Harry Somers: introduction

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Title Harry Somers: introduction
Author(s) Andrew M. Zinck
Date 1996
Volume 29
Issue 2
Start page 56
Abstract [Harry Stuart Somers]' early studies in composition played a major role in shaping his style. In 1941, at age 16, he began compositional studies with John Weinzweig, under whose guidance he learned to compose using serial techniques and developed great skill in writing extended melodic lines (this would become a pre-occupation for Somers in many later works). In 1949, he left for Paris to study with Darius Milhaud for a year. The result of this was a broadening of Somers' horizons, especially with respect to lighter styles of music. In this regard, Milhaud's influence was primarily one of perspective, not style. One effect of this broadened perspective was the expansion of possibilities for musical material that Somers felt could be used within a composition. Since the late 1940s, one frequently finds in Somers' compositions strong juxtapositions of musical styles within a single piece, sometimes involving both tonal and non-tonal material. The second movement of his Suite for Harp and Chamber Orchestra (1949) contains Somers' first use of this technique. This is developed further in a number of works in the 1950s, such as his Third and Fourth Piano Sonatas (1950), and his Violin Sonata No. 1 (1953). Somers' pre-occupation with contrasting musical styles continues to define many of his works to varying degrees. Despite the apparently dissimilar approaches and types of dramas represented by his operatic output, one common thread exists: Somers' distinctive brand of eclecticism, involving the juxtaposition and superimposition of diverse styles within a single work. The rationale for this approach is found in Somers' paramount desire to strengthen dramatic tension and to emphasize fundamental oppositions within the libretti in a palpable way, thus ensuring clear musical articulation of the dramatic structures. In this way, Somers' eclecticism functions as a tool of musical and dramatic intensification. heightening the effect of his operatic works.

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