American Masterpiece on Symphony @ 7

This evening on Symphony @ 7, we continue celebrating American symphonies with a bona fide American masterpiece, the Third Symphony of Roy Harris.

Roy Harris is as American as apple pie, born in a log cabin in Oklahoma in 1898 on Abraham Lincoln’s birthday and grew up in California.  Like some other American composers of his time, he found his way to France in the 1920s where he studied with Nadia Boulanger. 

His Third Symphony was first performed by the Boston Symphony Orchestra in 1939 and has been called “the quintessential American symphony.”  Some may first think of Aaron Copland, Howard Hanson, Virgil Thomson, or Leonard Bernstein, but this is one of the great American symphonies, even if it is under twenty minutes long and in only one movement.

It is a very strongly unified work in five sections.  It evolves organically from the opening bars like a tree developing from a seed.  Harris was much influenced by pre-classical forms such as the fugue and passacaglia and admired Renaissance polyphony. 

He also admired and was influenced by the symphonic writing of Finland’s Jean Sibelius, whose music was popular in American concert halls at the time.  Harris went on to write more symphonies, his last being a commission for the American Bicentennial in 1976, but his Third is regarded as his finest.

We have this powerful, even if short, masterpiece from Roy Harris this evening at 7 on Classical 101.  For the rest of the hour, we’ll have a great American piano concerto from 1925, the Piano Concerto in F by George Gershwin in a big performance on Symphony @ 7.