Lou Harrison

Lou Harrison

American Musical Maverick
Bill Alves and Brett Campbell
Distribution: Global
Publication date: 04/10/2017
Format: Paperback 31 b&w illus., 16 music exx., 3 tables
ISBN: 978-0-253-02615-6
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American composer Lou Harrison (1917–2003) is perhaps best known for challenging the traditional musical establishment along with his contemporaries and close colleagues: composers John Cage, Aaron Copland, Virgil Thomson, and Leonard Bernstein; Living Theater founder, Judith Malina; and choreographer, Merce Cunningham. Today, musicians from Bang on a Can to Björk are indebted to the cultural hybrids Harrison pioneered half a century ago. His explorations of new tonalities at a time when the rest of the avant garde considered such interests heretical set the stage for minimalism and musical post-modernism. His propulsive rhythms and ground-breaking use of percussion have inspired choreographers from Merce Cunningham to Mark Morris, and he is considered the godfather of the so-called "world music" phenomenon that has invigorated Western music with global sounds over the past two decades.

In this biography, authors Bill Alves and Brett Campbell trace Harrison's life and career from the diverse streets of San Francisco, where he studied with music experimentalist Henry Cowell and Austrian composer Arnold Schoenberg, and where he discovered his love for all things non-traditional (Beat poetry, parties, and men); to the competitive performance industry in New York, where he subsequently launched his career as a composer, conducted Charles Ives's Third Symphony at Carnegie Hall (winning the elder composer a Pulitzer Prize), and experienced a devastating mental breakdown; to the experimental arts institution of Black Mountain College where he was involved in the first "happenings" with Cage, Cunningham, and others; and finally, back to California, where he would become a strong voice in human rights and environmental campaigns and compose some of the most eclectic pieces of his career.

Author Bio

Bill Alves is a southern California composer of acoustic and electronic microtonal music, music for gamelan, video, and other works. He is the author of Music of the Peoples of the World and his discs are available from MicroFest Records, Spectral Harmonies, and Kinetica Video Library. He teaches at Harvey Mudd College at the Claremont Colleges, where he directs the American gamelan.

Brett Campbell writes frequently about music and other arts for Oregon ArtsWatch, The Wall Street Journal, San Francisco Classical Voice, and many other publications. He teaches journalism at Portland State University and performs in Venerable Showers of Beauty gamelan ensemble, based at Lewis and Clark College in Lou Harrison’s hometown of Portland, Oregon.


“Lou Harrison’s avuncular personality and tuneful music coaxed affectionate regard from all who knew him, and that affection is evident on every page of Alves and Campbell’s new biography. Eminently readable, it puts Harrison at the center of American music: he knew everyone important and was in touch with everybody, from mentors like Henry Cowell and Arnold Schoenberg and Charles Ives and Harry Partch and Virgil Thomson to peers like John Cage to students like Janice Giteck and Paul Dresher. He was larger than life in person, and now he is larger than life in history as well.”
 — Kyle Gann, author of Charles Ives’s Concord: Essays After a Sonata

“I studied with Lou Harrison, and he provided my first up-close exposure to world music, to different tuning systems, and to a real live member of the pantheon of American experimental music. I highly recommend this exhaustively researched book, which clearly captures his personality and life: his states of mind, his sexuality, his self-awareness and self-questioning, his journey from young, under-employed composer to lauded master.”
 — David Lang, Pulitzer Prize-winning composer

“This scrupulously researched, lovingly written biography provides a comprehensive overview of the man, his life and times, and the music he made.”
 — Songlines

“Comprehensive and engrossing”
 — The New York Times

“Readers who are willing to take a deep dive will be well rewarded. Harrison’s life story was an inspiring one, as Alves and Campbell demonstrate. . . . Through the authors’ research, we see the complex network of connections between composers—the camaraderie, and the occasional infighting and drama.”
 — 4Columns

“An illuminating and engrossing new biography”
 — Los Angeles Times

“A superb new biography”
 — Alex Ross, The New Yorker

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Table of Contents

Foreword: Hail, Lou! / Mark Morris
Preface: Lou’s World

Part I: Oregon Trails
1. The Silver Court (1917-1934)

Part II: The Vast Acreage
2. A Wonderful Whirligig (1935-1936)
3. The Ultramodernist (1935-1936)
4. The Grand Manner (1936-1937)
5. Changing World (1937-1938)
6. Double Music (1938-1939)
7. Drums Along the Pacific (1939-1941)
8. Into the Labyrinth (1941-1942)
9. Western Dance (1942-1943)

Part III: A Hell of a Town
10. The Lonesome Isle (1943-1945)
11. New York Waltzes (1945-1946)
12. Praises for the Archangel (1946)
13. Day of Ascension (1946-1947)
14. Tears of the Angel (1947-1948)
15. The Perilous Chapel (1948-1949)
16. Pastorales (1949-1950)
17. The White Goddess (1951)
18. A Great Playground (1951-1952)
19. Lake Eden (1952-1953)

Part IV: Full Circle
20. A Paradise Garden of Delights (1953-1955)
21. Free Style (1955-1957)
22. Wild Rights (1957-1961)

Part V: Pacifica
23. The Human Music (1961)
24. Pacific Rounds (1962-1963)
25. The Family of the Court (1963-1966)
26. Stars Upon his Face (1967-1969)
27. Young Caesar and Old Granddad (1969-1974)
28. Elegies (1973-1975)

Part VI: The Great Melody
29. Golden Rain (1975-1977)
30. Playing Together (1977-1979)
31. Showers of Beauty (1978-1982)
32. Paradisal Music (1982-1984)
33. Stampede (1983-1987)
34. New Moon (1986-1990)
35. Book Music (1991-1995)
36. An Eden of Music and Mountains (1995-1997)
37. Asian Artistry (1997-2002)
38. White Ashes (2003)
Appendix A: Glossary of Musical Terms
Appendix B: List of Harrison’s Compositions

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