You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Lou Harrison

Composer

Composer Lou Harrison, who pioneered world music, died Sunday. He was 85.

Harrison, who was among a line of iconoclastic 20th century American composers that included innovators such as Charles Ives and John Cage, suffered a heart attack in Lafayette, Ind. while traveling from his home in Aptos, Calif., to a weeklong celebration of his music sponsored by the Columbus Symphony Orchestra and Ohio State University.

Harrison was among the first to create all-percussion pieces and to integrate the musical traditions and instruments of Asia and the West.

His work includes four symphonies, two operas, ballets, concertos, choral pieces, solo and chamber works. But he’s best known for the works that cannot be readily categorized, particularly those intended for an international gamut of percussion instruments.

His works incorporate medieval dances, Baroque sonata form, Navaho ritual, early California mission music, the Indonesian gamelan orchestra and Korean court music.

The Portland-born Harrison moved with his family to Northern California when he was 9. A year later, he wrote his first piano piece. As a boy, he also played French horn, clarinet, harpsichord and recorder.

He studied music briefly at San Francisco State University before taking private lessons with Henry Cowell. Cowell introduced him to Cage, who would become a lifelong friend and artistic collaborator.

Harrison moved to New York in 1943, then taught for two years at Black Mountain College in North Carolina before settling in Aptos in 1953.

In 1967, he met William Colvig, an amateur musician and electrician, who became his life partner. Together they built an “American” gamelan, a homespun version of a metallic Javanese percussion orchestra, but with tin cans, steel tubing and baseball bats.

Harrison taught at San Jose State University and Mills College in Oakland. He also was an outspoken advocate for gay rights.

He is survived by a sister-in-law and two nephews.

More Scene

  • Chanel x Tribeca Film Festival Women's

    Chanel's Tribeca Film Fest Luncheon Toasts to Women's Movements in Industry

    Composer Lou Harrison, who pioneered world music, died Sunday. He was 85. Harrison, who was among a line of iconoclastic 20th century American composers that included innovators such as Charles Ives and John Cage, suffered a heart attack in Lafayette, Ind. while traveling from his home in Aptos, Calif., to a weeklong celebration of his […]

  • Doug Davis Power of Law

    Doug Davis Discusses Using Music for a Cause at Variety's Power of Law Event

    Composer Lou Harrison, who pioneered world music, died Sunday. He was 85. Harrison, who was among a line of iconoclastic 20th century American composers that included innovators such as Charles Ives and John Cage, suffered a heart attack in Lafayette, Ind. while traveling from his home in Aptos, Calif., to a weeklong celebration of his […]

  • 'The Handmaid's Tale'

    'The Handmaid's Tale' Cast, Creator Talk Season 2 in #MeToo Era, Expanding Gilead

    Composer Lou Harrison, who pioneered world music, died Sunday. He was 85. Harrison, who was among a line of iconoclastic 20th century American composers that included innovators such as Charles Ives and John Cage, suffered a heart attack in Lafayette, Ind. while traveling from his home in Aptos, Calif., to a weeklong celebration of his […]

  • Pamela Adlon Better Things

    Pamela Adlon: When 'Better Things' 'Stops Being Relatable Is When I Stop Doing My Show'

    Composer Lou Harrison, who pioneered world music, died Sunday. He was 85. Harrison, who was among a line of iconoclastic 20th century American composers that included innovators such as Charles Ives and John Cage, suffered a heart attack in Lafayette, Ind. while traveling from his home in Aptos, Calif., to a weeklong celebration of his […]

  • The Future She Built

    Inventor of the Inclusion Rider Discusses Why the Initiative Is Necessary at Panel

    Composer Lou Harrison, who pioneered world music, died Sunday. He was 85. Harrison, who was among a line of iconoclastic 20th century American composers that included innovators such as Charles Ives and John Cage, suffered a heart attack in Lafayette, Ind. while traveling from his home in Aptos, Calif., to a weeklong celebration of his […]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content