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HARRIS, R.: Symphonies Nos. 5 and 6, "Gettysburg" (Bournemouth Symphony, Alsop)

Composer(s):Harris, Roy
Artist(s) Alsop, Marin, Conductor • Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra
Period(s) 20th Century
Genre Classical Music
Category Orchestral
Catalogue 8.559609
Label Naxos
Quality   320kbps
Download and Stream

Roy Harris made an indelible mark on American orchestral music, enlivening Old World symphonic traditions with New World individualism. Amid the background of war in Europe, he crafted his Fifth and Sixth Symphonies, the former dedicated to ‘the heroic and freedom-loving people of our great ally, the Union of Soviet Republics’, the latter, subtitled Gettysburg, to ‘the Armed Forces of Our Nation’. The single-movement Acceleration was later reworked within the Sixth Symphony. In each piece, Harris’s nationalistic fervour is underpinned by an abiding faith in the ability of the human spirit to triumph through adversity.

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Review By Steve Schwartz,,December 2010

War music. Roy Harris made the symphony central to his output. During the Thirties and the early part of the Forties, many considered him the Great American Symphonist. Today, he’s practically forgotten, even dismissed without much of a hearing. I don’t know any of his symphonies past #11 and haven’t read of any past #14, but he apparently made it to #16, according to David Truslove’s liner notes. That gives you some idea of his present-day reputation. I think it a shame. He has an extremely interesting musical mind, and he managed to write music between the wars untouched by Stravinsky, Hindemith, or Schoenberg. In some ways because of this, it sounds very old-fashioned, closer to the Nineteenth Century, especially the School of César Franck, than

World War II brought Harris’s “Americanism” to its height, both in the music’s emphasis and in its inherent quality. The works include Symphonies 4–6, American Creed, Kentucky Spring, the violin concerto, the choral Walt Whitman Suite, Freedom’s Land, and the Mass, the String Quintet, and the violin sonata. Harris’s two heroes were Lincoln and Whitman, and I believe he tried to become a musical equivalent. An artist walks a dangerous path when he climbs Parnassus toward the greats, because he probably will fall short or even fall off. A lot of the critical animus toward Harris in certain American musical quarters during the Fifties flew against what some saw as a ludicrously outsized ego. Not knowing much about Harris personally, I can’t say. Also, the desire to write “American” music after the war increasingly came to be regarded as corny in itself. Composers now wanted to be “international.” However, I admire Harris’s artistic daring and ambition. You don’t get anywhere by not dreaming or very far by dreaming small, and you can’t be universal without at least being local. Harris may not have reached his goal of rubbing shoulders with Lincoln or Whitman, but he remains a damn good Harris.

Harris structured his music by a principle called “autogenesis.” That is, a musical line unfolded over a long span through a small seed in the first measure and a new phrase grows from the point of arrival of the preceding one. It’s as if you watch a symphonic idea getting built note by note. Consequently, if you pay attention to the first measure of a movement, you’ve gone a long way to following the symphonic argument. I don’t know whether Harris invented this. You can certainly find precedent for it in Beethoven (notably, the Fifth Symphony’s first movement) and in Nielsen. However, I don’t recall anyone who worked it so rigorously before Harris. One can hear this fairly clearly in Acceleration. It begins with a rising minor third and a fall-back. The minomore....

Review By ,NMZ,April 2010

Zwei Kriegssinfonien von Roy Harris (1898–1979), einem hierzulande wenig bekannten Sinfoniker, hat Naxos in der Serie „American Classics“ veröffentlicht. Es sind interessante Zeitdokumente: Die Fünfte, „dem heroischen und freiheitliebenden Volk unseres großen Verbündeten, der Sowjetunion“ gewidmet, erklang erstmals 1943 in Boston unter Serge Koussevitzky mit Direktübertragung in den USA und in der UdSSR, die patriotische Sechste („Gettysburg“) von 1944 erinnert an Abraham Lincoln und den amerikanischen Bürgerkrieg. Die Militanz hält sich wider Erwarten in Grenzen. Die gemäßigt moderne Musiksprache zeichnet sich durch rhythmische Festigkeit und klare Linienführung aus, Transparenz ist


Review By Scott Cantrell,The Dallas Morning News,February 2010

Since the later 19th century, American composers have penned quite a lot of symphonies. And quite a few of them are worth hearing. But you’d never know that from the programming of U.S. orchestras, whose neglect of their symphonic heritage is a disgrace.

Born two years before Copland, Roy Harris is remembered, if at all, for the Third of his 13 symphonies. But the Fifth and Sixth, both composed during World War II, are striking and accomplished works. They sound a bit like Copland in his Americana vein, but craggier. Harris often borrowed from his own music, and he mined the seven-minute overture Acceleration for material for the Sixth Symphony.


Review By Robert R. Reilly,,January 2010

I will briefly reach into an earlier period of America music to let you know about the new Naxos release of Roy Harris’s Symphonies Nos. 5 and 6, with the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra, under Marin Alsop (8.559609). This orchestra proved its chops in playing American music with the stunningly good performance of \ Giannini’s Symphony No. 4, reviewed last year. This time American conductor Alsop takes on Harris’s two wartime symphonies from 1942 and 1944, Nos. 5 and 6. Credited with writing the great American symphony, his Third, Harris (1898–1960) suffered from the reputation of being a one-work composer. It’s a scandal that all of his 13 symphonies have not been recorded long ago, though Naxos has stepped into the breach and is in the process of



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