Harrison, Lou Silver

Harrison, Lou Silver, 1917–2003, American composer, b. Portland, Oreg. He studied composition in California with Henry Cowell and Arnold Schoenberg. His early work stresses percussion while combining Western, Asian, African, and Latin American rhythms and often using unorthodox “found” instruments. In this period he also collaborated with John Cage. Moving to New York in 1943, Harrison became a music critic, part of Virgil Thomson's circle, and a friend of Charles Ives, whose music he championed. All these composers influenced Harrison's extremely varied oeuvre. In 1953 he moved to California, where he lived for the rest of his life.

Harrison had an ongoing interest in Balinese music and is considered the founder of the American gamelan (a mainly percussion Indonesian orchestra) movement. He built gamelan instruments and composed several works incorporating gamelan, e.g., the choral Pacifica Rondo (1963) and La Koro Sutro (1972) and a double concerto (1982). He also had a deep knowledge of Chinese and Korean music. Versatile and prolific, Harrison wrote four symphonies, concerti, an opera (1952), songs, chamber music, piano pieces, dances, and other compositions. While his usually spare and frequently exuberant works encompass many styles, systems, harmonies, and tunings, they are united by an imaginative joining of traditions and frequently by a blending of East and West. Harrison was also a college teacher, poet, essayist, painter, and longtime gay activist.

See P. Garland, ed., A Lou Harrison Reader (1987); biography by B. Alves and B. Campbell (2017); H. Von Gunden, The Music of Lou Harrison (1995); L. E. Miller and F. Lieberman, Lou Harrison: Composing a World (1998); E. Soltes, dir., Lou Harrison: A World of Music (documentary, 2011).

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