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Lou Harrison and the Aesthetics of Revision, Alteration, and Self-Borrowing

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  09 December 2005


Lou Harrison seems always to have been re-examining his older works, revising or updating them, reworking them into movements of longer compositions, or creating alternative versions. This article examines Harrison’s revisions, alterations, and self-borrowings in terms of both technique and aesthetic objectives. Harrison’s first reworking of a set of short pieces into an extended composition, the Suite for Symphonic Strings of 1960, resulted in a poly-stylistic work he found so attractive that he not only used the self-borrowing technique in later works (such as the Third Symphony) but also incorporated similar contrasts in most of his long works, whether or not they were based on recycled materials. Thus the process of revision and self-borrowing in itself helped Harrison develop a distinctive personal style – one marked by its own eclecticism.

© 2005 Cambridge University Press

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An abbreviated version of this article was presented at the annual meeting of the Society for American Music in Cleveland, OH, on 12 March, 2004. I would like to express my thanks to the anonymous readers of this article for their helpful comments and to Jessica Loranger for preparing my musical examples.