Date of Award
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
Frequently cited as being among Lou Harrison’s most important East-West fusions, the works for Indonesian gamelan and Western instruments have served as emblems of Harrison’s distinctive transcultural voice. Yet, as my research shows, treating these pieces as hybrids between East and West creates a limited frame for understanding Harrison’s compositional interests. While these pieces outwardly display his life-long interest in Asian musics and his penchant for combining disparate musical styles within a single composition, hidden beneath this timbral juxtaposition lies a compositional complexity far more essential to Harrison’s creative process. More than blending East and West, the pieces for gamelan and Western instruments reveal a rigorous interplay between form and spontaneity. Through close analysis of four of Harrison’s compositions—Bubaran Robert 1976, Main Bersama-sama, Threnody for Carlos Chávez, and Bubaran Robert 1981—I provide critical understanding of his compositional method. Taking as a point of departure Harrison’s stated interest in the friction between the value of freedom and the need for method, my investigation reveals the centrality of melody to his compositional inventiveness. The claim that melody occupied a central position within Harrison’s aesthetic outlook has frequently been made, but the tendency has been to equate Harrison’s melodic skillfulness merely with an attractive lyricism found in the surface features of his work. My analyses show that Harrison’s definition of melody extends beyond writing “tunes,” as he explored how melody (as opposed to large-scale tonal or harmonic schemes) could create form and serve a central generative function in his music. Harrison seems to have conceived of the gamelan parts as a kind of framework with certain fixed properties. Each work employs a structural gong cycle, articulates a central organizing melody (the balungan), and expresses the principle of pitch coincidence. But within these “rules,” he shows us how multifaceted melody can be in structuring a piece. What these pieces show is the scope of Harrison’s strategies for combining melodies played by instruments from two different traditions. Yet more than simply showing the range of his melodic experimentation, my analyses reveal the gradual development of Harrison’s personal definition of hybridity.
Chacko, Rachel Elizabeth, "Beyond the Myth of East-West Hybridity: An Analysis of Lou Harrison's Works for Gamelan and Western Instruments" (2010). Music Theory Graduate Theses & Dissertations. 1.