Sunday, November 13, 2011

Roy Harris: Symphony No. 6, "Gettysburg", Brief Discussion by Payman Akhlaghi

Roy Harris and Johana Harris
Awakening on YouTube

Roy Harris, Symphony No. 6, "The Gettysburg" (1944); Movement I: Awakening
A Note By: Payman Akhlaghi

Roy Harris composed his Symphony No. 6, the "Gettysburg", toward the end of WWII, inspired by Lincoln's famous address of 1863, and it consists of four movements which correspond to the salient themes of that brief note: "Awakening, Conflict, Dedication, Affirmation." The first movement is especially memorable, not the least, for its success at evoking the imagery of the "rise" of a young nation, and the spirits of its fallen. Emerging out of a quasi-eternal silence, the movement develops patiently, allowing its many short but recognizable thematic fragments to interact and converge; distinct layers of sound expose and superimpose; and a sonic mass to build in a gradual crescendo; toward an exuberant climax, an outburst of unsaid words. Given its tonal atmosphere and colorful timbres, Harris' Awakening remains an enjoyable and accessible treat on sonic terms, even on many listenings. Still, it does map large-scale strategic designs on an extra-musical, visual and conceptual, narrative to fortify formal cohesion; and as such, a sense of its narrative would surely enhance one's appreciation of the music. In that respect, this is as much a neo-Romantic work, as it foreshadows the Post-Modernism which was to fully emerge four decades later.