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Lou Harrison Papers: Notebooks
MS 132 ser.2  
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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
  • Indexing Terms
  • Other Harrison Finding Aids
  • Related UCSC Collection

  • Descriptive Summary

    Title: Lou Harrison Papers: Notebooks
    Dates: 1934-2004
    Collection number: MS 132 ser.2
    Creator: Harrison, Lou
    Collection Size: 16 document boxes

    151 notebooks
    Repository: University of California, Santa Cruz. University Library. Special Collections and Archives
    Santa Cruz, California 95064
    Abstract: This collection contains the notebooks kept by Lou Harrison over the course of his life.
    Physical location: Stored in Special Collections and Archives: Advance notice is required for access to the papers.
    Languages: Languages represented in the collection: English EsperantoSpanish


    Collection is 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: Notebooks. MS 132 ser.2. 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

    Lou Harrison was a man with a continuously unrestrained flow of thoughts and ideas, poetry, music, and intellectual observances. The "Notebook" series, consists of over 140 legers, artist's pads, and journals spanning 1934 to 2003.
    Harrison would often pick up a notebook begun decades earlier and make new entries or revising and adding to existing ones. Drafts of letters and papers, musical composition sketches, and socio/political observances find themselves side by side with architectural designs, calligraphic decorations, and figure studies.
    Lou was fond of using the term "Item" as a designation for a certain thought or observance (as is particularly noted in the Music Primer). Within the contents description the user will encounter such references as "Item: on John Cage", "Item: A further thought on Kirnberger's Well Temperament" or "Item: An Indian Tal. First instructions for composing".
    In 1951 Lou began musical and poetry sketches for Songs in the Forest. It wasn't until 1992 that he returned to this work and completed it. Gamelan notation is relatively simple and compact compared to Western instrument scoring. Lou could pull out a small notebook while traveling and sketch ideas and revisions with ease. The notebooks are filled with such scores, some that were abandoned or remain incomplete.
    Poetry was also Harrison's passion. Early letters to his mother speak of his conflict and indecision to devote more time to poetry or music. The notebooks are filled with examples from 1934 right up to 2003 when he completed his second book of poetry, Poems and Pieces.

    Indexing Terms

    The following terms have been used to index the description of this collection in the library's online public access catalog.
    Harrison, Lou, d. 1917-
    Composers--United States
    Dramatic music
    Dance music
    Incidential music
    Motion picture music
    Orchestral music
    Vocal music
    Ensembles (Music)
    Gamelan music
    Keyboard instrument music

    Other Index Terms Related to this Collection

    Harrison, Lou, 1917- --Archives

    Other Harrison Finding Aids

    Related UCSC Collection