No.7 also does the trick (though a "perfect" new recording would be nice), and the "Gettysburg" No.6, and No.1. I might even give No.5 some credentials. No.2 has only recently been available on Albany; it wasn't supposed to be "all that", but I would be interested to hear what anyone might have to say about it.

I'm glad to hear that No.11 was in the ole Harris way. I remember anticipating the Albany No.8 & No.9 issue, and being sorely disappointed by Harris. I mean, I know the music's alright, and the recording is great, but harris' No.9 as the "Great American Ninth"?, yea, I don't know if we need to go there. So, that leaves No.10, No.12, & No.13, and I'm not so sure about level of inspiration of these (he is known to have seriously flagged off here).

I haven't heard the Violin Cto in many years,... hey, "violinconcerto" guy..., but the Piano Cto, I'm sorry, I'm going to use the word awful. The same goes for the Piano Qnt from which the cto comes from. There is also a strange concerto on the Citadel label (w/Piano Cto) that, though better than the former cto, still leaves much to be desired.

As a matter of fact, most of Harris' chamber music is severely lacking, though I have heard good things about the Violin Sonata. The 2 out 3 SQs I've heard had nothing of real Harris in them, IMO, of course, haha, but no, don't expect anything, really. Again, the Piano Qnt is absolutely not really good Harris at all.

I can't vouch for the piano music, though I've heard he had a slightly bland Haydnesque tendency in some of it. I believe his wife is available playing all of it, though.

As far as I have handy right now, that leaves what's left of Harris' orchestral output. There was a piece on a Schwarz/Delos cd, and a couple of pieces on a BayCities cd (Cimarron? & ?). Oh, I think it's part of the organ and brass piece, part of which is featured on that Hyperion disc of American brass music. I think all of these minor pieces do actually have some of the ole Harris in them. This is where his unique output gets very spotty.

I remember plowing through Harris (after falling for No.3) and becoming extremely disappointed with his uneven talent. I was glad to hear Van lift up No.11 as a fellow of 3 & 7.

There is so little that I can think of that matches the perfection of Harris 3 (Sibelius 7). Towards the end of the sym, as the tension rises, and the brass emote that two part melody...come on, you know the one!...yea, that does it for me! :'(

Perhaps we need a Single Movement Symphonies thread!

...feeling v'klempt...


Offline springrite

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Re: Roy Harris (1898-1979)
« Reply #2 on: June 14, 2009, 01:20:19 AM »
I really really should get more Harris, especially the symphonies since I have a book on Harris and his symphonies with detailed analysis of all of them. But I in fact only have 3 of the symphonies in my collection. I bought the book for 50 cents at the Oakland Public Library when they were facing budget cuts and were "raising money". Maybe they got a grand total of $50 for the good books they sold on that day.



My error. The book was 25 cents, same as the Nielsen book.
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Offline vandermolen

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Re: Roy Harris (1898-1979)
« Reply #3 on: June 14, 2009, 04:05:38 AM »
Thanks for replies - I thought that this might be a candidate for a zero response thread :-[

Yes, I agree that we could do with a new version of Symphony No 7 - although we are fortunate to have the old Ormandy. Of course there is also Koussevitsky's fine old versions of nos 1 and 3. I forgot No 5, which also has its moments. I had a fine old RCA LP with that on one side and Martinu's 5th symphony on the otherside (Louisviile SO, Whitney, I think).

Symphony No 11 was a surprise as I had also been underwhelmed by 'The Great American Ninth' and thought that Harris's muse had deserted him - I was wrong. Like Arnell's 6th Symphony it is a rather strange work but one that I immediately wanted to return to. I have Symphony No 2 and will listen again
"Courage is going from failure to failure without losing enthusiasm" (Churchill).

Offline donaldopato

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Re: Roy Harris (1898-1979)
« Reply #4 on: June 14, 2009, 04:27:30 AM »
I enjoy Harris, although admittedly his output is uneven and after awhile sounds the same. He did have a quite distinctive musical voice and that I always admire. The 11th was a bit of a surprise here too. The opening using his trademark amplified piano, is arresting. Perhaps the rest flags a bit as he slips into his stentorian, declamatory mode and does not let up. But overall a successful work and one that deserves a hearing now and then.

As several mentioned, the 9th did not really impress as much as the 8th. The in between 10th, the Abraham Lincoln Symphony, has not been recorded nor even played (likely but I am not 100% sure) since its premiere in 1965. The 12th (Pere Marquette) and "Bicentennial Symphony" # 13 were widely panned at their first hearing and have not had much if any exposure since then.

The 3rd is a compact masterpiece, a wonderful example of an organic one movement symphony; yes musch in the vein of Sibelius' 7th, but with Harris' voice at its most distinctive. I enjoy the 6th as well.

Marin Alsop and Naxos are supposedly in process of recording all the numbered Harris Symphonies (there are 3-4 un-numbered works, some lost) but are not making a lot of progress. So far only 3 and 4 seem to be released.
« Last Edit: June 14, 2009, 04:33:40 PM by donaldopato »
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snyprrr

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Re: Roy Harris (1898-1979)
« Reply #5 on: June 14, 2009, 08:01:34 AM »
Naxos also did 7 & 9. Wake me if they ever finish any series...any series...any...series...any...

Offline donaldopato

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Re: Roy Harris (1898-1979)
« Reply #6 on: June 14, 2009, 04:32:09 PM »
The 7 and 9 was with Kuchar and Ukrane, not sure if that is part of the series or if Alsop was going to redo those as well.

I don't think I will be waking you soon!  ;D
« Last Edit: June 14, 2009, 04:34:34 PM by donaldopato »
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Offline Dundonnell

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Re: Roy Harris (1898-1979)
« Reply #7 on: June 15, 2009, 03:25:49 AM »
I am surprised that you thought this thread would be a candidate for a zero response, Jeffrey :) There are a good few Harris fans on here.

There has been quite a lot of discussion of Roy Harris in other threads on American composers. For a time Harris almost seemed to be acquiring a sort of 'Grand Old Man' status in American music comparable to VW's in Britain. He appeared to be the archetypal American symphonist-the composer whose music conjured up the wide-open spaces of the American West and the boundless self-confidence of the pioneer spirit of the early settlers. The flowing melodies, sharpened by 20th century dissonances, drew upon folk tunes and hymns in the same way as the Copland of the 1930s and 1940s and clear echoes can be heard in the music of other composers, including non-Americans.

But Harris's reputation faded as more modern-sounding music came into fashion and is little heard today. He is still described in some books as one of the finest American composers and I was a lover of his music from an early age. Today I am not quite so sure. The music still appeals for exactly the same reasons that it did first so many years ago but now I wonder sometimes if it lacks something?
What that something might be puzzles me a little. It might be variety-too many Harris symphonies sound too similar, as if the huge success of the Third Symphony(which remains the great Harris symphony) led Harris to try to recycle that success by attempting to repeat the formula in, for example, the 5th or the 7th. Perhaps, on the other hand, it is a certain absence of real depth to the music. It is colourful, tuneful, heroic, patriotic in a kind of American Shostakovichian sense but lacks the profoundity to match the Russian master.

Don't get me wrong...I admire Harris and his symphonies but I would not necessarily put him ahead of his contemporaries. There is not the bite of a William Schuman, for example. When I listen to a new Harris symphony with expectation(as recently with No.11) I come away with a slight sense of disappointment that it is not the great masterpiece I was looking for.

Yes..I too hope that Marin Alsop's Harris cycle for Naxos hurries up(she has apparently recorded Nos. 5 and 6) but the prospect of hearing Nos. 10, 12 and 13 is not as exciting as it once was.

Does this make any sense ???

Offline The new erato

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Re: Roy Harris (1898-1979)
« Reply #8 on: June 15, 2009, 04:56:04 AM »


Yes..I too hope that Marin Alsop's Harris cycle for Naxos hurries up(she has apparently recorded Nos. 5 and 6) but the prospect of hearing Nos. 10, 12 and 13 is not as exciting as it once was.

Does this make any sense ???
Yep it does. Uneven, and not the bite of W Schuman covers my feelings as well.

Offline Brewski

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Re: Roy Harris (1898-1979)
« Reply #9 on: June 15, 2009, 05:27:54 AM »
Although I haven't heard much of Harris's output, I'm following this thread with interest.  Looking at a list of his works, I believe I've only heard the Third Symphony (both of Bernstein's NYPO recordings), so the comments on the others are welcome. 

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Offline drogulus

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Re: Roy Harris (1898-1979)
« Reply #10 on: June 15, 2009, 01:38:09 PM »


    The 6th is very good and quite different from the 3rd. The Albany disc with 8 & 9 was a letdown for me.

    The 2nd symphony was withdrawn but has been recorded on Albany and it's pretty good.
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Offline vandermolen

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Re: Roy Harris (1898-1979)
« Reply #11 on: June 15, 2009, 10:39:11 PM »
I am surprised that you thought this thread would be a candidate for a zero response, Jeffrey :) There are a good few Harris fans on here.

There has been quite a lot of discussion of Roy Harris in other threads on American composers. For a time Harris almost seemed to be acquiring a sort of 'Grand Old Man' status in American music comparable to VW's in Britain. He appeared to be the archetypal American symphonist-the composer whose music conjured up the wide-open spaces of the American West and the boundless self-confidence of the pioneer spirit of the early settlers. The flowing melodies, sharpened by 20th century dissonances, drew upon folk tunes and hymns in the same way as the Copland of the 1930s and 1940s and clear echoes can be heard in the music of other composers, including non-Americans.

But Harris's reputation faded as more modern-sounding music came into fashion and is little heard today. He is still described in some books as one of the finest American composers and I was a lover of his music from an early age. Today I am not quite so sure. The music still appeals for exactly the same reasons that it did first so many years ago but now I wonder sometimes if it lacks something?
What that something might be puzzles me a little. It might be variety-too many Harris symphonies sound too similar, as if the huge success of the Third Symphony(which remains the great Harris symphony) led Harris to try to recycle that success by attempting to repeat the formula in, for example, the 5th or the 7th. Perhaps, on the other hand, it is a certain absence of real depth to the music. It is colourful, tuneful, heroic, patriotic in a kind of American Shostakovichian sense but lacks the profoundity to match the Russian master.

Don't get me wrong...I admire Harris and his symphonies but I would not necessarily put him ahead of his contemporaries. There is not the bite of a William Schuman, for example. When I listen to a new Harris symphony with expectation(as recently with No.11) I come away with a slight sense of disappointment that it is not the great masterpiece I was looking for.

Yes..I too hope that Marin Alsop's Harris cycle for Naxos hurries up(she has apparently recorded Nos. 5 and 6) but the prospect of hearing Nos. 10, 12 and 13 is not as exciting as it once was.

Does this make any sense ???

Makes perfect sense Colin. I largely agree with you but enjoyed No 11 more than expected. Symphony No 6 'Gettysburg' is a fine work and does have a depth that is perhaps lacking in some other scores.
"Courage is going from failure to failure without losing enthusiasm" (Churchill).

Offline vandermolen

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Re: Roy Harris (1898-1979)
« Reply #12 on: July 18, 2009, 05:05:32 AM »
I have just discovered what I think is a very lovely work by Harris- Abraham Lincoln Walks at Midnight (1953), it is scored for mezzo-soprano (the outstanding Sharon Mabry) and piano trio and can be found on the Naxos double album below.
It is very much in the spirit of Samuel Barber's 'Knoxville, Summer of 1915' (1914)- the work is a setting of the poem by Vachel Lindsay. It is a very poetic and haunting work lasting 14 minutes. I can't stop playing it!

« Last Edit: July 18, 2009, 05:11:47 AM by vandermolen »
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Offline tjguitar

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Re: Roy Harris (1898-1979)
« Reply #13 on: July 18, 2009, 12:37:26 PM »
I've been curious about this one for a while:



It seems to be everything that he conducted himself.

Offline vandermolen

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Re: Roy Harris (1898-1979)
« Reply #14 on: July 18, 2009, 12:44:46 PM »
I've been curious about this one for a while:



It seems to be everything that he conducted himself.

I think I have this on LP in the attic somewhere - I seem to recall that the Concerto for Amplified Piano was characteristic.
"Courage is going from failure to failure without losing enthusiasm" (Churchill).

snyprrr

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Re: Roy Harris (1898-1979)
« Reply #15 on: July 18, 2009, 12:52:36 PM »
I've been curious about this one for a while:



It seems to be everything that he conducted himself.

I believe this is the cd I used to have, but with another cover (still, it was on Citadel). The Concerto for Piano and Strings is the Piano Quintet, and this is definitely the work I dislike (bad gothic Shostakovich?)... do not like it. And I don't recall the Concerto for Amplfied Piano and Orchestra being anything special at all, though it sounds nothing like the former.
The Chorale and Prelude&Fugue do contain typical Harris, however, but not enough to save this disappointing recital, IMHO.

I know, it looks enticing, doesn't it?...but, yea...no.

Offline vandermolen

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Re: Roy Harris (1898-1979)
« Reply #16 on: January 28, 2010, 06:36:39 AM »
I am delighted with this new CD.  The 6th Symphony 'Gettysburg' is perhaps the greatest Harris symphony after No 3 and I am over familiar with the latter. No 5 is also one of the strongest.  Both are from World War Two.  The opening and slow movements of No 6 are especially moving.  Both symphonies have been recorded before but these performances and recordings are preferable - although perhaps the magical opening of No 6 is more realised in the excellent older recording on Albany (Pacific SO, Keith Clark). A great introduction to Harris.
« Last Edit: January 28, 2010, 06:39:07 AM by vandermolen »
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Offline springrite

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Re: Roy Harris (1898-1979)
« Reply #17 on: January 28, 2010, 07:03:23 AM »
I am delighted with this new CD.  The 6th Symphony 'Gettysburg' is perhaps the greatest Harris symphony after No 3 and I am over familiar with the latter. No 5 is also one of the strongest.  Both are from World War Two.  The opening and slow movements of No 6 are especially moving.  Both symphonies have been recorded before but these performances and recordings are preferable - although perhaps the magical opening of No 6 is more realised in the excellent older recording on Albany (Pacific SO, Keith Clark). A great introduction to Harris.

I am so glad to hear about this recording! I first heard Harris in the 80's on the radio. It was the Clark recording of the Gettysburg. Living in LA at the time, PSO does get some occasional airing. I loved it. But I did not find any recording of the work after I graduated from school and went from a dirt poor student to a lowly paid worker. Maybe I can get this CD soon.

The 8th and 9th were indeed disappointing. But overall, I am still a Harris fan. I like the violin concerto better after the second listening. Not a great work, but certainly worth one's attention.
Do what I must do, and let what must happen happen.

karlhenning

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Re: Roy Harris (1898-1979)
« Reply #18 on: January 28, 2010, 07:06:02 AM »
Jeffrey, thanks, that looks like a good disc for me to make Harris's musical acquaintance.

snyprrr

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Re: Roy Harris (1898-1979)
« Reply #19 on: January 28, 2010, 07:56:17 AM »
I am delighted with this new CD.  The 6th Symphony 'Gettysburg' is perhaps the greatest Harris symphony after No 3 and I am over familiar with the latter. No 5 is also one of the strongest.  Both are from World War Two.  The opening and slow movements of No 6 are especially moving.  Both symphonies have been recorded before but these performances and recordings are preferable - although perhaps the magical opening of No 6 is more realised in the excellent older recording on Albany (Pacific SO, Keith Clark). A great introduction to Harris.

It sure has taken my whole career of classical listening for this to happen! I'm going to try to disregard the underlined comment, haha (you know how "we" are here: even the slightest HINT of a problem in a recording/performance is magnified in our heads as "unlistenable", haha!).

Either way, it's nice when the companies actually continue through with their series. Think of how many series get stalled, or worse.

Mmm, I just didn't need to be tempted with Harris right now. I'm pretty vunerable to interesting ideas right now, and I don't need to go on a Harris-a-thon $$$ right now, haha... I know how I get, and I'll want to get everything AGAIN (after geting rid of some before)!! I will check Amazon, though.

Still, great news for Harris fans!

 

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