American composers from the modern period of the 20th century this weekend. Lou Harrison was one of the more fascinating and unconventional composers from the mid-20th century. Studying with Henry Cowell and Arnold Schoenberg, Harrison achieved early attention by writing works incorporating the Javanese Gamelan. He became known for working in unconventional settings – percussion pieces featuring car-brake drums and other “found objects”, very similar to the early works of John Cage, whom Harrison had also worked with. Primarily a West Coast composer, he spent some time in New York and worked as music critic for the Herald Tribune. It was here that he championed the work of his colleagues, bringing awareness of the music of Edgar Varése, Alan Hohavness and Carl Ruggles as well as Charles Ives and his mentor Henry Cowell.
Returning to the West Coast in 1947 he became interested in the music of Canadian composer Colin McFee and his compositional voice began to change and incorporate a wider range of ideas.
He received a Composer-In-Residence at San Jose in the early 1960s and became heavily involved with The Pacifica Foundation in Berkeley, which is the source of this recording. Harrison also taught at a number of Universities and was a well-regarded fixture in Contemporary Classical music around California. His sudden death from a heart attack while on his way to a festival of his music at Ohio State University on February 2, 2003.
The Suite for Piano has been considered a landmark work of Harrison’s and was considered one of the most original piano works of the 20th century. It also reflected his period of study with Arnold Schoenberg.
This performance, by pianist David Hemmingway is from a piano recital he did at The San Francisco College For Women on December 1, 1966. Hemmingway, a student of Henry Cowell had recently (in 1964) been awarded the Eisner Performance Prize at UC Berkeley and was a star on the rise by 1966.