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Little-known music of all eras => Discussion of obscure composers => Topic started by: Gauk on March 15, 2013, 03:38:35 pm



Title: Harris's 13th
Post by: Gauk on March 15, 2013, 03:38:35 pm
Following on from a mention by Latvian in another thread, I thought it might be worthwhile to draw attention to this discussion of the piece:

http://conductingmasterclass.wordpress.com/2009/06/07/almost-forgotten-bicentennial-symphony-will-re-debut-in-long-beach-at-juneteenth-event-roy-harris-almost-lost-piece-rescued-by-friend-and-music-lover-john-malveaux/ (http://conductingmasterclass.wordpress.com/2009/06/07/almost-forgotten-bicentennial-symphony-will-re-debut-in-long-beach-at-juneteenth-event-roy-harris-almost-lost-piece-rescued-by-friend-and-music-lover-john-malveaux/)

Personally, I tend to the opinion that the piece is unbelievably dire. I can't understand how a composer of Harris's stature could write such stuff. I have a nice poetry anthology which has sections titled "The bad poet at his best" and "The good poet at his worst" ("Across the wires th' electric message came/ He is no better; he is much the same."). If we take the "Bicentennial Symphony" as "The good composer at his worst", is there a more extreme example?


Title: Re: Harris's 13th
Post by: Dundonnell on March 15, 2013, 04:03:13 pm
I have written about the Harris 13th many times both here and elsewhere ;D

It is indeed quite excrutiatingly bad. It does not even have the brash, self-confident awfulness of the Khachaturian 3rd(another candidate for the worst symphony ever written).

Khachaturian MAY have written his 3rd slightly tongue-in-cheek and he was composing in a totally different political environment.

Harris seems to have simply almost completely "lost it" towards the end of his life and, having previously attempted to emulate the success of his Third and Fifth by repeating them in later symphonies, tried to write for unusual combinations of forces, including voices.

He would have been better advised to "do a Sibelius" and simply shut up and consign his efforts to a bonfire :(

I am only speculating here.....but I really wonder whether Naxos and/or Marin Alsop, having decided in principle on a Harris cycle, actually looked at the 12th and 13th (for example) and decided that they were too poor to actually record ???


Title: Re: Harris's 13th
Post by: cilgwyn on March 15, 2013, 05:42:33 pm
Isn't it great that the Harris thirteenth has got it's own thread?!! That in itself is quite an achievement! :o ;D

The Khatchaturian is rather good fun now & again,especially in the old Stokowski recording. Very Vincent Price,who was,incidentally,very funny on the itv4 repeat of Tommy Cooper,the other day! Definitely,one to put on full blast with plenty of bass! (The Tommy Cooper,I mean! ;D)
That aside,I can't help wishing,sometimes,that Harris had stopped at No3. I think it might have enhanced his posthumous reputation. As it is,numerous posts on the GMG thread always lead to the same conclusions, ie; that No3 is the best one! A few people seem to think that No7 is even better,while No 6 has it's admirers. The others are not as good,with No5,usually in the lead! No 8 & 11 have some good points & maybe,the Symphony 1933. The rest are okay,at best! (Although,I know the Second has one admirer!) And one member who thinks Harris is not even worth bothering about,at all! But all this after page after page after page after page of exchanges as to whether there is any merit in Harris,beyond his famous third?!!! Unlike Walter Piston,William Schuman or David Diamond (for example) where people are actually  posting about their enjoyment & admiration of the actual music itself!!!


Title: Re: Harris's 13th
Post by: Dundonnell on March 15, 2013, 06:12:12 pm
I suppose that one issue may be that Harris achieved a sort of status as the quintessentially "American composer"......a symphonic mid-period Copland ;D

Piston is a drier, more academic but more consistent composer. Schuman, Diamond and Mennin are more obviously "modern" than Harris or the Nordic, Sibelian Howard Hanson.


Title: Re: Harris's 13th
Post by: cilgwyn on March 15, 2013, 09:48:38 pm
I've been trying to think of a symphonist of quality who composed anything that could be considered as awful as Harris's thirteenth,but while I can think of many cycles that have their ups and downs,I can't think of anyone who sunk as low?! Maybe Knipper,with his infamous Fourth? But that all depends on the quality of the rest of his output & let's face it 1) the soviets liked it,even if 'we' don't;and 2) the USSR was a dictatorship,so Knipper had to compose stuff like that,even if he was a little bit dodgy himself! (The more wholesome Khatchaturian,was obviously under even greater pressure!)  On the other hand,despite all the the brazen patriotism,the Americans haven't exactly taken Harris's thirteenth to their hearts,have they? Or even,any of the other symphonies,it appears. Yet,unlike soviet composers,he didn't have to write patriotic drivel like that! On the other hand,as you suggest,maybe Harris was just trying to convince his critics that he could come up with something different?! Of course,the superstitious,Harris initially numbered this one as his Fourteenth!!! Unfortunately,it was too late to start worrying about bad luck,by then!!! ;D :(
By the way,I almost forgot,there is someone on the GMG forum who enjoys his tenth symphony!! (Not me,by the way!) So you can please somebody! ;D


Title: Re: Harris's 13th
Post by: Dundonnell on March 15, 2013, 11:27:31 pm
Harris's mistakes with the Symphony No.10 were-

(a) calling it a "Symphony"
(b) using the most horrendously dreadful words for his speaker
(c) apparently attempting a more "modern-sounding" idiom

The result is almost unlistenable to :(


Title: Re: Harris's 13th
Post by: Gauk on March 16, 2013, 09:20:11 am
Khachaturian 3 was a great disappointment to me when I first heard it; one charitable explanation I've heard is that he was trying to emulate Tchaikovsky's 1812 overture - but his compositional powers were not up to the task. It's still not unlistenable, as note the number of recordings.

Some pieces will always be sunk because of the choice of text. Calling a piece "Ode to Stalin" is not going to promote its longevity. But aside from the crude text in Harris's 13th, the word setting is just so poor, shouting out one syllable at a time. It's almost as if he was trying to channel Philip Glass or Harry Partch.


Title: Re: Harris's 13th
Post by: cilgwyn on March 16, 2013, 04:12:28 pm
In Lp days,I always used to pick up the needle & move it to the fun organ bits. I was convinced Dr Phibes was playing the organ,but on second thoughts,he probably would have better taste!The exotic melody is dragged out,seemingly endlessly,almost to the point of dissonance. Ouch! I And then there's that wierd 'Oompah! Oompah! accompaniment at one point,almost syncopated. I did like those bits when I was a youngster,I'll admit. But Khatchaturian's First & Second got the most playtime.
It's still better than Harris's tenth or thirteenth,in a horrible,over the top,lurid kind of way. It seems to epitomise all the worst excesses of the Soviet regimes bad taste;although,to be fair to them,they probably saved the masses from acts like tatu & the Cheeky girls! Worse was to come,later,from the decadent West! ;D

On a purely musical level,Khatchaturian's third is a disappointment,though. The Second Symphony has it's excesses,but there are moments of poignancy,amidst all the bombast. No 1,has a sweep & grandeur to it. I only wish they would release the marvellous RCA Red Seal Tjeknavorian performance on cd. (Not to be confused with his scrappy ASV revisit)

I just remembered,Kabalevsky's third symphony is subtitled a 'Requiem for Lenin'. It's on the Cpo symphonies set. I must have another listen. I seem to remember it's quite a subtle propaganda effort in comparison to Khatchaturian's third. (I must put their recent Piano Concertos set on my shopping list!).

Try as I might,I just can't think of any symphonist who has fallen as far as Harris! There must be someone!!! Although,not wanting to upset his many admirers,I do find Leonard Bernstein's Kaddish Symphony embarassingly pretentious & with the best will in the world,devoid of any musical merit,whatsoever!. If it was by anyone except dear old Lenny,I don't think anyone with any good taste would have bothered with it! Roy Harris,eat you're heart out!! Maybe,if you'd been able to write musicals & been a famous conductor,you would have got away with it? Absolutely awful!!! :o :o Not that there have been that many recordings or performances,but the way some of his admirers go on about it. I could say the same for a couple of his other concert pieces,too.......but I won't! Not here,anyway!! Give me Roy Harris,at his best, (the composer) any day,whatever his faults!


Title: Re: Harris's 13th
Post by: Jim on March 17, 2013, 10:08:45 pm
I do find Leonard Bernstein's Kaddish Symphony embarassingly pretentious & with the best will in the world,devoid of any musical merit,whatsoever!.

I couldn't let that pass without comment. Yes, music with a spoken element tends to divide listeners (even the RVW Oxford Elegy - of which I am personally fond). But Kaddish cannot be compared with what I have heard of Harris 13! Those excerpts do not sound promising. In Kaddish, Bernstein develops themes symphonically and cyclically across the work (surely there is merit in that?). There are twelve note elements (used tonally) and a lush melodic ending. Then again I am also a fan of his Mass and both these works have the similar theme of faith in crisis and a search for meaning. Kaddish took longer for me to understand until I remembered Tevye in 'Fiddler on the Roof' - the personal discussions and arguments with God appear to have an element of Jewish tradition. This even surfaces in Gurrelieder when Waldemar curses God after the death of Tove - and this piece also ends with that wonderful spoken text  ;) on nature and the renewal of life.


Title: Re: Harris's 13th
Post by: Gauk on March 17, 2013, 10:37:47 pm
Oh dear, the Kaddish ...

That's another piece, which, whatever you might think of the music, the text is so toe-curlingly embarrassing as to doom the entire work out of hand. Bernstein 3 may be musically better than Harris 13, but the text is even worse.


Title: Re: Harris's 13th
Post by: Jim on March 17, 2013, 11:15:14 pm
the text is so toe-curlingly embarrassing as to doom the entire work out of hand.

Careful, if you put Kaddish into room 101, Tippet 3 will have to go too ;D

PARTS of the text are embarrassing, but then it is supposed to be the composer's inner voice, 'warts and all'. I don't think it worse than Harris 13 because as inner dialogue it is more convincing than Harris' outer empty declamations. Maybe it is a peculiarly English thing but even the Copland Lincoln portrait is a bit embarassing with all the, 'That's what he said' repetitions.

Let me make a suggestion: go and hear Carmen sung in English and I am sure you would agree that it is pure doggerel (unless brilliantly improved by Hammerstein for 'Carmen Jones'). You may even say that the 'text is so toe-curlingly embarrassing as to doom the entire work out of hand'. Now the question arises, how many choral/vocal works that we consider masterpieces have substandard texts that we monoglots are blissfully unaware of?


Title: Re: Harris's 13th
Post by: Gauk on March 18, 2013, 12:54:11 am
Now the question arises, how many choral/vocal works that we consider masterpieces have substandard texts that we monoglots are blissfully unaware of?

Plenty, and that is why (for instance) that one doesn't hear Schubert's operas much.

And you can add Tippett's later operas to Tippett 3 as well. It constantly irks me that so many composers think that because they know how to write music means they know how to write poetry as well. The result is as daft as a poet deciding he might as well write his own music for his poems. It's possible that a good composer might be a good poet as well (or vice versa), but it's statistically unlikely.

Kaddish, though, is just too cringe-making to be listenable to.


Title: Re: Harris's 13th
Post by: Dundonnell on March 18, 2013, 03:51:39 am
I must confess to not having listened to Bernstein's Kaddish for some time.....but as for Tippett's 3rd ??? Well, I could happily live without ever hearing that work again ::)


Title: Re: Harris's 13th
Post by: Jolly Roger on March 18, 2013, 08:21:45 am
Perhaps Harris was trying to write something for the "me" generation and failed in a format for a "new" banal patriotism.
Perhaps he was simply forced into an unsuitable situation by the thematic material.
Every prolific composer has works which did not deserve to see the light of day, and this is one of them..
But let's not judge Harris to harshly.. Much of his music is quite memorable and unique..Patriotic or not..


Title: Re: Harris's 13th
Post by: Dundonnell on March 18, 2013, 06:47:03 pm
Oh...I totally agree :)

I am very fond of the earlier Harris. He was a substantial American composer and his music should not be judged simply on the basis of the rather feeble works of his old age.


Title: Re: Harris's 13th
Post by: Latvian on March 18, 2013, 07:51:19 pm
Quote
The result is as daft as a poet deciding he might as well write his own music for his poems

Rod McKuen, perhaps? Although one could argue that his poetry wasn't of much value, either.  ;)

Anyway, since my comment seems to have started this thread, I'll contribute a couple of comments:

I believe Harris' 3rd Symphony is a masterpiece. Unfortunately, it seems as if Harris thought so, too, and didn't really expend much effort trying to do anything different for the rest of his life. It feels as if he just milked the style until he hit a dead end, and then kept going, spinning his wheels, so to speak. The 13th Symphony is so embarrassingly dreadful and amateurish, it astounds me that he didn't realize it (unless his mental faculties were impaired at that point, in which case his wife should have realized this work would do his posthumous reputation no good).

However, I do like some of the other Harris symphonies (prior to No. 10). Not daily listening, but worth the occasional spin in my CD player.

And, I've always considered the Khachaturian 3rd a guilty pleasure. I remember the first time I heard the work, in Stokowski's RCA recording over 40 years ago, and thinking at the time that it was an unbelievably pompous and empty work. But... I liked it. All those hyperdramatic gestures and vivid orchestration are just irresistible and I still listen to it now and then when I need to get pumped up!


Title: Re: Harris's 13th
Post by: Dundonnell on March 18, 2013, 08:10:17 pm
Completely agree with everything you say :)


Title: Re: Harris's 13th
Post by: tapiola on March 18, 2013, 08:36:12 pm
I have to disagree. Harris'  5th, 6th, 7th, 8th, 9th & 11th Symphonies are all superb works.  As is "Abraham Lincoln Walks at Midnight" and the Piano Quintet, 3rd String Quartet, Violin Sonata, "Give Me the Splendid Silent Sun"  and others I cannot mention at first thought.
Strong, sinewy the ultimate in American experiences.  Maybe you have to be born here. But I see and feel  our vast forests, rivers, mountains as clear as I see Ireland in Bax or Finland in Sibelius.

The 13th was a disaster written well after his prime. His family should have destroyed it.  Up until th early 60s he was the equal of any American composer.


Title: Re: Harris's 13th
Post by: Latvian on March 19, 2013, 03:19:11 pm
Quote
I have to disagree. Harris'  5th, 6th, 7th, 8th, 9th & 11th Symphonies are all superb works.  As is "Abraham Lincoln Walks at Midnight" and the Piano Quintet, 3rd String Quartet, Violin Sonata, "Give Me the Splendid Silent Sun"  and others I cannot mention at first thought.
Strong, sinewy the ultimate in American experiences.  Maybe you have to be born here. But I see and feel  our vast forests, rivers, mountains as clear as I see Ireland in Bax or Finland in Sibelius.

I certainly hear the strength and sinew in Harris' music, and much more in the 3rd Symphony. It just doesn't feel as though he went much beyond it in his later works. I have to admit that I've never spent much time analyzing the other works, and various listenings haven't revealed any hidden profundity to me. I'll have to spend some time (goodness knows when, though!) on some of the works you mention and try to find more substance in them.


Title: Re: Harris's 13th
Post by: Gauk on March 19, 2013, 03:43:58 pm
I can't help but feel that there is a comparison here with Sibelius. It is quite possible that if Sibelius had not burnt the MS of his 8th symphony, we might well be saying the same things about that work. His compositional powers were in decline and he knew it.


Title: Re: Harris's 13th
Post by: Schuylkill on March 19, 2013, 06:22:45 pm
Roy Harris loved fast cars - he was in a smashup somewhere on the Pennsylvania Turnpike and still a little gimpy when I first met him in 1957. And there is a photograph of him on the back of a Varese-Sarabande LP. He is with his Lincoln convertible, top down, somewhere in the middle of nowhere and admiring the nowhere in the middle of which he stopped his car for a photo op. That said, about 1933, when Chrysler and DeSoto came out with their amazing "airflow" models he wanted one in the worst possible way and wrote Chrysler offering to compose something like a "Symphony of Speed" in return for one of their new cars, employing some of their advertising talking points to title the various movements. His letter is quoted in a "bio-biography" but, alas, Chrysler did not take him up on this. And in either Time or Newsweek circa 1977 or 1978 there was a line or two about his receiving a commission to compose an "Olympic" symphony for a Moscow performance at the 1980 Olympics.

So we got a different second symphony and no fifteen.

Best from Schuylkill who is back.


Title: Re: Harris's 13th
Post by: Dundonnell on March 20, 2013, 12:55:53 am
And it is absolutely delightful to see you back with us :) :)

I was increasingly worried by your prolonged absence.


Title: Re: Harris's 13th
Post by: Latvian on March 20, 2013, 03:13:36 pm
Quote
Best from Schuylkill who is back.

Great to have you back!


Title: Re: Harris's 13th
Post by: Jolly Roger on March 22, 2013, 01:54:21 am
Oh...I totally agree :)

I am very fond of the earlier Harris. He was a substantial American composer and his music should not be judged simply on the basis of the rather feeble works of his old age.

I wish I had said that...
some composers are able to produce masterpieces till the end..Harris was not granted that gift..
He may have been ailing when he wrote no 13.


Title: Re: Harris's 13th
Post by: tapiola on March 22, 2013, 05:50:19 am
When you listen to "Tapiola" (1926) and "The Tempest" (1925) I don't see him losing his touch at all.  He began writing the 8th right after "Tapiola". He had lost confidence as he tried to retrieve "Tapiola" from his publisher, but it had already been printed and sent out for the premiere in New York. It was a matter of tremendous pressure from outside influences that he could not deal with.  He was repeatedly equated to Beethoven in the UK and USA and he knew he represented his entire nation to the world.
The thought of writing anything not equal to the task, and the constant harassment to produce the 8th led to him simply destroying it.
His wife wrote that after the great burning of all remaining manuscripts (c.1947-48), a calmness and lightening of his spirits followed.
I think measuring up to outrageous public expectations silenced him, not a failing of inspiration.
If the 8th was comparable to "Tapiola" its destruction was a great loss to us all.


Title: Re: Harris's 13th
Post by: Jolly Roger on March 22, 2013, 08:00:52 am
When you listen to "Tapiola" (1926) and "The Tempest" (1925) I don't see him losing his touch at all.  He began writing the 8th right after "Tapiola". He had lost confidence as he tried to retrieve "Tapiola" from his publisher, but it had already been printed and sent out for the premiere in New York. It was a matter of tremendous pressure from outside influences that he could not deal with.  He was repeatedly equated to Beethoven in the UK and USA and he knew he represented his entire nation to the world.
The thought of writing anything not equal to the task, and the constant harassment to produce the 8th led to him simply destroying it.
His wife wrote that after the great burning of all remaining manuscripts (c.1947-48), a calmness and lightening of his spirits followed.
I think measuring up to outrageous public expectations silenced him, not a failing of inspiration.
If the 8th was comparable to "Tapiola" its destruction was a great loss to us all.
Tapiola is indeed magical a piece that influenced many newer composers..the 8th may have also been magical..


Title: Re: Harris's 13th
Post by: Latvian on March 22, 2013, 01:51:53 pm
Quote
I think measuring up to outrageous public expectations silenced him, not a failing of inspiration.

An astute assessment, I believe.


Title: Re: Harris's 13th
Post by: Gauk on March 22, 2013, 08:30:43 pm
Tapiola is a great work - The Tempest is arguably at a much lower level (or so I have heard it said by people whose opinion I respect). I didn't know the story about trying to withdraw Tapiola though, which certainly indicates an access of hyper-self-criticism.


Title: Re: Harris's 13th
Post by: Latvian on March 23, 2013, 02:08:15 pm
The music for The Tempest should be looked at a bit differently than Tapiola, I believe. Personally, I love both works immensely. However, Tapiola is a much longer piece than any single movement of The Tempest and therefore affords much more time for development. As a taste of what an 8th Symphony may have been like, it's therefore a much more accurate barometer. The music for The Tempest was written to enhance and enrich a theatrical production and as such comes and goes in shorter spurts, underlining key scenes and using leitmotifs to characterize. Taken on its own terms, it's wonderful stuff. The wealth of invention and color is dazzling, the melodies are memorable, and the atmosphere he creates is vivid.

I have many recordings of the complete music, various suites, excerpts, and listen to them frequently. I have the utmost respect and fondness for The Tempest music. I also don't mean for this post to be an impassioned defense (where none is needed, I feel), rather an enthusiastic endorsement.


Title: Re: Harris's 13th
Post by: tapiola on March 23, 2013, 02:40:23 pm
Latvian, you are wise.  The Storm music is as advanced as anything he ever wrote. There are several selectons that are quite dissonant.  Probably the finest incidental music ever written. And he was 60 and working out the 8th in his mind at the time.


Title: Re: Harris's 13th
Post by: Dundonnell on March 28, 2013, 04:54:07 pm
Sibelius wrote an enormous amount of incidental music of all sorts-orchestral and choral-to commission. Some of it is impressive, some a lot less so.
But-as has been said-his greatness can never be in any doubt and lies in the major works with which we are all probably very familiar.

Other composers too have found inspiration(or indeed motivation) hard to summon up when the music is not derived initially from their own imperative to compose. RVW's muse sometimes flags and Shostakovich wrote some pretty sub-standard music to order. Consider the last 10-15 years of Elgar's musical career. Or Arnold Bax. Both composers were running out of ideas/inspiration. The sketches for the Elgar 3rd may-or may not-have been a return; we shall never know for sure.

When a composer is turned into a national icon as Sibelius most certainly was in Finland then the pressures of expectation can become unbearable.

Harris had run out of ideas and inspiration. He could not recapture the freshness of the earlier music. He-probably-realised that the sort of nationalistic, patriotic, romantic music he had composed through the earlier symphonies had run its course but he appears to have had nothing with which to replace it. The somewhat pathetic attempts to "modernise" his idiom, to use unusual combinations of instruments and tack this onto a 1960s/70s updated American nationalism was a disaster.

Copland changed direction and most definitely modernised his idiom (without recapturing the popularity of the earlier music). Samuel Barber did not.....and his later music demonstrates a diminution of inspiration and popularity.

It is obviously difficult for composers in the 20th century-who mostly lived longer lives than their 19th century counterparts to continue to develop their individual musical identity/idiom.

That is why I have always thought that the RVW 9th is a remarkable and unjustly under-appreciated score.


Title: Re: Harris's 13th
Post by: Latvian on March 28, 2013, 06:52:47 pm
Quote
That is why I have always thought that the RVW 9th is a remarkable and unjustly under-appreciated score.

I agree! A brilliant piece of writing.


Title: Re: Harris's 13th
Post by: tapiola on March 28, 2013, 06:57:48 pm
I tried to write a lengthy reponse pretty much agreeing with Dundonnell but was kicked off for typing too slow, I guess :-\.
Anyway, well said.


Title: Re: Harris's 13th
Post by: Dundonnell on March 29, 2013, 04:45:01 am
I tried to write a lengthy reponse pretty much agreeing with Dundonnell but was kicked off for typing too slow, I guess :-\.
Anyway, well said.

Thanks ;D


Title: Re: Harris's 13th
Post by: Jolly Roger on March 29, 2013, 09:50:22 pm
One of the disadvantages of hearing so much music at this forum is that you may get the good, bad and the ugly from the same composer.
But I would not give up that gift for anything....because the more we hear the better we understand the composer.
But sometimes it is not just age which affects the temperment and style of the music.
I keep thinkling about Braga Santos and Malipiero whose melodic music became more astringent later in their careers because they were being ignored.
The demand was for the dissonant..
With these two, I enjoy the astringent as well, and even with a different message of cynicism and pessimism the gift never left .. it is still fascinating
music to me.
It's almost as if they said "OK...u no likea da melody anymore..I geev u dis!!"


Title: Re: Harris's 13th
Post by: Gauk on March 29, 2013, 11:09:37 pm
Are you sure that is the reason for the shift?


Title: Re: Harris's 13th
Post by: cilgwyn on March 30, 2013, 02:13:34 pm
I tried to write a lengthy reponse pretty much agreeing with Dundonnell but was kicked off for typing too slow, I guess :-\.
Anyway, well said.

Thanks ;D
Like me! By the time I've finished,night has turned into day! :(


Title: Re: Harris's 13th
Post by: suffolkcoastal on March 30, 2013, 08:24:06 pm
I don't think Harris's 12th Symphony is that bad at all. It is somewhat uneven, however there is some fine imaginative writing in the work, it is just a pity he reused parts of the 8th Symphony earlier on in the piece. I agree that the 13th Symphony is poor, Harris was trying to draw attention to the US's less than perfect record on race up to the 1960's, and the suffering of black people in 'the land of the free', sadly with his mental faculties already failing, he just wasn't up to the task. The 11th Symphony I've long admired, though the two recordings I have, including the recent one on Albany, don't quite do the work justice (the Albany is short on strings and there are a couple of errors).
I've a number of of off-air tapes I would like to upload to this site when I get my tape-mp3 converter. A work like the 1st Piano Concerto might surprise some listeners, its light and rather jazzy, the Piano Trio and 1st String Quartet are fine works, and the String Quintet though perhaps over-ambitious is also very fine. There is also the setting of St Francis's Canticle of the Sun for coloratura soprano & chamber orchestra (from which some of the material of the 8th Symphony is taken) which is quite ecstatic. Harris wrote a number of lighter works, which I don't have and would love to hear and which should be recorded to show that he had a lighter side.


Title: Re: Harris's 13th
Post by: tapiola on March 30, 2013, 11:57:42 pm
"St Francis's Canticle of the Sun".....I would love to be able to hear that!


Title: Re: Harris's 13th
Post by: Dundonnell on March 31, 2013, 03:28:42 am
I don't think Harris's 12th Symphony is that bad at all. It is somewhat uneven, however there is some fine imaginative writing in the work, it is just a pity he reused parts of the 8th Symphony earlier on in the piece. I agree that the 13th Symphony is poor, Harris was trying to draw attention to the US's less than perfect record on race up to the 1960's, and the suffering of black people in 'the land of the free', sadly with his mental faculties already failing, he just wasn't up to the task. The 11th Symphony I've long admired, though the two recordings I have, including the recent one on Albany, don't quite do the work justice (the Albany is short on strings and there are a couple of errors).
I've a number of of off-air tapes I would like to upload to this site when I get my tape-mp3 converter. A work like the 1st Piano Concerto might surprise some listeners, its light and rather jazzy, the Piano Trio and 1st String Quartet are fine works, and the String Quintet though perhaps over-ambitious is also very fine. There is also the setting of St Francis's Canticle of the Sun for coloratura soprano & chamber orchestra (from which some of the material of the 8th Symphony is taken) which is quite ecstatic. Harris wrote a number of lighter works, which I don't have and would love to hear and which should be recorded to show that he had a lighter side.

I suspected that this thread might attract your attention and, as a Harris expert, might give you cause for some annoyance :)

It is-of course-grossly unfair to judge Harris by the Symphony No.13 and I can recognise quality in the Symphony No.11. I am listening again to the Symphony No.12 as I type in an attempt to pick up on the "fine imaginative writing" you mention. It is, undoubtedly, not the disaster of Symphony No.13 but it does tend to meander a trifle and there is not the same driven sense of purpose and optimistic swagger of the earlier music. Harris wrote a huge amount of music-as you know full well-and the result is both a degree of unevenness and, I tend to find, an element of repetition which can exasperate me as a listener. The Harris-style is so self-evidently distinctive that I find it palling after several hearings. I can listen to Harris from time to time but I would not want to sit through a Harrisfest ;D

Harris was a fine composer and does not deserve his current neglect. Naxos appeared to be going to remedy that but-for whatever reason-chose the wrong conductor. Marin Alsop simply did not seem committed to the music (as she had been to that of Samuel Barber). JoAnn Falletta might have made a better choice. The only way to conduct Harris is to take the brakes off and go full-throttle-as a Bernstein could do in the 3rd.


Title: Re: Harris's 13th
Post by: Gauk on March 31, 2013, 08:49:17 am
It is-of course-grossly unfair to judge Harris by the Symphony No.13 <snip>

The point of this thread is hardly to do that. It's rather to consider how far it is possible for a good composer to decline to writing very poor music. If the 3rd were not such a masterpiece, the 13th would not be worth writing about.

PS I agree about Bernstein.


Title: Re: Harris's 13th
Post by: suffolkcoastal on March 31, 2013, 11:19:07 am
You're absolutely right about going at Harris full throttle dundonnell, without a conductor that is totally convinced and committed, the results can be rather lacklustre, (the performance of the 12th is in that category, I have a detailed analysis of the work which helps in understanding the work, but is frustrating as you can hear where the conductor doesn't have a detailed enough knowledge of the score to lead a fine performance). I agree Alsop was the wrong conductor, her 3rd really is one of the worst committed to disc, but Naxos have a habit of giving up on projects, especially when it comes to more important American composers, preferring to invest in some distinctly 5th rate and considerably worse American composers. The Harris symphony that is in absolutely desperate need of a good modern recording is the 1st, all my hopes are now with Albany on that one.
I don't think that Barber declined that much in his last works, 'The Lovers' is intensely moving and among my favourite Barber scores. Piston became more introverted in his later works, and they lack the immediate appeal of the earlier works, but they are still expertly crafted. Diamond seemed to maintain quality in his later works, one of his last, the Concerto for String Quartet & Orchestra is highly engaging.
Composers of course have off days earlier in their careers too, Part's 2nd and Tischenko's 3rd Symphonies I find to be exceptionally poor works, even a composer like Britten could produce complete duds like The Golden Vanity in their maturity.


Title: Re: Harris's 13th
Post by: Jim on April 30, 2013, 03:33:45 pm
I don't think that Barber declined that much in his last works, 'The Lovers' is intensely moving and among my favourite Barber scores.

Same here, he really gets to the heart of Neruda's poetry; simply beautiful.