The Kennedy Center

Roy Harris


Born in Lincoln County, Oklahoma in 1898, Roy Harris was a major creative force in the development of an indigenous American style of symphonic composition. At age 24, Harris began to study music at the University of California, and, with the encouragement of Aaron Copland, he studied in Paris with Nadia Boulanger. Under her tutelage, he produced his first significant work, a concerto for clarinet, piano, and string quartet (1927).

Upon returning to the United States, he held a number of teaching positions at Julliard, Princeton, Cornell, Indiana, and UCLA. William Schuman, Peter Schickele, and George Lynn were among his many pupils.

Many of Harris' compositions reflect American scenes and music. Among these are: When Johnny Comes Marching Home (1935), a symphonic overture on a Civil War song; Fourth (Folksong) Symphony (1940); Kentucky Spring (1949); Sixth Symphony (1944), subtitled 'Gettysburg Address'; and Tenth Symphony (1965), 'The Abraham Lincoln Symphony'.

Of his 16 symphonies, the best known and most-often performed is the Third Symphony (1939), written in a single movement with contrasting sections of lyrical and dramatic nature. In chamber music he followed classical models. He wrote three string quartets, a piano trio, a piano quintet, and a string quintet. His Third String Quartet (1939), is in the form of four preludes and fugues in modal harmony.
Roy Harris


  • Acceleration - written for the NSO
  • Symphony No. 14 ("Bicentennial Symphony, 1976")