Composers Datebook®

The Harris Ninth

Gustav Mahler (1860 - 1911) — Symphony No. 9 (New York Philharmonic, Leonard Bernstein, cond.) Sony 60597 Roy Harris (1898 - 1979) — Symphony No. 9 (Albany Symphony; David Alan Miller, cond.) Albany 350


Composer's Datebook - 20220118

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January 18, 2022

Synopsis

Composers can be quite superstitious about numbers. Gustav Mahler, for example, was reluctant to assign the number “9” to his song cycle symphony, “Das Lied von der Erde,” fearing it would turn out to be his last: after all, Beethoven and Bruckner had only completed nine symphonies. Ironically, Mahler DID go on to complete a ninth, but died before he could finish work on his tenth.

Most American composers have avoided this problem by rarely if ever producing more than one or two symphonies of their own. Naturally there are exceptions.

On today’s date in 1963, the Ninth Symphony of the American composer Roy Harris was given its premiere by the Philadelphia Orchestra conducted by Eugene Ormandy, who had commissioned it. Like many other symphonies by Harris, his Ninth has a patriotic program, with each movement having a subtitle from either the American Constitution or Walt Whitman’s “Leaves of Grass.”

Harris went on to write thirteen Symphonies in all – although, perhaps submitting to a bit of numerological superstition himself – when his symphony No. 13, a Bicentennial Commission, was first performed in Washington, D.C. in 1976, it was billed as his Symphony Number Fourteen!

Music Played in Today's Program

Gustav Mahler (1860 - 1911) — Symphony No. 9 (New York Philharmonic, Leonard Bernstein, cond.) Sony 60597

Roy Harris (1898 - 1979) — Symphony No. 9 (Albany Symphony; David Alan Miller, cond.) Albany 350

On This Day

Births

  • 1835 - Russian composer César Cui, in Vilnius, Lithuania (Julian date: Jan.6);

  • 1841 - French composer Emmanuel Chabrier, in Ambert, Puy-de-Dôme;

  • 1903 - German-born English composer and conductor Berthold Goldschmidt, in Hamburg;

Premieres

  • 1908 - Delius: "Brigg Fair" in Liverpool;

  • 1930 - Shostakovich: opera "The Nose" (after Nikolai Gogol), in Leningrad at the Maliiy Opera Theater;

  • 1942 - Ibert: "Ouverture de fête" in Paris;

  • 1947 - Elie Siegmeister: "Prairie Legend," by the New York Philharmonic, Leopold Stokowski conducting;

  • 1963 - Harris: Symphony No. 9 ("1963"), by the Philadelphia Orchestra, Eugene Ormandy conducting;

  • 1968 - Richard Rodney Bennett: Symphony No. 2 in New York City;

  • 1991 - David Ott: Symphony No. 2, by the Grand Rapids ( Michigan) Symphony, Catherine Comet conducting;

Others

  • 1958 - "What Does Music Mean?", broadcast, the first of a series of televised New York Philharmonic "Young People's Concerts" on CBS-TV hosted by Leonard Bernstein; The series continued until 1972, with 53 different programs hosted by Bernstein;