American Mavericks

Listening Room: Harrison

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Concerto for Organ and Percussion Orchestra

Program Notes: About Harrison’s Organ Concerto

Lou Harrison admired the great shattering sounds of Indonesian gamelan music, and here he translates them into a concerto. This is how he introduced the work at Mavericks 2000:


“Ingrained in Harrison’s personality was a love of musical merriment, of hummable song and rollicking dance.” – Alex Ross

The “musical merriment” begins immediately. As you listen to the opening, consider Harrison’s point that the pitched percussion provides a kind of “middle ground” between the organ and the non-pitched percussion. Where are these relationships most prominent? most interesting?

Harrison: Organ Concerto I. (Opening) by SF Symphony


The middle movements are more atmospheric. In the second, marked “Siciliana in the Form of a Double Canon,” a canon between soprano and tenor voices is layered with a canon between alto and bass voices.

Harrison: Organ Concerto II. (Opening) by SF Symphony


The third movement is longer and more meditative. Listen to the dialogue among the instruments about two-thirds of the way through.

Harrison: Organ Concerto III. (@ 4:00) by SF Symphony


The fourth movement again presents a canon for organ solo. There is also a gamelan-like sound created through melody, texture, and timbre.

Harrison: Organ Concerto IV. (@ 1:00) by SF Symphony


In the last movement, Harrison returns to the exuberance of the beginning.

Harrison: Organ Concerto V. (Opening) by SF Symphony


Lou Harrison immersed himself in the study of non-western musical traditions. What do you think is the most prominent result of that study in this concerto?