Composers Datebook®

Lou Harrison's 'some assembly required' concerto

Composers Datebook - 20231119


The publisher of Lou Harrison’s Concerto for Violin and Percussion, which received its premiere performance on today’s date in 1961 at New York’s Carnegie Recital Hall, states with refreshing honesty that it is “not one of Harrison's most frequently performed works” and that “the highly rhythmic violin line is pleasantly contrasted by the exceptionally varied percussion ensemble.”

Now, by an “exceptionally varied” percussion ensemble, it means in addition to conventional instruments, Harrison asks for tin cans, suspended brake drums, flowerpots, plumber’s pipes, wind chimes and spring coils.

Not surprisingly, it can be difficult to assemble the “heavy metal” called for in the score. For a 1965 performance, Harrison was forced to spend hours, as he put it, "chasing down pipe lengths and flower pots in hardware stores."

But there was a method to his madness. Harrison was trying to imitate the sounds of the tuned bronze gongs of the traditional Indonesian gamelan orchestra by using distinctly American “found” materials. In performance, the setup seems downright humorous at first sight, but at first sound, it works. In fact, one suspects Harrison wants the audience to chuckle at first, but then be charmed.

Music Played in Today's Program

Lou Harrison (1917-2003) Concerto for Violin and Percussion; Antonio Nunez, vn; Basel Percussion Ensemble; Paul Sacher, cond. Pan Classics 510 103

On This Day


  • 1859 - Russian composer Mikhail Ippolitov-Ivanov, in Gatchina, near St. Petersburg (see Julian date: Nov. 7);


  • 1630 - German composer Johann Hermann Schein, age 44, in Leipzig;

  • 1828 - Austrian composer Franz Schubert, age 31, in Vienna;

  • 1825 - Bohemian composer Jan Vaclav Hugo Vorisek (or Worzischek), age 34, in Vienna;

  • 1998 - American composer Earl Kim, age 78, in Cambridge, Mass.;


  • 1724 - Bach: Sacred Cantata No. 26 ("Ach wie flüchtig, ach wie nichtig") performed on the 24th Sunday after Trinity as part of Bach's second annual Sacred Cantata cycle in Leipzig (1724/25);

  • 1739 - Rameau: opera "Dardanus," in Paris;

  • 1875 - Tchaikovsky: Symphony No. 3, in Moscow (see Julian date: Nov. 7);

  • 1923 - In Budapest, for the 50th Anniversary of the union of the cities Buda and Pest (on opposite sides of the Danube), a gala concert premieres Ernst von Dohnányi's "Festive Overture," Zoltán Kódaly's "Psalmus Hungaricus," and Béla Bartók's "Dance Suite";

  • 1953 - Elliott Carter: Sonata for flute, oboe, cello and harpsichord, in New York City;

  • 1984 - Christopher Rouse: “Gorgon” for orchestra, by the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra, David Zinman, cond;

  • 1994 - John Adams: "John's Book of Alleged Dances" for string quartet and foot-controlled sampler, at the California Center for the Arts, Escondido, by the Kronos Quartet;

  • 2000 - Philip Glass: Double Concerto for Timpani and Orchestra, at Lincoln Center in New York, by the American Composers Orchestra;

  • 2004 - Henry Brant: "Wind, Water, Clouds and Fire," for six spatial arranged performing groups and choirs including the Present Music Ensemble,the Bucks American Indian Drumming and Singing Group, and the Milwaukee Youth Symphony, at the Cathredral of St. John the Evagelist in Milwaukee, Wisc.


  • 1863 - The U.S. Marine Corps Band accompanies President Lincoln to Gettysburg for the dedication of the National Cemetery on the occasion of his famous Gettysburg Address;

  • 1937 - The RKO film "Damsel in Distress" is released, with music by George Gershwin; This film includes the classic Gershwin songs "A Foggy Day," and "Nice Work If You Can Get It";

  • 1957 - Leonard Bernstein named Music Director of the New York Philharmonic, the first American-born and American-trained conductor to assume the post of a major American orchestra;

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About Composers Datebook®

Host John Birge presents a daily snapshot of composers past and present, with timely information, intriguing musical events and appropriate, accessible music related to each.

He has been hosting, producing and performing classical music for more than 25 years. Since 1997, he has been hosting on Minnesota Public Radio's Classical Music Service. He played French horn for the Cincinnati Symphony and Pops Orchestra and performed with them on their centennial tour of Europe in 1995. He was trained at the Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music, Eastman School of Music and Interlochen Arts Academy.

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