Sunday, February 13, 2011

Better Know a Composer: Roy Harris

As Beth Levy points out, you'll see the words log cabin, Oklahoma, and Lincoln in the opening sentence of almost every biography ever written about Roy Harris.

Although he was a Sooner for only five years, almost everyone in music circles identified him as being quintessentially Western. Arts patron Mary Churchill had this to say about her meeting with Harris in Paris, where he was studying in the late 1920s: "[he was] wild and worn; but gave off a wonderful western farmer air in the middle of the Place de la Concorde."

Serge Koussevitzky said that "nobody has captured in music the essence of American life--its vitality, its greatness, its strength--so well as Roy Harris." That Harris shared a birthday with Lincoln--both were born on February 12--only added to the mystique.

Harris (1898-1979) certainly didn't dispel any of the myth making, and even helped cultivate it. He was a lot like Bob Dylan that way: both built personas to promote themselves that have ended up enveloping--and even overshadowing--their music.