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Harris's 13th


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Author Topic: Harris's 13th  (Read 1291 times)
Dundonnell
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« Reply #30 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.
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Latvian
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« Reply #31 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.
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tapiola
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« Reply #32 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 Undecided.
Anyway, well said.
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Dundonnell
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« Reply #33 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 Undecided.
Anyway, well said.

Thanks Grin
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Jolly Roger
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« Reply #34 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!!"
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Gauk
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« Reply #35 on: March 29, 2013, 11:09:37 pm »

Are you sure that is the reason for the shift?
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cilgwyn
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« Reply #36 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 Undecided.
Anyway, well said.

Thanks Grin
Like me! By the time I've finished,night has turned into day! Sad
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suffolkcoastal
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« Reply #37 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.
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tapiola
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« Reply #38 on: March 30, 2013, 11:57:42 pm »

"St Francis's Canticle of the Sun".....I would love to be able to hear that!
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Dundonnell
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« Reply #39 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 Smiley

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 Grin

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.
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Gauk
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« Reply #40 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.
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suffolkcoastal
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« Reply #41 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.
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Jim
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« Reply #42 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.
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