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COLLECTION Identifier: Ms. Coll. 132

Lou Harrison music manuscripts, sketches, poetry, and drawings, 1945-1991.


Contains working musical manuscripts, drafts, sketches, and fragments, as well as poetry, drawings, and correspondence.


  • 1945-1991


1 collection (1 box, 46 items)
The collection contains working drafts, sketches, and fragments, of several of Harrison's musical compositions, mostly from the 1970s and 1980s, including the Elegiac Symphony, the Piano concerto with selected orchestra, the Fourth symphony, the Serenade for guitar with optional percussion, and several others, as well as a manuscript of a piece by Alan Hovhaness, a gamelan piece by Harrison's students Alexis Alrich and Molly Holm. The manuscripts are filed in order by title; titles follow those in the Harrison works catalog created by Leta Miller and Charles Hanson for the Miller/Lieberman book Lou Harrison: Composing a world (Oxford, 1998) Also included are poems and drawings by Harrison, as well as letters from Virgil Thomson and Alan Hovhaness.

Biographical / Historical

American composer Lou Harrison (1917-2003) is particularly noted for his percussion music, his exploration of cross-cultural compositional techniques, his fascination with and employment of just intonation tuning systems, and his synthesis of Asian and Western musics. Several of his compositions call for mixed ensembles of Asian and Western instruments. He was particularly interested in the gamelan and, in addition to writing for that ensemble, constructed his own ‘American gamelan.’

Lou Harrison was born in Portland OR in 1917 but spent his formative years in northern CA after his family settled there in 1926. He studied music at San Francisco State College beginning in 1935; while there he enrolled in Henry Cowell’s course “Music of the Peoples of the World.” He also studied composition with Cowell, who became a lifelong friend and influential mentor. Harrison later studied with Arnold Schoenberg at UCLA. During the 1940s, while in New York, he wrote reviews for the New York Herald Tribune and also wrote for Modern Music. He taught at various institutions, including Mills College in Oakland, CA (1937-40; 1980-85), UCLA (1942), Black Mountain College in NC (1951-53), and various other institutions. In 1953 he settled in Aptos, CA. Travels to Asia in 1961-62, as well as intensive study of the Korean double-reed p’iri, the Chinese psaltery, and the Indonesian gamelan inspired him to incorporate Asian influences into his musical style and to write works combining Eastern and Western instruments.

In addition to being a composer he was a published poet, an accomplished painter and was renowned for his calligraphic script.

Physical Location

Merritt Room

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Acquired by the Eda Kuhn Loeb Music Library in 2010.

Related Materials

Additional information may be found in related collections held by other repositories.

  • Lou Harrison Archive at University of California, Santa Cruz
  • Lou Harrison Archive at Mills College
  • San Jose State University School of Music and Dance

Processing Information

Processed by: Sarah Adams
Link to catalog
Harrison, Lou, 1917-2003. Music manuscripts, sketches, poetry, and drawings. 1945-1991: Guide
Eda Kuhn Loeb Music Library, Harvard College Library

Repository Details

Part of the Loeb Music Library Repository

Music Building, 3 Oxford Street
Cambridge MA 02138 USA
(617) 495-2794