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Lou Harrison Papers: Correspondence
MS 132 Ser.3  
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Collection Details
Table of contents What's This?
  • Descriptive Summary
  • Access
  • Publication Rights
  • Preferred Citation
  • Acquisition Information
  • Biography
  • Scope and Content of Collection
  • Arrangement
  • Indexing Terms
  • Other Harrison Finding Aids
  • Related UCSC Collections

  • Descriptive Summary

    Title: Lou Harrison papers: correspondence
    Dates: 1939-2004
    Collection number: MS 132 Ser.3
    Creator: Harrison, Lou
    Collection Size: 9 document boxes
    Repository: University of California, Santa Cruz. University Library. Special Collections and Archives
    Santa Cruz, California 95064
    Abstract: Collection includes incoming and outgoing letters from Lou Harrison and friends.
    Physical location: Stored in Special Collections & Archives: Advance notice is required for access to the papers.
    Languages: Languages represented in the collection: English


    Collection open for research.

    Publication Rights

    Property rights reside with the University of California. Literary rights are retained by the creators of the records and their heirs. For permission to publish or to reproduce the material, please contact the Head of Special Collections and Archives.

    Preferred Citation

    Lou Harrison Papers: Correspondence. MS 132 Ser.3. Special Collections and Archives, University Library, University of California, Santa Cruz.

    Acquisition Information

    Gift from Lou Harrison 1991-2003.


    Lou Harrison (1917-2003) is recognized especially for his percussion music, his work with just intonation tuning systems, and his syntheses of Asian and Western musics. His compositions have combined instruments from various cultures and utilized many of his own construction. His style is marked by a notable melodicism: even his percussion and 12-note works have a decidedly lyrical flavor.
    Harrison spent his formative years in northern California, where his family settled in 1926. In 1935 he entered San Francisco State College (now University), and in his three semesters there studied the horn and clarinet, took up the harpsichord and recorder, sang in vocal ensembles and composed works for early instruments. In Spring 1935 he enrolled in Henry Cowell's course "Music of the Peoples of the World" and began composition lessons with Cowell, who proved one of the strongest influences in Harrison's life.
    Harrison also collaborated with West Coast choreographers and in 1937 was engaged by Mills College in Oakland, California as a dance accompanist. At Mills in 1939 and 1940, and in San Francisco, Harrison and John Cage staged high-profile percussion concerts, for one of which they jointly composed Double Music for Four Percussionists.
    In August 1942 Harrison moved to Los Angeles, where he taught music to dancers at University of California, Los Angeles and enrolled in Arnold Schoenberg's weekly composition seminar. The following year he moved to New York. There he wrote over 300 reviews for the New York Herald Tribune, premiered (as conductor) Ives's Third Symphony, and composed works in a dissonant contrapuntal style. But New York life proved difficult and in 1947 Harrison suffered a nervous breakdown that ultimately served as a catalyst for a change in his compositional language. Following this traumatic event, Harrison turned more deliberately to melodicism and pentatonicism, and embarked on studies of tuning systems. After a two-year residency at Black Mountain College in North Carolina, he returned to the West Coast. In 1954 he settled in Aptos, California where he remained for the rest of his life.
    Studies in Korea and Taiwan in 1961-62 and an intensive exploration of Indonesian gamelan beginning in 1975 inspired Harrison to bring Asian influences into his musical style and to write works combining Eastern and Western instruments. In 1967 Harrison met William Colvig (1917-2000), an electrician and amateur musician who became his partner and collaborator in instrument-building and tuning experiments. Together they built three instrument sets evoking the gamelan. In his last years, Harrison returned more avidly to composing for Western instruments. He wrote four symphonies, various concerti, and numerous chamber works.
    Throughout his life, Harrison articulated political views of multiculturalism, ecological responsibility and pacifism in both writings and musical compositions. He and Colvig were also active politically in the gay rights movement. In addition to his musical compositions and prose writings, Harrison, a published poet and a painter, was renowned for his calligraphic script, and even designed his own computer fonts.
    Leta Miller

    Scope and Content of Collection

    Collection contains correspondence to and from Lou Harrison.


    For single to two letters from the same correspondent, the correspondence is filed in a separate folder at the front of the alphabetical letter with other single letters. Following the single letters folder, the bulk of the correspondence is arranged in folders by correspondent's last name, chronological order within the folder.

    Indexing Terms

    Harrison, Lou, 1917-
    Composers--United States