Roy Harris

Composer, professor, and a prominent representative of nationalism in U.S. music. He came to be regarded as the musical spokesman for the American landscape.

Born : Feb. 12, 1898, Lincoln County, Okla., U.S. Died : Oct. 1, 1979, Santa Monica, Calif.

His family moved to California during his childhood. He was a truck driver for four years, then at age 24 studied music in California. Later he studied in Paris with Nadia Boulanger, who trained many distinguished composers. His first significant work was a concerto for clarinet, piano, and string quartet (1927). After returning to the United States he held teaching positions (composer in residence at California State University at Los Angeles, and professor emeritus of music at the University of California at Los Angeles at the time of his death) and was active as an organizer of music festivals.

Harris' works are marked by broad tonal melodies and asymmetrical rhythms. Many reflect American scenes and music: When Johnny Comes Marching Home (1935), a symphonic overture on a Civil War song; the Fourth (Folksong) Symphony with chorus (1940); and Kentucky Spring (1949), for orchestra. His Sixth Symphony (1944) is subtitled Gettysburg Address, and his 10th Symphony (1965) the Abraham Lincoln Symphony.

Of his 16 symphonies, the best known and most often performed is the Third (1939), written in a single movement with contrasting sections of lyrical and dramatic nature. The Fifth Symphony (1943) has a vigorous proclamatory quality, and his Seventh (1952) shows his characteristic harmonic, melodic, and rhythmic features to be further strengthened and developed. In chamber music he followed classical models. He wrote three string quartets, a piano trio, a piano quintet, and a string quintet. Particularly interesting is the Third String Quartet (1939), in the form of four preludes and fugues in modal harmony.

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