Symphony No. 3 (Harris)

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Roy Harris's Symphony No. 3 is a work written in 1939 and premiered by the conductor Serge Koussevitzky.[clarification needed]


Harris wrote this symphony on a commission from Hans Kindler but he gave it to Serge Koussevitzky instead (Stehman 1984, 63–69). It has been described as "the quintessential American symphony" (Canarina 1993,[page needed]) and "the most widely performed and recorded of all American symphonies" (Butterworth 1998, 84).

The material that eventually became the opening of the Third Symphony was initially meant to be a violin concerto for Jascha Heifetz, but the commission fell through and Harris decided to turn it into a symphony. The point where the strings enter on middle C was to have been the solo violin's entrance (Clark and Schuman 1986, 334).

The score was published by G. Schirmer in 1940.


The music is scored for 3 flutes (the third doubling on piccolo), 2 oboes, English horn (cor anglais), 2 soprano clarinets, bass clarinet, 2 bassoons, 4 horns, 3 trumpets, 3 trombones, 1 euphonium, 1 tuba, timpani, bass drum, cymbals, triangle, xylophone, vibraphone and strings.

According to Harris, the symphony is in five connected sections: Tragic, Lyrical, Pastoral, Fugue Dramatic, Dramatic Tragic. "After the first performance, Harris made two cuts" to the Pastoral section, specifically, measures 274–301 and 308–16 (Butterworth 1998, 86). Originally the symphony did not end as in the published version, but stopped rather abruptly. At Koussevitzky's suggestion, Harris added a coda (Clark and Schuman 1986, 334).

Critical reception[edit]

In 1939, Koussevitzky conducted the Boston Symphony Orchestra in the premiere. While public reaction was initially chilly, the symphony has subsequently become more popular. This work uses a number of techniques that have become common in subsequent American classical music, including "massive but spacious textures; a new emphasis on vital, syncopated rhythms... and a rich harmonic palette" (Haskins n.d., 173–78).

Koussevitzky made the world-premiere recording in a performance which Harris "regarded ... as the finest interpretation" (Butterworth 1998, 84).

Together with "the Second Symphony by Howard Hanson, [and] the Third by Robert Ward ... the Third of Roy Harris" is one of those American symphonies which "are within the capabilities of our [American] community orchestras" (Van Horn 1979, 74).


  • Butterworth, Neil. The American Symphony. Aldershot: Ashgate, 1998.
  • Canarina, John. "The American Symphony". In A Guide to the Symphony, edited by Robert Layton, 408–10. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1993.
  • Clark, John W., and William Schuman. 1986. "William Schuman on His Symphonies: An Interview" American Music 4, no. 3 (Autumn): 328–36.
  • Haskins, Rob. "Orchestral and Chamber Music in the Twentieth Century", Garland Encyclopedia of World Music, edited by[who?], 173–78.[full citation needed]
  • Stehman, Dan. Roy Harris: An American Musical Pioneer. Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1984.
  • Van Horn, James. The Community Orchestra: A Handbook for Conductors, Managers and Boards. Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press, 1979.

Further reading[edit]

  • Kennen, Kent Wheeler. The Technique of Orchestration. Englewood Cliffs: Prentice-Hall Inc., 1952.