About the Archive

The vast and highly eclectic archive of the American composer Lou Harrison was formally bequeathed to UCSC's Special Collections after his death in 2003. Conductor and composer Michael Tilson Thomas has written that Lou Harrison worked resolutely, aggressively, independently outside the mainstream and that his expressive goals were to explore the unknown musical and psychological territories. Beyond being a composer Lou Harrison journeyed outside America's mainstream as a poet, painter, a calligrapher, an instrument builder, and a social and environmental activist. He explored the unknown in dance, puppetry, and tuning systems, and his archive makes evident that he was a voracious collector, a highly productive artist, a prodigious correspondent, and a warm, generous friend and loving companion.

The Archive at UCSC includes work and artifacts from the 1920s to 2003. At its core are Harrison's music manuscripts, with many scores and sketches beautifully hand calligraphed, colored and embellished. Harrison's notebooks are full of drawings and initial compositions, and are marked with travel notations and observations. The Archive also contains Harrison's music criticism, and decades of correspondence with friends and colleagues such as John Cage, Robert Duncan, Henry Cowell, and Virgil Thompson. Harrison's passion and interest in performance, and particularly his engagement with Asian music and theater, are exhibited within the Archive. There are shadow, rod, and string puppets from Indonesia, India and Japan, miniature theater sets, and many recordings of South East Asian and East Asian music. The archive also includes Harrison's paintings and drawings that were often displayed during his performances. Original recordings of formal and informal performances and compositional practice sessions are a main feature of the archive. Thousands of audio recordings including rare and early works, some produced on 78 rpm LPs, reveal the depth, range, and importance of Lou Harrison as a highly original composer and influential 20th Century artist.

As a long time resident of Aptos, California and an early participant in local musical celebrations such as the Cabrillo Music Festival, Harrison has always been regarded in Santa Cruz as a regional treasure and cultural legend. Now, through the generosity of national foundations and interested individuals and the technological capabilities of the California Digital Library, Special Collections is making the Lou Harrison Archive available to a much larger community. The process of organizing, documenting, and preserving Harrison's work for future scholarship, study, and exhibition has begun. A finding aid with biographical information and extensive content listings is being constructed as work on the Archive progresses. Lou Harrison's Music Manuscripts is the first series to be fully processed and made available to the public. The finding aid is linked to this website, but it can also be found at UCSC's Online Archive of California site or along with other finding aids that document California's cultural heritage at the OAC's contributing institutions page.

For further information about the Lou Harrison Archive at UCSC, including scheduling visits and viewing appointments, please contact Special Collections. For information about the music and literary estate of Lou Harrison, including rights and permissions, please contact the Lou Harrison Estate Executor Special Collections.