Roy Harris: Symphony No. 8/Symphony No. 9













Roy Harris


Symphony No. 8


“San Francisco Symphony”


Alan Feinburg, piano




Memories of a
Child's Sunday




Symphony No. 9




Albany Symphony Orchestra


David Alan Miller, conductor






Roy Harris




Roy Harris (originally LeRoy Ellsworth Harris) was born near Chandler, OK, 12 February 1898 and died in Santa Monica, CA, 1 October 1979. He was one of themost important figures in the establishment of what has sometimes been called an indigenous American symphonic music and, consequently, has often been labeled a nationalist. However, his works reflect a broad histrocial and international frame of reference, consisting of elements derived from Gregorian chant, Italian Renaissance polyphony and harmonic movement, Baroque contrapuntal proceudres, anglo-celtic folkmusic, African-American spirituals and Gospel song, jazz, and Afro-Cuban dance rhythms. Therefore, perhaps the most accurate statement that could be made in connection with any nationalist elements in his style remains simply that its diversity of influence reflects a similar diversity in the ethnic and cultural makeup of his country.




Throughout a career spanning more than a half century, Harris had opportunities to work with a wide variety of performers ranging from world-class professional musicians to amateur choirs. The breadth of his output of nearly 180 works in virtually all media except opera reveals both a pragmatic and a deeply musical response to the various compositional challenges he was required to meet all of it informed by one of the most immediately recognizable musical personalities of any of his colleagues.




Harris is sometimes regarded as a figure whose music conveys a sense of aspiration and vision, a striving to break through boundaries. In this, he is akin to the Gothic craftsmen who built the great cathedrals of the 12th and 13th centuries and the masters or the organum quadruplum whose edifices crowned the musical endeavors of that era.




However, he was also capable of great inwardness and charm, with a lightness of touch that may surprise those accustomed to his more ambitious efforts.




As is the case with many composers with a large output (including the inevitable potboilers written on commission, often for occasions of purely local and/or one-time importance), Harris oeuvre is uneven. But the best works, such as Symphonies Nos. 3-9, the Piano quintet, the Second and Third Quartets, the Violin Sonata, the three big solo voice cantatas (Abraham Lincoln Walks at Midnight, Give Me the Splendid Silent Sun, Canticle of the Sun) provide rich rewards to the receptive listener and possess the capacity to sound continually fresh.




The three works on this record represent both the intimate and the visionary Roy Harris and can reveal to perceptive ears that he had by no means exhausted his idiom and his technical resources in the Third Symphony, which thus far has remained his most popular work (in fact, is regarded by many as America's greatest essay in the genre).




Memories of a Child's Sunday




Memories of a Child's Sunday conveys a light, intimate, playful aspect not always associated with Harris but which is nonetheless found in many of his smaller works, such as the Little Suite for Piano, some of the a cappella choral pieces, the smaller chamber copositions, and a few of his less ambitious orchestral works.




It was written in 1945 on commission from Artur Rodzinski, at that time the Music Director of the New York Philharmonic, and premiered by that orchestra under the composer's direction on February 21, 1946. Dedicated "To Arthur, Halina, and little Richard [the Rodzinski's young son], age one and a bit," it is an evocation of a childlike joy in sounds, of the power of an imagination as yet unconstrained by adult inhibitions and of the spirit of play.




The three movements are titled "Bells," "Imagining Things," and "Play" and together they create one of Harris's most straightforward, immediately accessible orchestral essays.




"Bells" is based on a long melodic line, first in horns, then inviolas and cellos, unfolding over a steayd pulse permeated by the sounds rung by the "bell orchestra" of piano, vibraphone, and chimes Harris employed in so many of his owrks from the 1940s on (a timbre that also forms a crucial part of the distinctive sound world of the Eighth Symphony). In its concluding pages, the movement blossoms into a series of chiming brass chords decorated by strands of counterpoint in strings and winds.




"Imagining Things" immediately establishes a world in which a "dream" tapestry of muted string polychords forms a background for a lullaby-like melody in the English horn and bassoon. However, this peaceful state suddenly dissolves into a nightmare vision shot through with threatening brass sounds under a ghostly halo of sustained string and wind sonorities. The principal tune returns calmly at the end over a simple string harmonization, enfolding the child in a gentle slumber.




The finale, "Play," is a rethinking for orchestra of materials from works written earlier in the 1940s (the ballet From this Earth, and the Piano Suite in Three Movements). One hears (perhaps even sees) children skipping rope, playing "London Bridge is Falling Down," and engaging in mock battles with the uncoordinated spontaneity of children's play everywhere.




Symphony No. 8 ("San Francisco Symphony")




At the end of May, 1961 in San Germán, Puerto Rico, Harris, on comimssion from the Library of Congress, completed his largest chamber work, a 35-minute setting of St. Francis of Assisi's "Canticle of the Sun" ("Cantico delle Creature") for colatura soprano and a chamber ensemble consisting of strings, woodwinds, and piano.




The Canticle is structured as a series of verse settings alternating with vocalise sections, these preceded by a lengthy introduction and interspersed wtih interludes in the ensemble.




The rich colors of the world of nature Harris evoked in his cantata setting were to find a counterpart several months later in the Symphony No. 8, commissioned by the San Francisco symphony for hte orchestra's 50th anniversary.




Completed in early 1962 at the Huntington Hartford Foundation in Malibu, CA, and premiered on January 17, 1962 by the San Francisco Symphony under Enrique Jordá, with Johana Harris as piano soloist, the San Francisco Symphony, paying tribute to the city's patron saint, enlarges upon the focus of the Canticle by dealing with significant aspects of Francis' life and work in addition to featuring another, purely instrumental, treatment of the "Canticle" poem.




Although a planned trip to Assisi to gather background and atmosphere did not materialize, Harris, through his deep pantheistic beliefs and fundamental regard for the aspirations and noble aspects of humanity, nonetheless managed to identify with his subject on intimate terms. Alfred Frankenstein, in his review of January 19, 1962 in the San Francisco Chronicle, observed: "Seldom have we been given a new symphony that is so incandescent in its illumination; the spirit that breathes through St. Francis' own 'Canticle of the Sun' must have dwelt a while with Harris as he constructed this score."




Like the Canticle, the new symphony was something of a pathbreaking work for its composer: representing a new approach to the genre, with a wider range of textures and instrumental colors than had hitherto been his norm, though his distinctive style informs every moment. Its unbridled pantheism is rung through with bell sounds, and its frequent fleetness of foot; the light, chamberlike textures; the airy, open harmonies of many passages; and a glistening orchestration convey a special quality not found to such an extent elsewhere in his symphonies.




The symphony is in a single movement of five interconnected parts. A special feature is the employment of an amplified piano in Part IV in a concertante role. Harris also uses the trumpet in C as a solo instrument in some places, a timbre that he regarded as representing the voice of St. Francis. Much of the thematic material comes from the Canticle (in fact, Part IV is an adaptation for orchestra of some of the vocalise sections, plus a verse setting, of the chamber






Each part bears a subtitle, taken here from the composer's program note and differing somewhat from the subtitles found in the score. Part I is titled "Childhood and Youth." Part II, "Renunciation," is a moving evocation of Francis' early disgrace and the eventual casting aside of his worldly wealth and hedonistic way of life. Part III, "The building of the Chapel," depicts the founding of the Franciscan Order (the proper reference here, for if one takes the title literally, one must qualify it with the fact that Francis was really a restorer of existing chapels rather than a builder of new ones). Part IV, "The Joy of Pantheistic Beauty as a Gift of God," is, as mentioned, an orchestral return to the "Canticle." Part V, "Ecstasy After the Premonition of Death," serves as an apotheosis.




Part I is in two large sections. Its first half is buoyant and skitterish, with many changes of texture and mood. Like the finale of Memories of a Child's Sunday, it has much of the spontaneity and sudden veerings into new activity of children's play, though, through the use of a few basic themes and motives derived therefrom, it nonetheless possesses a strong unity. The second half, characterizing Francis' early manhood, is more purposeful and assertive, but undercut with uncertainty. It is a set of variations built on a version of a striding theme the composer had used in some previous works.




Part II, an ascent from darkness into light, features some of Harris's richest and most sophisticated textures, especially in the string divisi. It is marked by the unfolding of long melodic lines over lush polychordal harmonies. These gradually metamorphose from the somber poignance of the minor mode to the radiance of the major. The C trumpet, representing St. Francis, enters in Part II as a discant, its lines gradually gathering strength and cohesiveness, as though to suggest a gradual awareness of his destiny. The final pages of the section foreshadow the contrapuntal procedures of the following music by means of a two-part canon in the strings that strives to the heights.




For Part III, Harris resorts to his favored musical analogue for the idea of building fugue. Here he employs a characteristic hybrid of fugue and variation, with the theme returning in different guises. There are three sections, each defined by a characteristic treatment of the subject. The final pages are build on a broad, upward striving expansion of the subject in the strings with assertive motivic commentary in the brass.




Part IV is virtually unprecendented in Harris's oeuvre, though it is foreshadowed in general character by the "Pastoral" section of the Third Symphony of nearly a quarter-century earlier and, as mentioned above, is created largely from materials taken from the Canticle setting. We are dashed headlong into a large scherzo possessing a singular fleetness and breathless urgency. The listener is presented with a variety of rapidly changing materials, textures, and sonorities, in which themes, even entire brief passages, from earlier parts of the symphony reappear in company with new ideas that place the returning materials in new perspectives. Overall, the music seems to function as a large development section. Most immediately striking is the sudden entrance of the amplified piano, driving the music forward not only with its buoyant figurations, but also with the percussive insistence of its timbre. There is also a more stable, quiet section at the center of the music in which the C trumpet unfolds a noble melody originally set in the Canticle to the verse "through the Brothers Wind and Air, All fair and stormy, all the weather's moods"




Part V is the simplest segment of the symphony, comprising a set of variations on a rather somber theme, capped by a chiming coda in which the piano returns to provide bell-like resonance. These variations unfold through increasingly richer harmonic textures, the initial statement of the theme in unison in the strings followed by vertically expanded variations in organum harmonies, then in major triads. St. Francis returns once more in the guise of the C trumpet spinning out together with the woodwinds a long line of contrapuntal dialogue with the theme.




In connection with the virtuosic piano part, it might be mentioned that the composer's wife, Johana, one of themost gifted keyboard artists of her generation, sometimes assisted him in refining and making hiskeyboard parts more idiomatic. They even engaged in a tiny handful of "joint ventures" (e.g., some of the American Ballads for piano, the Fantasy for Organ, Brass, and Timpani). Although there is no evidence, manuscript or otherwise, that Johana provided any creative feedback into either the Canticle or, by virtue of its adapted materials, the Eighth Symphony, Harris nonetheless wrote the keyboard part of both works for her. By this time, he was thoroughly familiar with her distinctive tone quality, rhythmic alacrity, and sorts of textures that suited both her characteristic performing strengths and his distinctive idiom, so that he could now write extended, elaborate piano music with an almost instinctive facility.




The San Francisco Symphony is one of the finest of Roy Harris's late works. It is a radiant, colorful work possessing a great vitality and variety of means which are masterfully controlled to present a sense of solid architecture. Though one can hear reflections of Harris's past, a direct comparison with earlier works reveals a composer who has nonetheless experienced change, a change marked by an enrichment of his melodic, harmonic, and formal resources and a deeper and more subtle exploration of his expressive potential.




Symphony No. 9




After experienceing a large gap of seven years between the completion of the Seventh and Eighth Symphonies, Harris was to make up for this by embarking on another major work in the genre within only a few months of the premiere of the latter work. The Ninth Symphony was commissioned by the Philadelphia Orchestra, whose music director, Eugene Ormandy, had been a sympathetic interpreter of the composer, having performed the Third Symphony here and abroad and premiered and made a classic recording of the final version of the Seventh. The Ninth Symphony was finished in August, 1962 and first performed on January 8, 1968 by the Philadelphia Orchestra under Ormandy's direction.




Dedicated "to the City of Philadelphia," the three movements bear the following subtitles from the Preamble to the U.S. Constitution and Walt Whitman's Leaves of Grass:




I. "We, the people"




II. "to form a more perfect Union"




III. "to promote the general welfare"




Part I: "Of Life immense in passion, pulse, power"




Part II: "Cheerful for freest action formed"




Part III: "The Modern Man I sing"




The patriotic elements in some of Harris's music (dating in their most explicit form from the World War II era) are a decided matter of taste for listeners in a more skeptical, cynical age. The composer possessed a core of genuine conviction about these but, as time wnet on, became increasingly aware of the dark side of contemporary life in the United States and began to reflect this in his own music. The unease underlying the slow movement of the Ninth certainly exemplifies this, and the texts of some of the late choral works are explicit in their impassioned statements against racial intolerance and the decaying moral character of late twentieth-century society. In his compositions with words, some of them of an occasional nature, the text sentiments may be taken at face value. However, in connection wtih a purely insturmental, "abstract" work like the present symphony, in at least one instance he pointed out that the "program" was merely a guide to the general character and, as here, also a tribute to the venue for which the piece was initially destined.




Appearing so close to the San Francisco Symphony, it is not unusual that the Ninth would share some of its features and even materials. This notwithstanding, the two compositions represent, in some respects, opposite sides of the same coin. Whereas the light-textured Eighth is primarily warm, lyrical, and radiant, the more heavily-scored Ninth is aggressive, strife-torn, bittersweet, at times desperate, with a hard glare replacing the burnished glow


of much of its predecessor. It possesses an optimism of sorts, but one hard-gained.




The first movement is the most successful of Harris's fast symphonic opening movements. In rough outline it resembles a sonata-allegro form, unusual for this composer. The first section introduces the principal ideas, some aggressive, others lyrical. What corresponds to a development section is concerned with further spinning out (chiefly in the violas) of the lyrical materials, punctuated by reminiscences of the aggressive themes. This is followed by a highly varied recapitulation of materials from the opening section.




But the most striking aspects of the movement are its harmonic and rhythmic features. For the harmonic texture, Harris restricts himself largely to organum intervals, sometimes extending them through several multiples to create surprisingly rich sounds. This imparts to the movement a bare, open-air quality. In fact, a greater use of chords of open fifths marks much of the composer's later music. Rhythmically, there are frequent shifts between compound duple and simple triple meters, excursions into asymmetric meters, and superimposed layers of materials of differing rhythmic characters. All the foregoing combine to impart a sense of great variety and enormous rhythmic drive, perhaps suggesting the assertiveness and resove of the subtitle, "We, the People."




The chorale-like second movement is very likely, along with the second movement of the Fifth Symphony, Harris's finest symphonic slow movement, and one of the richest utterances of its kind in the American repertoire. It is in a large three-part design: the first part, initially concentrated in the strings, is built on the gradual unfolding of a long theme in successively higher divisions of the choir over a texture that develops from an austere organum accompaniment, through a rich polychordal fabric in woodwinds, to a texture formed from a combination of these two types (the strained sound of the violas in a high register at one point provides the first hint of the combination of sadness and anxiety that underlies this movement). Adding brass as it gathers momentum, the music increasingly conveys a striving, anxious quality that is relieved only temporarily by the more subdued middle section.




This, the closest point of contact with the Eighth Symphony, is an adaptation of the passage in the middle of Part IV of that work featuring a trumpet solo heard through canonic scale designs in the strings. As observed earlier, in the Canticle setting in which this music originated, the voice sings St. Francis' words to "the Brothers Wind and Air" Here, in its new home in the Ninth Symphony, the string background seems now a transformation of the increasingly tumultuous activity of the previous section into a ominous dark wind blowing in the background through which the trumpet intones a sad benediction.




The final portion of the movement gathers new momentum, with choral phrases in the brass answered by writhing figuration in the strings followed by a trumpet/woodwind cantilena spun out over surging string designs, the music struggling upward in an almost desperate manner. The sputtering, shell-shocked muted-string chords that deliver the final cadence are unexpected and disturbing, conveying a sense of unease and exhaustion rather than calm resolution.




The finale, "Contrapuntal Structures," is one of the biggest and most complex of all Harris's symphonic movements. It may be heard as a large-scale orchestral analogue of the corresponding movement of the Symphony for Voices of 1935: not only does it follow the triple fugue ground plan, but its three subjects also appear modeled on or reminiscent of their correlatives in the choral work.




The movement consists of four sections plus a coda. Sections one through three comprise expositions of each of the three subjects (each section also containing developmental aspects), while section four is a development in which elements of the subject are worked out and combined, though not in the thoroughgoing contrapuntal manner of a strict polythematic fugue. The movement is crowned by a rhetorical coda concluding with a final grandiose statement of subject III ("The Modern Man I Sing").




As is the case with some of Harris's previous orchestral triple fugues, the subjects are not all mutually compatible indeed, they seem not to have been specifically designed that way. In fact, subject II is more a remarkable quirky, florid effusion than an idea amenable to real contrapuntal development. But then, though Harris could indeed write counterpoint of a rigorous, more traditional sort (as in the Third Quartet), he often preferred, as mentioned above in connection with the Eighth Symphony, a freer contrapuntal variations treatment.




As much as constituting an exercise in a kind of fugal sleight-of-hand, this ambitious finale is also a tour de force of orchestral writing; in fact, it could almost be looked upon as a kind of concerto for orchestra. The music possesses great textural variety, formal dexterity, instrumental color, and a kind of wild edge to the imagination that sometimes recalls the Harris idiom of the 1930s. Whatever relationship the listener may discern with its subtitle ("To promote the general welfare"), the music stands on its own.




"Take it or leave it," one can hear the composer saying. Though it may provoke dispute, the Ninth Symphony has a character, a genuine personality that sets it apart from much that was being written at the time. Roy Harris, even when occasionally fancying himself as a kind of musical spokesman for his country, never truly courted public favor or media approval. Sometimes savagely self-critical and not averse to making revisions, he wrote from a deep well of rich musical instinct with a naturalness and conviction that are by turns, disarming, distresssing, and ennobling.




Dan Stehman








Evett, Robert. "The Harmonic Idiom of Roy Harris." Modern Music 22(2):100-7, Spring 46.




Farwell, Arthur. "Roy Harris," Musical Quarterly18(1):18-32, 1/32.




New Grove Dictionary of American Music, The (H Wiley Hitchcock and Stanley Sadie, ed.), Vol. II. New York: Grove's Dictionaries of Music, 1986:331-6 (Stehman, Dan. "Roy Harris")




Stehman, Dan. Roy Harris. An American Musical Pioneer. Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1984.




____________. Roy Harris: A Bio-Bibliography. Westport, CONN: Greenwood Press, 1991.






Memories of a Child's Sunday is published by Carl Fischer. Symphony No. 8 and Symphony No. 9 are published by G. Schirmer/Associated Music Publishers.






Albany Symphony Orchestra




The Albany Symphony Orchestra was founded in 1931 by John Carabella. Since its inception, the Orchestra has evolved both artistically and financially under the leadership of music directors Rudolf Thomas, Ole Windingstad, Edgar Curtis, Julius Hegyi, Geoffrey Simon, and David Alan Miller.




Under Maestro Miller's direction, the Albany Symphony has continued a tradition of championing 20th-century American music through commissioning and recording new works. In 1997 the Albany Symphony Orchestra won its 13th consecutive ASCAP award for adventuresome programming of contemporary music.




Recordings of the Albany Symphony Orchestra appear on New World Records, CRI, Albany Records, Argo and London/Decca.




David Alan Miller




Since becoming Music Director and Conductor of the Albany Symphony Orchestra in 1992, David Alan Miller has initiated a period of remarkable artistic growth, including family concerts, school outreach programs and a new music group, "The Dogs of Desire." Miller's fresh approach to reaching new audiences garnered him a front page feature article in the Wall Street Journal in 1996.




Before coming to Albany, Mr. Miller served as Assistant and then Associate Conductor of the Los Angeles Philharmonic. While in Los Angeles, Miller conducted subscription concerts and programs at the Hollywood Bowl as well as educational concerts.




David Alan Miller has guest conducted orchestras throughout the United States including the Detroit, San Francisco Symphonies and the Philadelphia Orchestra, among others. Abroad he has led the Berlin Symphony, the London Symphony, the Hong Kong Philharmonic and the Dresden Philharmonic.




Mr. Miller has conducted recordings for Deutsche Grammophon, Decca/London, Argo and Albany Records.






Produced and engineered by Gregory K. Squires, Squires Music Production




Digital editing by Richard Price, Squires Music Production




Mastering by Wayne Hileman, Squires Music Production




Recorded in the Troy Savings Bank Music Hall, Troy, New York. Symphony No. 8 was recorded on April 18, 1998. Symphony No. 9 and Memories of a Child's Sunday were recorded on November 17 and 18, 1998.




This recording is made possible in part by the generous support of the Aaron Copland Fund for Music, Inc., the National Endowment for the Arts, the New York State Council on the Arts, Paul Underwood, and Vanguard, the volunteer organization of the Albany Symphony Orchestra.






































Memories of a Child's Sunday


Bells (3:19)


Imagining Things (5:30)


Play (3:09)




Symphony No. 9


I. "We, the people" (5:59)


II. " form a more perfect Union" (10:39)


III. " promote the general welfare" (11:36)


Part I: "Of Life immense in passion, pulse, power"


Part II: "Cheerful for freest action formed"


Part III: "The Modern Man I sing"




Symphony No. 8


Part I. "Childhood and Youth" (4:33)


Part II. "Renunciation" (5:19)


Part III. "The Building of the Chapel" (3:42)


Part IV. "The Joy of Pantheistic Beauty as a Gift of God" (7:06)


Part V. "Ecstasy After the Premonition of Death" (5:39)


Alan Feinberg, piano




Total Time = 66:34