Sudip Bose at The American Scholar:
The mesmeric work of Lou Harrison (1917–2003) stands apart from so much of the music written in 20th-century America—so singular is its idiom, so striking are its borderless, cross-cultural sounds—yet despite a swell of interest coinciding with the composer’s centennial last year, his scores are all too rarely heard. He was always something of an outsider, this unrepentant free spirit and individualist. Harrison studied with Arnold Schoenberg in the 1940s, when the 12-tone master was ensconced in Los Angeles, and gave serial techniques a serious go, but his best music—lyrical, melodic, indebted to the sounds of Southeast Asia—inhabits a different world from so much of the postmodern avant-garde.
Harrison was born in Portland, Oregon, and studied a variety of instruments during a brief stint at San Francisco State College. A class he took with the modernist Henry Cowell—the subject was world music, which would one day be Harrison’s métier—proved fortuitous, leading to private lessons with the composer. Under Cowell’s tutelage, he became enthralled with the music of Charles Ives.