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Roy Harris

Roy Harris

American composer Roy Harris (1898-1979) was a leading figure of the "American" movement in music in the 1930s and 1940s; he composed over 200 works.

Roy Harris was born on Feb. 12, 1898, in Lincoln County, Oklahoma. He migrated to California with his parents while still a boy. After military service in World War I, he began serious musical study at the University of California at Berkeley. His mentor was composer Arthur Farwell, who introduced him to the poetry of Walt Whitman and encouraged him to develop a distinctive style. He also studied with Charles Demarest, Fannie Dillon, Henry Schoenfeld, and Modest Altschuler.

Harris's first orchestral composition, Andante, was performed by the New York Philharmonic in 1926. With the encouragement of Aaron Copland, Harris then spent three years working with composer/pianist Nadia Boulanger in Paris. Under her tutelage, he wrote a Concerto for piano, clarinet, and string quartet which established him in Paris as one of the premier young American composers. His return to the United States was followed during the 1930s by a rapid rise to prominence, with numerous performances, recordings of most of his major works, and many commissions. One of his best known works, The Third Symphony dates from this period.

Harris's name and music has been associated with a visionary view of the United States and is linked with poets Walt Whitman and Carl Sandburg. He composed music for ballet, orchestra (including 16 symphonies), chamber ensembles, and one film. Some of his explicitly American themes are suggested by such titles as What So Proudly WeHail, Gettysburg Address, The Abraham Lincoln Symphony, Kentucky Spring, Epilogue to Profiles in Courage: JFK, and the well-known overture, When Johnny Comes Marching Home.

Harris's highly original style reveals constant development and cultivation, most characteristically expressed in his Symphony No. 3 (1938). His most frequently performed work, this symphony is classical in attitude, tonally organic, and intensely dramatic. Melodies spin out in long, free lines, evolving gradually into direct and affirmative motifs. The symphony has a sense of open spaces and harmonies, rugged rhythmic inventiveness, modal character, and hymnlike sections. It displays qualities considered American that are characteristic of many of his compositions.

Harris was associated with a number of academic institutions as a teacher of composition, as composer-in-residence, and as recipient of creative grants. During World War II he was chief of the Music Division of the Office of War Information. In 1958 he visited the Soviet Union as a cultural representative, becoming the first American to conduct his own symphony with a Soviet orchestra. His academic posts were at Westminster Choir School, Cornell University, Colorado College, Utah State Agricultural College, Peabody College for Teachers, Pennsylvania College for Women, University of Southern Illinois, Indiana University, the Inter-American University in Puerto Rico, the University of California at Los Angeles, and, as composer-in-residence, California State University, Los Angeles. Among his many honors was the title, Composer Laureate of the State of California.

Roy Harris died in 1979, in Santa Monica, California. The Roy Harris Archive is housed at the Kennedy Memorial Library, California State University, Los Angeles.

Further Reading

Biographical details, Harris's own remarks, and stylistic observations are in David Ewen, The New Book of Modern Composers (1942; 3rd ed. 1961); Major works are discussed in Ewen's The World of Twentieth-Century Music (1968); for an evaluation see Wilfrid Mellers, Music in a New Found Land: Themes and Developments in the History of American Music (1965); For recent works, see Dan Stehman's Roy Harris: An American Musical Pioneer (1984); and Roy Harris: A Bio-Bibliography (1991). □

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Harris, Roy (Ellsworth)

Harris, Roy (Ellsworth) (b Lincoln County, Nebraska, 1898; d Santa Monica, Calif., 1979). Amer. composer. His 1st sym., cond. Koussevitzsky in Boston, 1934, earned him the reputation as America's leading symphonist, confirmed by 3rd sym. in 1939. Taught at many colls., incl. Juilliard Sch. (1932–40), Cornell Univ. (1940–2), and Univ. of Calif., Los Angeles, 1961–73. Composer-in-residence Calif. State Univ. 1973–9. His music is basically diatonic and consonant, its rugged rhythmic qualities and falling intervals, combined with a melodic flavour of hymn-tunes and folk-tunes, making him an Amer. counterpart of Janáček, without the Czech's genius. Prin. works:ORCH.: syms.: No.1 (Symphony 1933) (1934), No.2 (1936), No.3 (1939), No.4 (Folksong, with ch.) (1940), No.5 (1943), No.6 (Gettysburg Address) (1944), No.7 (1952), No.8 (1962), No.9 (Polytonality) (1963), No.10 (Abraham Lincoln), ch., brass, 2 amp. pf., perc. (1965), No.11 (1968); No.12 (Père Marquette), ten. or spkr., orch. (1968–9, final vers. 1969); No.13 (but premièred as No.14!) (Bicentennial), ch., orch. (1976); American Portraits (1929); When Johnny Comes Marching Home (1935); Prelude and Fugue for str. (1936); Farewell to Pioneers (1936); Time Suite (1937); Ode to Friendship (1944); conc. for 2 pf. (1946); accordion conc. (1946); Kentucky Spring (1949); vn. conc. (1949–51); pf. conc. (1953); Ode to Consonance (1957); Elegy (1958); Epilogue to Profiles in Courage: J.F.K. (1963–4); Horn of Plenty (1964); conc., amp. pf., wind, perc. (1968).CHORAL: Songs for Occupations (unacc.) (1934); Symphony for Voices (unacc.) (1936); Challenge 1940, bar., ch., orch. (1940); Cantata, ch., org., brass (1943); Mass, male ch., org. (1943); Psalm 150 (1955); Give me the splendid silent sun, bar., orch. (1959); Canticle to the Sun, coloratura sop., chamber orch. (1961); Jubilation, ch., brass, pf. (1964).CHAMBER MUSIC: Songs for a Rainy Day for str. qt. (1925); str. qts. No.1 (1930), No.2 (1933), No.3 (1939); str. sextet (1932); pf. trio (1934); pf. quintet (1936); str. quintet (1940).PIANO: sonata (1929); Little Suite (1938); American Ballads (1942).

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"Harris, Roy (Ellsworth)." The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Music. . Encyclopedia.com. 20 Oct. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

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Harris, Roy

Roy Harris, 1898–1979, American composer, b. Lincoln co., Okla. Harris was a pupil of Arthur Farwell and Nadia Boulanger. He began to compose c.1925, ultimately producing more than 200 works. His early compositions displayed the melodic and personal expression that characterizes all his works. His most significant works include his When Johnny Comes Marching Home (1935), a choral work; Symphony for Voices (1936) to poems by Walt Whitman; the Third Symphony (1939); the Folksong Symphony (1940); Cumberland Concerto (1952); and the Seventh Symphony (1952). Outstanding among his numerous works of chamber music is his Piano Quintet (1936).

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