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Lou Harrison: In Retrospect

Composer(s): Lou Harrison
Album Title: Lou Harrison: In Retrospect 
Cat. No.: 80666
Genre: Classical / Chamber
Release Date: 04/2007
 
Description: Leroy Kromm, baritone; University of California, Santa Cruz Chamber Singers and Chamber Orchestra; Leta Miller, flute; Yvonne Powers, oboe; Adam Gordon, trumpet; Nohema Fernández, celesta; Emily Wong George, tack piano; Stephen Tramontozzi, string bass; Peter Shelton, Lee Duckles, cellos; William Winant and Heather Sloan, percussion; Nicole Paiement, Dennis Russell Davies, conductors

Although the compositional style of Lou Harrison (1917–2003) evolved and matured during his long and productive life, he held fast to a number of basic aesthetic principles: a devotion to beautiful melody; the foregrounding of rhythm, melody, and counterpoint over harmony; a preference for just-intonation tuning systems; and the integration of influences from diverse world musics. On the present disc, which includes works from 1939 to 1987, all of these characteristics are in evidence.
Despite its early origin, First Concerto for Flute and Percussion (1939) has remained one of Harrison's most frequently performed and recorded works. The ballet Solstice (1950) is written for octet: three treble instruments (flute, oboe, trumpet), three bass instruments (two cellos and string bass), and two keyboards (celesta and tack-piano). Harrison found that by combining the tack-piano with the celesta he could create a sound that resembled that of an Indonesian gamelan, which he first encountered in 1939. The complex rhythms and exuberant melodies of gamelan became a major source of inspiration. The gamelanish sounds in Solstice can be heard most prominently in the fourth movement ("Earth's Invitation"), when the solo flute line is accompanied by celesta, tack-piano, and pitched percussion created by the bass player, who strikes the strings of his instrument with drum sticks below the bridge.

The text for Strict Songs (1955, revised 1992), modeled on Navajo ritual song, is of Harrison's own invention. Harrison's interest in gamelan had led him to explore the possibilities of pentatonic modes. Each of the four movements of Strict Songs is based on a different pentatonic mode. All intervals are tuned to exact mathematical proportions, rather than to the impure compromise-intervals of present-day equal-temperament. The fixed-pitch instruments in the ensemble (piano and harp) are retuned to produce non-beating intervals; the strings and trombones match these pitches by ear. The effect of the retuning is a rich palette of intervals, far more varied in size than those in equal temperament (where all intervals of a particular type are the same).

Ariadne (1987) draws inspiration from the music of India. Harrison's music combines Indian and Western influences. The opening movement, "Ariadne Abandoned," functions like an alap-an introductory piece that introduces the mode and spirit of the work. In the second movement, "The Triumph of Ariadne and Dionysos," Harrison employs a compositional principle related to the Indian tala, a complex repeating rhythmic pattern. 
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