Roy Harris’s Symphony 1933: Biographical Myth-Making and Liberal Myth-Building in the American West

Emily MacGregor

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A leading young voice in music of the United States during the 1920s and 30s, composer Roy Harris (1898–1979) was a figurehead for an American identity that reified the sovereignty of the individualist frontiersman alongside the American West. An analysis of the reception of the premiere of Harris’s break-through first symphony, the Symphony 1933, reveals a constellation of ideological processes by which the biographical myth-making around musical figures negotiates the gap between individual and collective identities in the national imagination. Understanding this wider phenomenon is significant for advancing scholarship in musical biography by pointing to potential directions for pursuing its interdisciplinary intersections, in particular the significance of reception history for biographical myth-making. It also indicates potential crossover with diverse areas such as cultural geography, legal discourses about sovereignty and ownership, and socio-political analyses of liberalism. Ultimately, Harris’s biographical connection with Western landscapes illustrates how musical biography, in parallel with the music itself, can negotiate the relationship between a composer’s identity, the geographical space in which it is located, and racialized formulations of national identity.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)266-284
Number of pages19
JournalJournal of Musicological Research
Issue number3-4
Early online date16 Sept 2019
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 16 Sept 2019

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