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Harris's 13th


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Latvian
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« Reply #15 on: March 18, 2013, 07:51:19 pm »

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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.  Wink

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!
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« Reply #16 on: March 18, 2013, 08:10:17 pm »

Completely agree with everything you say Smiley
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tapiola
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« Reply #17 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.
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« Reply #18 on: March 19, 2013, 03:19:11 pm »

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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.
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« Reply #19 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.
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« Reply #20 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.
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« Reply #21 on: March 20, 2013, 12:55:53 am »

And it is absolutely delightful to see you back with us Smiley Smiley

I was increasingly worried by your prolonged absence.
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« Reply #22 on: March 20, 2013, 03:13:36 pm »

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Best from Schuylkill who is back.

Great to have you back!
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Jolly Roger
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« Reply #23 on: March 22, 2013, 01:54:21 am »

Oh...I totally agree Smiley

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.
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tapiola
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« Reply #24 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.
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« Reply #25 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..
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« Reply #26 on: March 22, 2013, 01:51:53 pm »

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I think measuring up to outrageous public expectations silenced him, not a failing of inspiration.

An astute assessment, I believe.
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« Reply #27 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.
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« Reply #28 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.
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tapiola
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« Reply #29 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.
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