42 Facts About Lou Harrison


Lou Silver Harrison was an American composer, music critic, music theorist, painter, and creator of unique musical instruments.


Lou Harrison would create his own musical ensembles and instruments with his partner, William Colvig, who are now both considered founders of the American gamelan movement and world music; along with composers Harry Partch and Claude Vivier, and ethnomusicologist Colin McPhee.


Lou Harrison was one of the first composers to have written in the international language Esperanto, and among the first to incorporate strong themes of homosexuality in his music.


Lou Harrison lived in the Portland area for only nine years before moving with his parents and younger brother, Bill, to a number of locations in Northern California, including Sacramento, Stockton, and finally, San Francisco.


Lou Harrison's mother decorated their home with Japanese lanterns, ornate Persian rugs, and replicas of ancient Chinese artifacts.


Lou Harrison would later say he had heard far more traditional Chinese music than European music by the time he was an adult.


Lou Harrison instead retreated into furthering his own personal education, often spending time at the local library to read books on everything ranging from zoology to Confucianism.

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Lou Harrison recalled being able to read two books a day, and the extremely wide diaspora of interests prompted him to connect disparate influences throughout his life, including in his future compositions.


Lou Harrison discovered he was gay while attending Burlingame High School and realizing his attraction toward a male classmate.


Lou Harrison quickly became one of Cowell's most enthusiastic students, and he subsequently appointed him as class assistant.


In fall of the same year, Lou Harrison approached Cowell for private composition lessons, initiating a personal and professional friendship that continued until Cowell's death from cancer in 1965.


Lou Harrison was the first to publish Harrison's music, through the publishing house he founded, New Music Edition.


In 1943, Lou Harrison moved to New York City and worked as a music critic for the Herald Tribune at the behest of fellow composer and tutor Virgil Thomson.


Lou Harrison edited a large number of Ives's works, receiving compensation often in excess of what he billed.


Cage came to Lou Harrison's aid, assisting him and bringing him to a psychiatric clinic in nearby Ossining.


Lou Harrison remained in the clinic for several weeks before transferring to the New York Presbyterian Hospital.


Lou Harrison wrote frequently to Cowell and his wife Sidney in the first few months, expressing his deep regret and depression for what he felt to be a wasted career and adulthood.


Lou Harrison's recovery entailed nine months of extensive treatment and several more years of regular checkups, at the request of Harrison.


Many of his colleagues predicted the breakdown would herald the end his career, but Lou Harrison continued to compose in spite of the stress plaguing him.


Lou Harrison decided to return to California as soon as possible.


Lou Harrison ultimately rejected the dissonant idiom he had previously cultivated, and turned toward a more sophisticated melodic lyricism in diatonic and pentatonic scales.


Lou Harrison strived to achieve powerful music using simple ratios, and would later consider music itself to be "emotional mathematics".


Lou Harrison taught music at various colleges and universities, including Mills College from 1936 to 1939 and again from 1980 to 1985, San Jose State University, Cabrillo College, Reed College, and Black Mountain College.


Lou Harrison wrote "La Koro Sutro" for these instruments and chorus, as well as Suite for Violin and American Gamelan.


Lou Harrison was a composer-in-residence at San Jose State University in San Jose, California, during the 1960s.

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Lou Harrison was outspoken about his political views, such as his pacifism, and the fact that he was gay.


Lou Harrison was politically active and informed, including knowledge of gay history.


Lou Harrison doesn't feel threatened that this means he won't be thought of as an American composer who is great and timeless and universal.


Lou Harrison has a vital connection to the feminine as well as to the masculine.


Lou Harrison combined Native American music, ancient music, and Asian music, tying it all together with lush orchestral writing.


Lou Harrison made a number of revisions to the symphonies before completing a final version in 1995, which was recorded by Barry Jekowsky and the California Symphony for Argo Records at Skywalker Ranch in Nicasio, California, in March 1997.


Lou Harrison first lost his hearing, and Harrison's solution was for them to learn American Sign Language.


Lou Harrison carefully nursed his partner, sitting with him for months, even after Colvig could no longer recognize Lou Harrison due to his dementia.


Lou Harrison was pronounced dead by the paramedics within minutes, the cause likely being from a heart attack, but no autopsy was performed.


Lou Harrison's music is typically spartan in texture but lyrical, and harmony usually simple or sometimes lacking altogether, with the focus instead being on rhythm and melody.


Lou Harrison is one of the first American composers to successfully create a workable marriage between Eastern and Western forms.


Lou Harrison held the Darius Milhaud Chair of Musical Composition at Mills College from 1980 until his retirement in 1985.


Lou Harrison taught at San Jose State University and Cabrillo College.


Lou Harrison was awarded the Edward MacDowell Medal in 2000.


Lou Harrison wrote a large number of works in non-traditional forms.


Lou Harrison was fluent in several languages including American Sign Language, Mandarin and Esperanto, and several of his pieces have Esperanto titles and texts, most notably La Koro Sutro.


Lou Harrison typically combined a variety of the musical forms and languages that he preferred.