Lou Harrison

CONCERTO IN SLENDRO The Concerto in Slendro was mostly composed in 1961 aboard the S.S. New York en route to Japan. It is filled with my eager anticipation of a first taste of the beauty and bustle of Asia. The title derives from the fine Indonesian theoretical term denoting any five-tone mode in which the "seconds" are, roughly, "major" (or large) and the "thirds" "minor" (or small). A complementary term "Pelog" refers to the opposite kind of mode — "seconds" small and "thirds" wide. This Con­certo uses two Slendro type modes only: the "Prime Pentatonic" (if you will) and its associ­ated "minor."


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These two modes are perhaps the most common and generally loved of all man's modes — the first is practically the "Human Song." In this recording, the two modes are heard in cor­rect "just intonation" on a general basis 25/24 below A440, exactly as I intended.

Instrumentation of the Concerto In Slendro is for specially tuned celesta and two "Tack Pianos" similarly tuned, with two percus­sionists playing 6 triangles, 6 gongs, and 4 galva­nized iron garbage cans (An American metal drum). In the slow movement, two keyboard players use claves and iron pipes, reverting to their keyboards for the final movement.

This work is dedicated to my friend Richard Dee, and this recording was made by friends, too.


Main Bersama-Sama (Playing Together) was composed at the request of my friend and colleague Dr. William George of San Jose State University. French horn soloist Scott L. Hartman studied with Dr. George. For this recording he set the valves of his instrument into a special pattern which produces the tuning of the gamelan.

Threnody for Carlos Chavez, my second piece dedicated to this great composer, is com­posed as an eight-layered European medieval rhythmic mode over a single "Maxima" (or Gongan) entirely in triple (or perfectum) divi­sions. (An eight-layered duple division does in fact produce the Javanese musical form Ketawang... a conjunction of musical theories from widely separated cultures.) I waited to hear and work this piece several times before decid­ing that it was worthy of the memory of Carlos Chavez.

Serenade for Betty Freeman and Franco Assetto (like the Main Bersama-Sama) is in a lyric style normal to the Gamelan Degung of West Java and here evolved out of its suling melody. The composer plays the suling.

The Gamelan Sekar Kern bar (Paired Flowers, or Matched Melodies) is a bronze Gamelan Degung imported from Bandung, West Java (Sunda) where it was made. Iron jengglong replace the originals on this disc, and the guning of the orchestra is T16/15,9/8, 81/64, 256/243, 5/4. The gamelan is owned by myself and William Coivig.


String Quartet Set was commissioned by Robert Aitken, the NewMusicconcertsofToronto and the Canada Council. Its premiere was given in Toronto by the Orford Quartet. It is in five sections:

1.Variations on Walter von der Vogel-weide's Nualrestleb'ichmirwerde. Thesevaria-tions were begun in the '40'$ when I first encoun­tered that Minnesinger's lovely melody. Walter lived from 1107 to 1228 and the variations are in European-style quintal counterpoint, also medi­eval in origin.

2. Plaint. We all complain, at least a little. 3.Estampie. A medieval peasant's stamping dance, roughneck and Breughelish.

4. Rondeaux. This homage to Dandrieu and the French Baroque is my only fully "har­monic" piece in the European style.

5. Usul (Turkish for a rhythmic mode). As 18th Century European composers wrote Turkish marches imitating the Janissary bands, I have here written imitating the gentle melodic style of the old Turkish Court.


Before leaving San Francisco I composed several pieces which, like this Suite for Percus­sion, explore such things as "metrical modula­tion" (as it later came to be known), unison melodies for groups of instruments having only relative pitches, and the junk instruments to which Henry Cowell had guided us. This Suite even contains a kid of aria (of all things) for temple blocks. Automobile brake drums have changed and are no longer fine bells, and I rue the day when plastics will have swept from the market the fine galvanized iron tubs and garbage pails which are our only commonly available metal drums.

Lou Harrison

LOU HARRISON is one of America's most popu­lar and admired composers. Though he has written in many styles and forms, his Eastern-inspired works, with their emphasis on melody and tonality and use of percussion instruments and just intonation, have gained him wide ac­claim and can be viewed as bridging a gap be­tween the work of Henry Cowell and John Cage and that of the American minimalists.

Harrison was born in Portland, Oregon on May 14,1917. During the i930's he studied compo­sition with Cowell in San Francisco and with Arnold Schoenberg in Los Angeles. During the I94o's he worked in a variety of areas both musical and non-musical. In California he was a florist, record clerk, poet, dancer and dance critic and music copyist. After moving to New York in 1943 where he remained for six years, he became associated with Virgil Thomson and wrote for The Herald Tribune and a variety of music publications as well as editing Cowell's New Music Edition. He also conducted the first complete performance of Charles Ives' Symphony No. 3.

Harrison taught on the music faculty of Black Mountain College in Northern California for two years beginning in 1951 and has since held positions at Stanford University, the University of California, Berkeley, the University of South­ern California and Mills College among others.

Through a series of grants, beginning with a Rockefeller award in 1961, Harrison was able to travel and study in Asia and the Pacific Rim and to develop his interest in Eastern music, espe­cially its instruments and tuning systems. His interest in tuning and instrument construction was also inspired by Harry Partch's treatise Gen­esis of a Music. Among his earliest creations was the "tack piano" in which thumb tacks are applied to the hammers of an upright piano to achieve a metallic, percussive sound quality. With his longtime companion William Colvig, Harrison has constructed a wide range of instruments including several gamelans and whole families of wind and string instruments.

Among Harrison's large body of composi­tions are the orchestral works Symphony No. 3 (1937-82), Elegiac Symphony (1941-75), the serialist Symphony on G (1948-61), and The Last Symphony (1990); over a dozen dance scores, several scores for films and plays, and numerous vocal works as well as the works for gamelan and other percussion instruments. According to Ned Rorem and Hugh Davies, writing for the New Grove Dictionary of American Music, "his involvement with pacifism and his concern for personal freedom are evident in later works," including Novo Odo (1961-63), a protest against nuclear war, scored for orchestra, chorus and Eastern instruments with an original text by the composer; A Political Primer (1967) also for chorus and orchestra; and the puppet opera Young Caeser, based on an early homosexual love affair of Julius Caesar.

—Joseph R. Dalton