Robert Greenberg

Historian, Composer, Pianist, Speaker, Author

Archive for Roy Harris

Dr. Bob Prescribes William Schumann

In last week’s Dr. Bob Prescribes post, I asserted that the composers Roy Harris (1898-1979) and his student William Schuman (1910-1992): “are generally considered to be the two greatest American composers of symphonies to have yet graced our planet.” I have received no evidence in the intervening week that that statement isn’t as true today as it was on April 9. Accordingly, I will (and not for the first time) repeat myself even as I flesh that statement out just a bit: “Roy Harris (1898-1979), who composed 13 numbered symphonies between 1933 and 1974 and his student William Schuman (1910-1992), who composed 10 numbered symphonies between 1935 and 1976, are generally considered to be the two greatest American composers of symphonies to have yet graced our planet.” Does anyone want to argue with that? Good. William Schumann William Howard Schuman, known to everyone as “Bill”, was born on the upper West Side of Manhattan Island, New York, New York (a.k.a. “the Big Apple”, “the city so big they had to name it twice”) on August 4, 1910. He grew up in a middle-class Jewish household; by his own account, a happy, regular kid.  He taught himself to play the violin… 

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Dr. Bob Prescribes: Roy Harris

I continue on my self-avowed mini-mission to bring to you some of the most glorious music (and recorded performances) I know, music by mid-century, so-called American “populist” composers. This week and next will feature symphonies by two composers who are generally considered to be the two greatest American composers of symphonies to have yet graced our planet: Roy Harris (1898-1979) and William Schuman (1910-1992). Never heard of them? AAAAAARRRRGGGGHHHH!! (That was primal.)  During the salad days of the American symphony – the 1930s, 40s and 50s – Harris and Schuman were musical household names. Their music was played and replayed live by symphonies great and regional; recorded, reviewed and celebrated; and broadcast constantly on the concert music/classical radio stations that at that time so dominated the airwaves. Today we might have smart phones and tablets and readers and YouTube and Adele, but in comparison to the mid-twentieth century we here today in the U.S. of A. are culturally and nationally bereft. That we, as a listening public, have, for the most part, forgotten the names and music of Roy Harris and William Schuman is nothing short of a cultural tragedy. Harris’ life-story reads like a rags-to-riches novel, and Harris himself… 

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Music History Monday: Whoa

When it comes to a date-oriented blog like this one, there are days and then there are days.  Over the two-plus years since I began this post, I have found that most days offer up one or two major (or semi-major) events in music history. These are the good days, the easy days to write about. Some days are harder as events of any note are few and far between. There are days – more frequent than you might think – during which virtually nothing of interest occurred; when that happens I’ve either juked forward or back by a day or just taken the opportunity to bloviate.  Finally, every now and then, there is a day so filled with notable musical anniversaries that the mind reels and the bladder weakens at the thought of choosing just one, two, or even three events to write about. For reasons coincidental, astrological, or just whatever, October 1 is just such a day in music history: the wealth of events – major and minor – that occurred on this date is crazy. I cannot and will not choose; let’s just wallow, in chronological order. On October 1, 1708 – 310 years ago today –… 

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