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Lou Harrison

composer
1917
2003

Born in Portland in 1917, the American composer Lou Harrison won a particular reputation for his percussion music, his experiments in intonation, and his synthesis of East and West in his music. A pupil and friend of Henry Cowell, whose interest in other musical traditions he shared, he also profited from a close study of the work of Charles Ives.  Lou Harrison collaborated with John Cage in San Francisco, studied under Schoenberg in Los Angeles, wrote under Virgil Thomson in New York, continuing a varied career and the development of his many gifts as a poet, artist and musician.

Many of Harrison's early works are for percussion instruments, often made out of what would usually be regarded as junk or found objects such as garbage cans and steel brake drums. He also wrote a number of pieces using Schoenberg's twelve tone technique, including the opera Rapunzel and his Symphony on G (Symphony No. 1) (1952). Several works feature the tack piano, a kind of prepared piano with small nails inserted into the hammers to give the instrument a more percussive sound. Harrison's mature musical style is based on "melodicles", short motifs which are turned backwards and upsidedown to create a musical mode the piece is based on.