Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Roy Harris: Chamber Music

Roy Harris
During the 1930s, Oklahoma-born Roy Harris (1898-1979) was generally seen as the greatest hope for the future of American music.  After all, the facts of his life - born in a log cabin on Lincoln's birthday, worked as a truck driver while studying to be a composer - made good copy, but beyond this, the music he was writing in the 1930s was as good as, or better than, any being written in America at the time.  The two major American record companies, Victor and Columbia, were quick to seize on this, recording over a dozen of his works between 1933 and 1941 - more than any other contemporary American composer.  If this state of affairs seems incredible to us today, remember that Copland's reputation was that of an enfant terrible with his folksy ballet scores not yet written, Barber and William Schuman were in their 20s, the discovery of Ives was in its infancy, and Gershwin was considered a light music composer.

The two chamber music recordings I present here were among the last fruits of this Harris-mania, and I submit that not only are they two of Harris' finest works, but among the finest chamber music works written by an American.  That the publishers of these works (G. Schirmer and Mills Music, which is now part of Alfred Music Publishing) have allowed them to go out-of-print is a sad commentary on our musical life.

Roy Harris: Quintet for Piano and Strings (1936)
Johana Harris and the Coolidge String Quartet
Recorded January 24, 1939
Victor Musical Masterpiece set DM-752, four 78-rpm records
Link (FLAC file,  64.87 MB)
Link (MP3 file, 31.84 MB)

Roy Harris: String Quartet No. 3 (Four Preludes and Fugues, 1939)
Roth String Quartet (Roth-Weinstock-Shaier-Edel)
Recorded June 13, 1940, and January 6, 1941
Columbia Masterworks Set MM-450, four 78-rpm records
Link (FLAC files, 62.65 MB)
Link (MP3 files, 30.96 MB)


  1. Bryan,

    Terrific! And thanks for the recent Ormandy postings. The Hary Janos and Tchaik 5th are really outstanding in every way.


  2. This is great! Very nice you share this with us - I'm downloading it right now, I'm curious to hear it! Thanks again!

  3. Thanks Bryan;

    your comments give a nice context for him. Afraid I'm one of those brits who think Harris only wrote a 3rd symphony.


    1. Actually, he wrote 13! Although, he didn't number the last one (Bicentennial Symphony), being a triskadecophobiac. (A whole essay could be written about the Great American Third Symphony - Copland's and William Schuman's also come to mind.) One of Harris' finest is No. 7, also in one movement, which Ormandy recorded - I'll be posting that one eventually.

  4. Thanks, Bryan, for this and the Rawsthorne, which I am going to download next!

  5. Bryan, Great stuff! I encountered these sets in a bin of used discs years ago and have been frustrated that I passed on them as my curiosity later grew. Thank you!

    Apparently Harris had some relationship with the Roth quartet since he is the editor of the arrangement of Kunst Der Fuge which they recorded. I don't know the specifics. Anyone?

    Congrats on this and your many other recent goodies. Great finds!


  7. Bryan,

    Thank you for making this available. Liked the Piano Quintet. Will have to listen to it a few more times before I'm certain about the String Quartet Nº. 3. BTW, how many quartets did Harris write?