Roy Harris

Biography

Born: February 12, 1898; Chandler, OK   Died: October 1, 1979; Santa Monica, CA  
Roy Harris became a renowned composer on the American scene in the 1940s, owing to the immense popularity of his Third Symphony. His mature compositions incorporated folk music or folk-inspired elements with fresh harmonies, often in orchestration that favored wind instruments, fashioning a style that could embrace a mixture of savagery, lyricism, celebration, tenderness, and rural Americana. His choral music divulged characteristics of both Read more chant and the hymn and folk styles of his rural background.

Harris was born in Lincoln County, Oklahoma. After the family moved to the San Gabriel Valley when Roy was about five, he began showing talent on the piano. He quickly developed his keyboard talents and even learned to play the clarinet in high school. By the time he was 18, his skills on the piano and clarinet were quite advanced, but he had not yet written any music. In 1919, he enrolled in the University of California at Berkelely to study sociology, philosophy, history, and economics. He had a short-lived marriage in 1922 to a woman named Davida, and two more unsuccessful marriages before 1936.

Harris began studying composition in his college years, first with Charles Demarest and Ernest Douglas, organists both, and in 1924 with Arthur Farwell. While studying with Farwell, he wrote the Andante to a projected symphony titled, Our Heritage. It was premiered in 1926 by Howard Hanson and the Eastman School Orchestra and later that year performed by the New York Philharmonic Orchestra.

At the behest of Aaron Copland, Harris departed for France in 1926 to study with Nadia Boulanger. While there, he wrote the Concerto for Piano, Clarinet and String Quartet, his first major success. A 1929 fall in France temporarily crippled the composer, necessitating surgery in the United States and a period of convalescence for most of 1930. In 1933, Copland introduced Harris to Serge Koussevitzky, for whom he would produce his first symphony, "Symphony 1933." This was the composer's greatest success to date.

In 1936, Harris married for the fourth and last time. His bride was Beulah Duffy (whom he called Johana), a pianist on the faculty at Juilliard. Harris' Third Symphony premiered in 1939 and became a sensation, achieving many performances and recordings. While Harris scored triumphs with succeeding symphonies such as the 1940 Fourth ("Folksong Symphony"), and with other works, he would never again experience success so overwhelming.

Harris' restless nature is underscored by his positions with a number of colleges and universities beginning in the late '40s: Utah State (1948), Peabody College (1949), Chatham College (1951), Indiana University (1957), UCLA (1961), and the University of the Pacific (1963). He did produce a violin concerto in 1949, but his Seventh Symphony (1952; rev. 1955) was perhaps his finest work from the post-war era.

In 1958, Harris, along with Peter Mennin, Roger Sessions, and Ulysses Kay, traveled to the Soviet Union on a cultural exchange mission for the Department of State. There he conducted the Moscow Radio Symphony Orchestra in a performance of his Fifth Symphony, and met prominent Soviet composers, including Dmitri Shostakovich.

In the late 1950s, Harris' inspiration slowed, and even when he experienced productive periods thereafter, the results were uneven at best. Canticle of the Sun (1960) and San Francisco Symphony (Symphony No. 8; 1961-1962) were examples of his less successful endeavors.

After the failure of his Eleventh (1967) and Twelfth Symphonies (1967-1969), the composer wrote mainly choral, vocal, and band music. Harris died in October 1979, after a fall the previous month. Read less
Browse 1-25 of 47 Available Recordings
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  • 1.
    100 Great Symphonies
    Label: Deutsche Grammophon   Catalog: 002054602 Release Date: 06/03/2014   Number of Discs: 56
    Composer:  Giovanni Battista Sammartini,  Johann Wenzel Stamitz,  Carl Ditters von Dittersdorf,  Johann Christian Bach  ... 
    Performer:  Dame Gwyneth Jones,  Hanna Schwarz,  René Kollo,  Kurt Moll  ... 
    Conductor:  Kevin Mallon,  Christopher Hogwood,  Thomas Füri,  Sir Neville Marriner  ... 
    Orchestra/Ensemble:  Aradia Ensemble,  Academy of Ancient Music,  Camerata Bern  ... 
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  • 2.
    Leonard Bernstein Collection Vol 1 [59 CDs & 1 DVD]
    Label: Deutsche Grammophon   Catalog: 2027800 Release Date: 04/22/2014   Number of Discs: 60
    Composer:  Ludwig van Beethoven,  Johannes Brahms,  Leonard Bernstein,  Benjamin Britten  ... 
    Performer:  René Kollo,  Dame Gwyneth Jones,  Kurt Moll,  Hanna Schwarz  ... 
    Conductor:  Leonard Bernstein,  Michael Tilson Thomas,  Kent Nagano
    Orchestra/Ensemble:  Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra,  Vienna State Opera Concert Choir,  Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra  ... 
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  • 3.
    Panorama Of American Piano Music / Yvar Mikhashoff
    Label: Mode   Catalog: 262 Release Date: 12/03/2013   Number of Discs: 4
    Composer:  Leo Ornstein,  Charles Tomlinson Griffes,  Percy Aldridge Grainger,  Aaron Copland  ... 
    Performer:  Yvar Mikhashoff
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  • 4.
    American Spirit: Roots & Transformations
    Label: Naxos   Catalog: 8505233 Release Date: 10/30/2012   Number of Discs: 5
    Composer:  Charles Ives,  Vincent Persichetti,  Roy Harris,  Ernst Bacon  ... 
    Performer:  Barry Scott,  Sharon Mabry,  Roger Wiesmeyer,  Anthony LaMarchina  ... 
    Conductor:  Leonard Slatkin,  Angel Gil-Ordóñez,  Thomas Wilkins,  Peter Boyer
    Orchestra/Ensemble:  Nashville Symphony Orchestra,  Nashville Symphony Chorus,  Post-Classical Ensemble  ... 
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  • 5.
    Stravinsky, Hindemith, Hartmann, Hanson, Harris & Hovhaness / Stokowski
    Label: Guild   Catalog: 2379 Release Date: 03/13/2012   Number of Discs: 2
    Composer:  Igor Stravinsky,  Howard Hanson,  Roy Harris,  Paul Hindemith  ... 
    Conductor:  Leopold Stokowski
    Orchestra/Ensemble:  NBC Symphony Orchestra,  St. Louis Symphony Orchestra,  Cologne West German Radio Symphony Orchestra  ... 
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  • 6.
    Schubert String Quartet No. 13, Harris: Quintet /   Josef Gingold
    Label: Enharmonic Records   Catalog: 1038 Release Date: 08/09/2011   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  Franz Schubert,  Roy Harris
    Performer:  William Lincer,  Josef Gingold,  James Barrett,  Georges Miquelle  ... 
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  • 7.
    Roy Harris: Complete Piano Music / Geoffrey Burleson
    Label: Naxos   Catalog: 8559664 Release Date: 09/28/2010   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  Roy Harris
    Performer:  Geoffrey Burleson
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  • 8.
    The American Composers Series - Piano Music (1900-1945)
    Label: Vox Box   Catalog: 3027 Release Date: 05/27/2010   Number of Discs: 3
    Composer:  Aaron Copland,  William Schuman,  Roger Sessions,  Roy Harris  ... 
    Performer:  Roger Shields
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  • 9.
    Dallas Symphony Orchestra - The Eduardo Mata Years
    Label: Sono Luminus   Catalog: 92109 Release Date: 04/27/2010   Number of Discs: 6
    Composer:  Sergei Prokofiev,  Igor Stravinsky,  Dmitri Shostakovich,  Leonard Bernstein  ... 
    Conductor:  Eduardo Mata
    Orchestra/Ensemble:  Dallas Symphony Orchestra
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  • 10.
    Harris: Symphonies No 5 & 6 / Alsop, Bournemouth SO
    Label: Naxos   Catalog: 8559609 Release Date: 01/26/2010   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  Roy Harris
    Conductor:  Marin Alsop
    Orchestra/Ensemble:  Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra
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  • 11.
    Touch - The Toccata Project / Rorem, Sowerby, Amalong
    Label: Albany Records   Catalog: 1142 Release Date: 11/10/2009   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  Vincent Persichetti,  Wallingford Riegger,  Raymond Lewenthal,  Emma Lou Diemer  ... 
    Performer:  Philip Amalong
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  • 12.
    Abraham Lincoln Portraits / Slatkin, Nashville Symphony
    Label: Naxos   Catalog: 8559373-74 Release Date: 02/24/2009   Number of Discs: 2
    Composer:  Aaron Copland,  Paul Turok,  George McKay,  Morton Gould  ... 
    Performer:  Barry Scott,  Anthony LaMarchina,  Roger Wiesmeyer,  Mary Kathryn Van Osdale  ... 
    Conductor:  Leonard Slatkin
    Orchestra/Ensemble:  Nashville Symphony Orchestra,  Nashville Symphony Chorus
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  • 13.
    Great American Composers - Copland, Harris, Hovhaness, Hanson, Diamond, Creston, Piston
    Label: Delos   Catalog: 6012 Release Date: 11/18/2008   Number of Discs: 6
    Composer:  Roy Harris,  Walter Piston,  Paul Creston,  David Diamond  ... 
    Performer:  Carol Rosenberger,  James Earl Jones
    Conductor:  Gerard Schwarz
    Orchestra/Ensemble:  Seattle Symphony Orchestra,  New York Chamber Symphony
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  • 14.
    Harris: Symphony No 11; Moore: Symphony No 2; Gould: Cowboy Rhapsody
    Label: Albany Records   Catalog: 1042 Release Date: 09/09/2008   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  Douglas Moore,  Cecil Effinger,  Roy Harris,  Morton Gould
    Conductor:  Ian Hobson
    Orchestra/Ensemble:  Sinfonia Varsovia
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  • 15.
    Thomson: Feast Of Love;  Harris, Griffes, Etc / Mann, Mason, Odense So
    Label: Bridge   Catalog: 9254 Release Date: 04/08/2008   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  Roy Harris,  Charles Tomlinson Griffes,  John Alden Carpenter,  Horatio Parker  ... 
    Performer:  Patrick Mason
    Conductor:  Paul Mann
    Orchestra/Ensemble:  Odense Symphony Orchestra
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  • 16.
    American Masterworks / Paula Robison, Timothy Hester
    Label: Pergola   Catalog: 5184518 Release Date: 12/26/2006   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  Roy Harris,  Aaron Copland,  Robert Beaser,  Samuel Barber
    Performer:  Timothy Hester,  Paula Robison
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  • 17.
    Milken Archive - Deluxe 50 CD Boxed Set
    Label: Naxos   Catalog: 51 Release Date: 11/21/2006   Number of Discs: 51
    Composer:  Joseph Rumshinsky,  David Schiff,  Raymond Goldstein,  Hugo Chaim Adler  ... 
    Performer:  Robert Bloch,  Nell Snaidas,  Simon Spiro,  Zhou Jin  ... 
    Conductor:  Elli Jaffe,  Neil Levin,  Timothy Koch,  Rodney Winther  ... 
    Orchestra/Ensemble:  Vienna Chamber Orchestra,  Coro Hebraeico,  Carolina Chamber Chorale  ... 
    CD: $349.99
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  • 18.
    Music Of Roy Harris / Richard Zimdars, Alexander Ross
    Label: Albany Records   Catalog: 105 Release Date: 10/24/2006   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  Roy Harris
    Performer:  Richard Zimdars,  Alexander Ross
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  • 19.
    The Great American Ninth - Roy Harris - Symphonies 8 & 9 / Miller, Albany So
    Label: Albany Records   Catalog: 350 Release Date: 10/24/2006   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  Roy Harris
    Performer:  Alan Feinberg
    Conductor:  David Alan Miller
    Orchestra/Ensemble:  Albany Symphony Orchestra
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  • 20.
    20th Century Piano Music / Bennett Lerner
    Label: Etcetera Records   Catalog: 1036 Release Date: 10/01/2006   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  Roy Harris,  William Schuman,  Phillip Ramey,  Aaron Copland  ... 
    Performer:  Bennett Lerner
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  • 21.
    American Classics - Harris: Symphonies 3 & 4 / Alsop, Et Al
    Label: Naxos   Catalog: 8559227 Release Date: 07/25/2006   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  Roy Harris
    Conductor:  Marin Alsop
    Orchestra/Ensemble:  Colorado Symphony Orchestra,  Colorado Symphony Chorus
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  • 22.
    The Art Of Eugene Ormandy
    Label: Biddulph   Catalog: 064/65 Release Date: 02/27/2006   Number of Discs: 2
    Composer:  Roy Harris,  Nikolay Myaskovsky,  Gustav Mahler,  Richard Strauss  ... 
    Performer:  Mack Harrell,  Charles Kullman,  Francis Yeend,  Suzanne Coray  ... 
    Conductor:  Eugene Ormandy
    Orchestra/Ensemble:  Minneapolis Symphony Orchestra,  Philadelphia Orchestra,  Hollywood Bowl Symphony Orchestra
    CD: $35.99
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  • 23.
    Harris: Chamber Music / Third Age New Music Ensemble
    Label: Koch International Classics   Catalog: 7515 Release Date: 09/20/2005   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  Roy Harris
    Orchestra/Ensemble:  Third Age New Music Ensemble
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  • 24.
    Viola View - Piston, Harris, Etc / Paul Cortese, Et Al
    Label: Crystal   Catalog: 833 Release Date: 08/30/2005   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  Roy Harris,  Walter Piston,  Ralph Vaughan Williams,  Rebecca Clarke  ... 
    Performer:  Paul Cortese,  Artanios Roc,  Herwig Coryn
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  • 25.
    World Premiere Collection - Corigliano, Cowell, Et Al
    Label: First Edition   Catalog: 32 Release Date: 03/01/2005   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  Roy Harris,  John Harbison,  Tobias Picker,  Joan Tower  ... 
    Orchestra/Ensemble:  Baltimore Symphony Orchestra,  The Louisville Orchestra,  Houston Symphony Orchestra  ... 
    CD: $6.99
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