Roy Harris: Violin Sonata & Complete Piano Works

Sonata for Violin & Piano

Sonata for Violin & Piano

Complete Piano Works

Piano Suite

American Ballads I & II

True Love Don't Weep


Little Suite

Sonata for Piano

Richard Zimdars, piano

Alexander Ross, violin

Roy Harris's life (1898-1979) was a singular phenomenon: humble beginnings on the family farm; truck driving to support his musical studies; study in Paris with Nadia Boulanger supported by a patroness; performances of his symphonies by Koussevitzky, Toscanini, Ormandy, and Bernstein; a series of academic positions around the country; marriage to a brilliant pianist; a large family of his own; and hard work up to the end of his days.

Harris's personality was a mixture of introspection, appreciation of physical labor, self-reliance, and optimism. He was not given to posing or creating a false image of himself. He felt strongly about his version of things American, and did not hold back his opinions. Harris drew this blast from Virgil Thomson: "One would think, to read his prefaces, that he had been awarded by God, or at least by popular vote, a monopolistic privilege of expressing our nation's deepest ideals and highest aspirations."

His wife, Johana, played the first performances of almost all of his works which used the piano. She gave a revealing description of Harris's qualities:

Most people think of my husband as a good-natured, easygoing Westerner. And so he is. But he is many other people as well. To me he is a child always eager always ready to believe in everyone, always expecting miracles to happen, always being hurt and enraged by the social and economic injustices that he sees and feels everywhere he goes. And yet he is an unquenchable optimist who loves beauty in every phase of living.

As a husband, friend, teacher, he is loyal and generous I must say a spendthrift of his time and energy and talents.

He is a child who will never grow old. Each new idea, situation, person, book, event, is a new adventure

Today's foremost authority on the life and works of Harris, musicologist Dan Stehman, has this to say about the piano works:

the piano pieces reveal Harris's exceptional skill as a miniaturist, working concisely and unpretentiously to create clearly defined moods. For many listeners these compositions have served as the initial introduction to his music and, indeed, they remain one of the easiest approaches to his style and technique.

Johana played a large part in the origin and the final working-out of many of the piano compositions her husband wrote subsequent to their marriage. For example, some of the ideas for the treatment in his various folktune settings for piano were sparked by her improvisations on these melodies at concerts and on radio. Harris nearly always consulted his wife on matters of idiomatic pianistic character and practicality. He also allowed Johana a good deal of leeway in matters of interpretation and the notes themselvesAs a result, her performances have often differed from the printed scores

The Piano Suite in Three Movements (1939-42) was commissioned by the League of Composers for the organization's twentieth anniversary. The opening movement is an exuberant fanfare marked "Ringing." Contemplation uses a traditional Irish melody (best-known today as the hymn Be Thou My Vision ) as the theme for a set of variations. The last movement creates a playful, childlike mood and quotes a fragment of London Bridge is Falling Down . Johana gave the first performance in 1942 at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. Noel Strauss' review in the New York Times said: "The first [movement]was not without power, and the last, which concerned children mimicking their elders, was imaginatively, if somewhat conventionally conceived, but the piece called "Contemplation," despite its Debussy-like final variation, was original and established a real atmosphere, which was maintained impressively"

Dan Stehman describes the Little Suite (1938) as a "perfect miniature. Each of its four movementsetches a specific mood with the precision and economy of a master engraver"

The American Ballads, Set I (1942-45), is Harris's most popular piano work. No. 2 is based on John Riley , a folksong from the Kentucky mountains. No. 3 features two North Carolina mountain songs with perhaps some help from Burl Ives. No. 4 presents its tune in a mysterious, fragmented way. Harris's fondness for the resonance produced by using the sostenuto (middle) pedal is especially effective in No. 5, which closes with a burst of virtuosity. Set II (1942-45) was planned as the second in a series of ten volumes, but the project ceased with these two ballads.

In 1942, the Sonata for Violin and Piano was awarded the Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge Medal for "eminent service to Chamber

Music." Yehudi Menuhin, Josef Gingold, Henri Temianka, Sidney Harth, and Eudice Shapiro are among the distinguished violinists who have programmed it. William Kroll and Johana gave the premiere at the Library of Congress in October, 1942. It was composed in the same year, but was first published as four titled individual pieces: Fantasy; Dance of Spring; Melody; and Toccata. When the sonata was published in its entirety, the titles were dropped. Writing about the first movement, Paul Henry Lang said it is "full of big musical gestures, and the fiddler can lean into them, for there is nothing bashful about themThe big melody pours out by the bucketful" The gentle second movement uses the folksong "I'll be True to My Love." The third movement is chorale-like. The violin line is either an integral part of the chorale or adds an independent lyrical commentary to it. Lively cross-accented piano vamps and cascades of chords alternating between the hands support the violin's virtuosic acrobatics in the fourth movement, which closes with a long violin cadenza. Although Harris sanctioned cuts in the first and last movements, the performance recorded here presents the sonata in its entirety.

The variations on True Love Don't Weep were composed in 1944. A richly harmonized presentation of the tune is followed by two lyrical variations and two lively variations. The closing ending is far afield from the opening key.

In her March, 1950 Musical America review of the Toccata (1949), Peggy Glanville-Hicks said: "The linear strength and flow that is characteristic of all of the composer's music is present, and with a special dynamic force that comes from some intricately varied tempos within a regular pulseThere are stretto-like passages that arrive abruptly on unisons, or leap into poised silences, thus bringing many dramatic moments to the swiftly-moving piece." The Toccata has a declamatory virtuoso opening section, a lyrical interlude, and a fugal finale with a brief coda. In short, a joyous romp!

The Sonata for Piano (1928), written during his Paris days, is Harris's Op. 1. It was premiered in 1929 in New York by Harry Cumpson and in Paris by Ilona Kabos. John Kirkpatrick and Grant Johannesen included it in their repertoire. Marc Blitzstein called it "a work teeming with vitality and spirit, large in dimension, and deep in meaning." Reviewing three concerts of the 1932 Yaddo Festival, Arthur Mendel wrote: "Roy Harris's Sonata and Aaron Copland's Variations seemed to me the outstanding music of the three programs." The piece is in four distinct sections which are played without breaks. The Prelude (Maestoso, con bravura) is robust and driving with some truly savage outbursts. In the second movement, three short chordal passages introduce three longer lyrical sectionsreminiscent of the gentle piano writing of Erik Satie. The jaunty, humorous themes of the Scherzo are put through tricky contrapuntal paces a fugue by Poulenc? A unison cadenza over Harris's beloved sostenuto pedal basses leads into the Coda . Here material from the first and second movement is used again, culminating in a climax which rivals the ferocity of the coda of the Copland Piano Variations.

Dan Stehman is the author of Roy Harris: An American Musical Pioneer , G.K. Hall & Co., 1984, and Roy Harris: A Bio-Bibliography , Greenwood, 1991. His books and my observations on the music are the sources for these notes. Dr. Stehman also provided the scores of the three unpublished works recorded here: True Love Don't Weep and the two pieces in American Ballads, Set II. His helpful cooperation is much appreciated. The professionalism and courtesy of Barbara Kirby and her staff at the Piano Gallery in Atlanta, Georgia are also gratefully acknolwedged.

Richard Zimdars

Richard Zimdars

Richard Zimdars has given performances in major cities in England, Ireland, Germany, Switzerland, and the United States. He was awareded a National Endowment for the Arts Solo Recitalist Grant in 1984 and first prize in the Music Teachers National Association Collegiate Artist Competition in Chicago in 1971. After his solo recital debut in Germany, the Cologne Stadt-Anzeiger commented: "Zimdars is the prototype of a sensitive pianist who not only has a dazzling technique at his disposal, but also proved himself a brilliant architect of the musical construction of the individual works." Reviewing Zimdars' New York debut in the New York Times , Will Crutchfield said: "His recital Monday at Merkin Hall was a likeable affairThe most valuable contribution came after intermission with the First Piano Sonata of Ives. Confident performances of this big and difficult work are not common, and Mr. Zimdars gave one."

Born in Milwaukee in 1947, his early training was with Doris Sauer and Alvine Sineps. Advanced study was with Richard Neher, Carl Seemann (as a Fulbright Scholar to Germany), James Avery, Bela Nagy, and John Simms. He is Head of the Piano Division in the School of Music at the University of Georgia. Indiana University Press has just published his translation from the German of "The Piano Master Classes of Hans von Bulow." Mr. Zimdars has recorded for the Bay Cities, ACA, and Spectrum record labels. This disc marks his first appearance on the Albany Records label.

Alexander Ross

Alexander Ross has been featured in over 250 solo performances in the United States and Europe. He has recently recorded the string quartets of Randall Thompson and, with Richard Zimdars, the four violin sonatas of Charles Ives on Bay Cities. He has studied with such notable violinists and pedagogues as Leopold LaFosse, Paul Kantor, Jaap Schroeder, Jacob Krachmalnick, Paul Makanowitzky, and Ruggiero Ricci. Mr. Ross received the Bachelor of Music with distinction from the University of Michigan and the Master of Music from Yale, where he was awarded the Ellen Battell Stoeckel Scholarship as the most outstanding granduating student "not only in performance, but in his contribution to the Yale School of Music." Mr. Ross teaches violin, chamber music, and performs as a member of the Franklin String Quartet in the School of Music at the University of Georgia.

Ross/Zimdars Duo

Alexander Ross and Richard Zimdars have performed together since 1988. Their repertoire ranges from Mozart to works written for them since 1990. Recent appearances have taken them to Detroit, Minneapolis, Atlanta, Milwaukee, and Des Moines. After a recital at the Detroit Institute of Art, Nancy Malitz of the Detroit News said: "The proficient duo played the Ives cycleThe two have approached these works not as single sonatas but as parts of a whole, and in both broad interpretation issues as well as myriad detail, their playing benefits from that rich context."

Recording and editing by Allgood Productions, Atlanta.

Recording Engineer: William Allgood

Session Producers: F. Joseph Lozier and William Allgood

Piano Technician: Andrew Williamson

Location: Piano Gallery, Atlanta, Georgia

Cover photograph courtesy of Dan Stehman.

This recording was supported in part by a grant from the University of Georgia Research Foundation, Inc.

Albany Records U.S.

P.O. Box 5011, Albany, NY 12205

Tel: 518.453.2203 FAX: 518.453.2205

Albany Records U.K.

Box 12, Warton, Carnforth, Lancashire LA5 9PD

Tel: 0524 735873 FAX: 0524 736448

Piano Suite

Occupation (2:40)

Contemplation (5:45)

Recreation (3:15)

American Ballads I

Streets of Laredo (2:01)

Wayfaring Stranger (2:18)

The Bird (1:37)

Black is the Color (1:13)

Cod Liver Ile (2:02)

American Ballads II

Li'l Boy Named Day (3:09)

When Johnny Comes Marching Home (1:44)

Sonata for Violin & Piano

Maestoso (6:56)

=72 (3:51)

Sustained (6:18)

=100-110 (5:31)