Program 692: Harrison : Gamelan
KALW Broadcast Date: April 17, 2022 | Host: Mark Abramson
Tonight’s program starts with a short recording of the Gamelan music played in the royal courts of Java. Hopefully a fitting way to set the mood for our theme, the Gamelan and percussion music of one of our great contemporary American composers, Lou Harrison. Harrison was born in Portland Oregon in 1917, studied music with Henry Cowell, Arnold Schoenberg and Virgil Thomson among others, and eventually settled down in Aptos, California to teach and compose. His eclectic musical style reflects cultural influences ranging from Baroque and Renaissance period music to Native American and Asian music. Most notable is his interest in the Gamelan music of Java and Bali.
Many of Harrison’s gamelan pieces used instruments he co-designed and built with his life partner, William Colvig. One of these was called “Gamelan Si Betty,” named in honor of the art and music patron Betty Freeman. The first two works we’ll play after the introduction were recorded using Gamelan Si Betty, and the sound of the Gamelan instruments is very similar to the gamelan heard on the Javanese Court recording. We’ll also play a number of the works Harrison wrote for gamelan and solo instruments, including French horn, violin and a double concerto for violin and cello. There’s even one work where Harrison is the soloist, on a Javanese flute called the suling. We’ll also play some of Harrison’s work for percussion ensembles, such as Canticle #3 and Simfony #13, both written in the 1940s. These compositions use all kinds of unorthodox percussion instruments, including temple and meditation bells, automobile brake drums, and cowbells, water buffalo bells, and elephant bells.
Track Info & Links
Title: Canticle #3 (1942, revised 1989)
Composer: Lou Harrison
Performers: Dennis Russell Davies, conductor; Leta Miller, ocarina; Robert Strizich, guitar; William Winant, Todd Manley, David Rosenthal, Scott Evans and David Kennedy, percussion
Recording Title: Drums Along the Pacific (2003)
Record Label: New Albion Records
Catalog Number: NA122
Title: Double Concerto for Violin and Cello with Javanese Gamelan (1981-82)
Composer: Lou Harrison
Performers: Kenneth Goldsmith, violin; Terry King, cello; The Mills College Gamelan Ensemble
Recording Title: Lou Harrison – Double Concerto for Violin and Cello (2006)
Record Label: Music & Arts Programs of America Inc.
Catalog Number: CD-635
Performers: Suara Parahiangan
Recording Title: Sabilulungan
Record Label: SP Records
Catalog Number: Indonesian cassette tape