Lou Harrison: Serenado

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Featuring David Tanenbaum, guitar, with William Winant, percussion 

Regarding Lou Harrison - (May 14, 1917 - February 2, 2003) 

In the last conversation I had with him, a few weeks before he passed away, Lou had just heard the edited version of this recording. He said, "I love every minute of it! But I'm late, I have to go. Goodbye!" I write this just days after his death, filled not only with sadness but also gratitude for his life and work and the privilege to have known him. The guitar works of Lou Harrison span fifty years. The earliest piece on this recording, Serenado por Gitaro (a title in Esperanto), was included in a letter to Frank Wigglesworth dated February 12, 1952. For many years the piece remained unpublished, and guitarists circulated photocopies of the piece in Harrison's beautiful calligraphy. The music reflects Asian influences, and represents a rejection of the densely textured modernism prevalent on the east coast at that time. "I don't think increasing complexity is the answer to anything," Lou has said. "I don't think significance is opposed to beauty." Twenty-five years later the composer set out to write five suites for guitar, each in a different intonation. But the only completed work from that time was another Serenade (1978) in five movements with optional percussion, written in an eight-tone mode with a flatted second and raised fourth. From that period also come the Plaint and Variations on Walter Von der Wogelweide's "Song of Palestine" (1978), remnants of an unfinished guitar suite which ultimately became the first two movements of Harrison's String Quartet Set. Harrison characterized the Variations as being in a European-style quintal counterpoint of medieval origin. Although often approached by guitarists for more music, almost twenty-five more years went by before Lou was again ready to write for the instrument. It turned out that one of his hesitations about the guitar over the years had been the relative lack of sustain of the classical guitar. After I made several trips to his house with trunkloads of guitars, he immediately recognized in the National Steel guitar the sound he yearned for... — David Tanenbaum

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