Lou Harrison - Works 1939-2000

Lou Harrison

(1917-2003)


mode 122

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Mode Records - A Record Label Devoted to New Music Lou Harrison - Works 1939-2000

1-10. Marriage at the Eiffel Tower
     (original septet version, 1949) * (14:22)

Download the MP3 sample (1.2MB)



11-17. The Only Jealousy of Emer (1949)   (11:33)
     for flutes, cello, bass, tack-piano & celesta

18-20. Arias from "Young Caesar" (2000)  *   (9:21)
     for tenor, soprano & ensemble

Download the MP3 sample (1.5MB)



21. Music for Remy (1998)  *  (4:54)
     for flute & percussion

22-23. Mass to St. Anthony: Kyrie and Gloria
     (original version for chorus & percussion, 1939)  *  (9:22)

Download the MP3 sample (2MB)



24. Vestiunt Silve (1994)   (3:34)
     for soprano, flute, 2 violas & harp

Download the MP3 sample (1.8MB)



25-27. Short Set from "Lazarus Laughed" (1999)  *  (5:12)
     for flute, cello & celesta

28-32. Easter Cantata (1966)  *  (11:32)
     for contralto, tenor, chorus and ensemble

Download the MP3 sample (1.8MB)



Patrice Maginnis, soprano
Michelle Rivard, contralto
Brian Staufenbiel, tenor
Leta Miller, flutes & piccolo
William Winant, percussion
UCSC Chamber Singers
The California Parallèlle Ensemble
Nicole Paiement, conductor

* First Recording


We were saddened to learn of the passing of Lou Harrison as this disc just entered production. It is perhaps fitting that it provides an overview of Harrison's work, from 2 movements of a mass composed in 1939 to 3 vocal arias composed in 2000.

Mass to St. Anthony was begun when Hitler invaded Poland; a mass for voices and percussion expressing both outrage and hope. Harrison completed the Gregorian-like chant for the entire 5 movements of the work, but only finished the percussion accompaniment for the first 2. The Kyrie is sung to the sounds of the marching Nazi army: vibraphone, snare, field, bass, and brake drums. In contrast, the Gloria is accompanied by bell sounds - as many as Harrison could find - symbolizing the ringing of church bells around the world. After he left San Francisco in 1942, Harrison put the Mass aside for 10 years, and then revised its scoring. In 2001 he restored the original percussion accompaniment for the first 2 movements, adding a piccolo to the Kyrie. This recording thus represents the premiere of the work in its original form.

For choreographer Bonnie Bird's revival of Jean Cocteau's surrealist Marriage at the Eiffel Tower, Harrison wrote a score reminiscent of Paris in the 1920s and the style of Les Six. The original version, for septet, is presented here for the first time. Each musical number is introduced by a portion of the narration.

During the same summer, Harrison and Bird presented William Butler Yeats's dance-play, The Only Jealousy of Emer. This music reflects Harrison's style of the early 1950s: expansive melodies often accompanied by ostinato patterns or drone figures.

In 1951 Harrison began a work for voice and chamber ensemble, Vestiunt silve, a setting of an 11th-century text about birds. He got no further than the first stanza before abandoning the project. In 1994, for a performance at the Dartington International Summer Festival in England, Harrison revisited the sketch and completed this work for instrumental ensemble of flute, harp, and 2 violas.

For the Easter Cantata, Harrison uses what he calls a "selected orchestra": strings with trumpets, trombones, harp, and percussion. Instrumentally, there is a greater emphasis on counterpoint than on harmony. The chorus is in a contrasting chorale style; lush chordal harmonies create a neo-baroque effect.

The original version of Harrison's second opera, Young Caesar called for 5 singers and 5 instrumentalists who played an eclectic array of Western and Asian instruments, including a set of keyed metallophones. The objective was to contrast East and West in terms of instruments and tuning systems, and to celebrate the bridging of a cultural and political gap through love and human desire. In 2000 he added 7 arias and duets, 3 of which are recorded for the first time on this disc.

A Short Set from Lazarus Laughed and Music for Remy were both written in 1998. The first work was extracted from music composed for a radio broadcast of Eugene O'Neill's play; the second was written for friend Remy Charlip, an author, dancer, and painter. Both feature percussion. Music for Remy recalls Harrison's early works for percussion and solo instrument from the 1930s and 1940s, but expressed in the sophisticated melodic language of his mature style. The work was originally written for oboe, but Harrison gladly authorized this version for flute.

Liner notes are by Harrison scholar Leta Miller.


REVIEWS:

Lou Harrison
Works 1939-2000

Mode 122

Es una pena que el primer volumen que Mode consaga al compositor norteamericano Lou Harrison (1917-2003) ofrezca tan poco interés como el presente. Este eclectista del lenguaje musical, que combina desprejuiciadamente los estilos de la tradición con la incorporación de un color instrumental orientalizante, merecía un estreno en Mode algo más atractivo. Siendo su fuerte la composición para orquesta y el género del concierto, el ramillete de piezas aquí elegidas, que cubren un arco amplísimo (1993-2000), todas compuestas para pequeños conjuntos y voces, muestran al Harrison más simple de escritura, demasiado plegado a unos cánones nacionalistas, como es el caso de la obra que abre el disco, la horripilante Marriage at the Eiffel Tower, y de la que lo cierra, una plúmbea Easter Cantata. En cambio, el tratamiento del color sonoro y el buen gusto de la línea melódica dan buenos resultados en The only Jealousy of Emer (de reminiscencias orientales), Music for Remy (que remite, curiosamente, al lenguaje de Shostakovich) y la minimalista pieza central de Lazarus laughed, "Miriam", para violochelo, flauta y celesta. Pero las piezas claramente dominadas por la voz, como la que abre el registro, ya antes citada, y las arias de Young Caesar, no se sostienen.

Toda esta debilidad formal aun es menos explicable si se observan las fechas de composición: el año 2000, en el caso de Young Caesar, con un Harrison ya en su último período y 1966 en lo que respecta a Easter CantataI, cuando ya el conocimiento del gamelan balinés. Pero ese es, quizás, el precio que hay que pagar cuando el eclecticimo es la marca de fábrica.
---F. R.


The Fertile Mind of Lou Harrison
"Lou Harrison - Works 1939-2000"

(from a review of 4 new discs of Lou Harrison's music)

Marriage at the Eiffel Tower
The Only Jealousy of Emer
Arias from Young Caesar
Music for Remy
Kyrie and Gloria from Mass to St. Anthony
Vestiunt silve
Short Set from "Lazarus Laughed"
Easter Cantata


Patrice Maginnis (soprano), Michelle Rivard (contralto), Brian Staufenbiel (tenor), Leta Miller (flutes), William Winant (percussion), UCSC Chamber Singers, The California Parallèlle Ensemble, Nicole Paiement (conductor)
Mode 122

For more than a decade before Lou Harrison's death in February 2003, his music had been winning increasing attention and acclaim. It's hard to think of another American composer who accomplished so much in so many different styles, and a flurry of CD releases that have appeared in the months since the composer's passing reveals even greater breadth and depth than many listeners might suspect.

Harrison first gained notoriety in the late 1930s for the pioneering San Francisco percussion concerts he staged with John Cage, having prowled Chinatown for gongs and temple blocks and scoured junkyards for brake drums, washtubs and other "found" instruments. Bypassing the classical music establishment, the composers wrote for percussion because those instruments were cheap and could be played by amateur musicians (primarily their friends in the dance community). The concerts drew steadily growing crowds and won enthusiastic reviews from the critics.
...

Winant also enlivens one of the featured works on a Mode Records release of music from throughout Harrison's career, including two works in never-before-recorded original versions.

The composer approached the pinnacle of what he called his "mission period" in 1939, when he discovered that colonial Spanish priests began their conversion of Native Americans to Catholicism by teaching them Latin sacred music - and allowed them to perform it on their indigenous instruments. Similarly, Harrison's Mass to St. Anthony - begun on a San Francisco streetcar when he heard the news of the Nazi invasion of Poland in September 1939 - made use of warlike instruments: the original scoring was for double chorus and percussion orchestra, with military snare and bass drums in the dark Kyrie and "all the church bells in the world" in the Gloria. ("John Cage and I agreed that a superfluous number of bells was just about right," Harrison said.) He finished the vocal parts for all five movements, but drafted only the first two for percussion before setting the work aside. Fifteen years later, in the hope that leaving out percussion would increase the Mass's chances of getting performed, Harrison completed the entire piece and rescored it for strings, harp and trumpet. He recently returned to the original vision, however, and completed the percussion accompaniment for the first two movements (adding piccolo for that fife-and-drum military sound). Although it omits one of the loveliest tunes Harrison ever composed (in the Agnus Dei), this truncated version nevertheless reveals the majesty of his original conception. Perhaps Mode's recording will inspire the executors of Harrison's estate to authorize a completion of his original vision for the Mass.

The Mode CD contains another original version of a work heretofore recorded only in chamber orchestra form: the suite Harrison arranged from his score to The Marriage at the Eiffel Tower. The original music for Jean Cocteau's wickedly Dadaist ballet was composed in 1921 by members of "Les Six" (Poulenc, Milhaud, et al.), but choreographer Bonnie Bird asked Harrison to write his own score for a 1949 performance in Portland, Oregon. Though the narrators here can't approach the sheer personality of the composer himself and Virgil Thomson, who delivered the narration on the recording by Dennis Russell Davies and the Brooklyn Philharmonic of the chamber orchestra version, the original septet scoring better conveys the wry, whimsical spirit of Paris in the 1920s. The California Parallèlle Ensemble's fine performance of another theater score written that summer, for Bird's production of Yeats's play The Only Jealousy of Emer, conveys that music's darker feel and rhythmic uncertainty.

One of the lead dancers in those productions was the composer's then-lover and lifelong friend Remy Charlip. Almost half a century later, Harrison wrote Music for Remy (1998), which is recorded here with flute replacing the original oboe. That decision tends to undermine the intended "snake charmer" sound, though it does highlight the work's similarity to Harrison's earliest important piece, the 1935 Concerto for Flute and Percussion. Like the other 1990s pieces on the disc - the brief, soaring Vestiunt silve for flute, violas, harp and soprano, and especially the propulsive Short Set from "Lazarus Laughed" for flute, cello and celesta (written for a radio drama by Eugene O'Neill) - Music for Remy is based on material from much earlier in Harrison's career. So potent was his gift for melody that even pieces pulled together from different times, places and cultures come off sounding effortlessly coherent.

The other major piece in the Mode collection, the 1966 Easter Cantata, resembles some of Stravinsky's sacred works, especially the Mass the Russian composer was writing around that time. The most recent compositions included, three new arias Harrison composed for a never-realized Lincoln Center production (originally scheduled for 2001) of his second opera, Young Caesar , whet the appetite for a first staging of that work's third and final incarnation.

Taken together, this quartet of CDs provides a fine (if still incomplete) overview of Harrison's astonishingly varied output. I hope that the encomiums that followed his recent death, as well as musical trends and critical attention that are only now catching up to this pioneering figure, will result in ever more performances and recordings of music by one of the most prolific, melodious and exuberant composers who ever lived.
--- Brett Campbell, andante.com
      © andante Corp. September 2003. All rights reserved.


Lou Harrison
"Lou Harrison - Works 1939-2000"

Mode 122

The new recording, "Lou Harrison - Works 1939-2000," was largely completed under the composer's supervision and features a delightful sampling of instrumental and vocal works from throughout his career. (It is available online at www.moderecords.com or by special order at record stores.)

The performances are lead by percussionist William Winant, a longtime champion of Harrison's music, and flutist Leta Miller, who is also the co-author, with Frederic Lieberman, of the Harrison biography "Composing a World" (Oxford University Press, 1998).

The disc opens with a handful of lively, French-sounding numbers taken from Harrison's score to a 1949 production of "Marriage at the Eiffel Tower," a ballet originally by Jean Cocteau. The fluent and good-humored writing speaks well of Harrison.

A fondness for percussion meets his long, chantlike melodies in the "Mass to St. Anthony," from 1939, and there is a neo-Renaissance air about "Vestiunt Silve," from 1994, which sets an 11th-century minstrel text for soprano, flute, two violas, and harp.

Most welcome on the disc are three excerpts from Harrison's second opera, "Young Caesar." The piece dates from 1971, but its history is complicated by the composer's penchant for revising his pieces. The recorded aria and a duet were part of an expansion of the work completed in 2000 for a production by the Lincoln Center Festival that was never realized.
--- Joseph Dalton, Albany Times Union, Sunday, April 20, 2003


Related Resources:

Also by THESE ARTISTS on Mode:
Henry COWELL: Dancing with Henry (mode 101)

Lou HARRISON - For Strings (mode 140)
                              Por Gitaro: Suites for Tuned Guitars (mode 195)



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