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Harl McDonald (Composer, Arranger)

Born: July 27, 1899 - near Boulder, Colorado, USA
Died: March 30, 1955 - Princeton, New Jersey, USA

The American pianist, composer, conductor, music adminstrator and teacher, Harl McDonald, began to study music in elementary school, where he showed promise as a pianist. He undertook his graduate study at University of Southern California in Los Angeles, where his professors included Vernon Spencer, Ernest Douglas, and Yaraslav de Zielinsky. McDonald earning his bachelor of music degree in 1921. He also studied at the University of Redlands, California. He then traveled to Europe, where he spent a year studying in Leipzig, gaining a further diploma from the conservatory there in 1922.

Harl McDonald returned to the USA during 1923, embarking on a full-time career as a solo pianist and accompanist. In 1924, he also joined the faculty of the Philadelphia Musical Academy as a piano teacher, and remained at that until 1926, when he was hired by the University of Pennsylvania. At Pennsylvania, where he stayed for the next 20 years (1926-1946), McDonald held a number of academic posts (including Director of the University's Choral Society and the University of Pennsylvania Glee Club), rising through the ranks to become senior professor and finally Director of the Music Department.

Harl McDonald also served as general manager of the Philadelphia Orchestra in from 1939 to 1955, and on the Board of Directors of the Philadelphia Orchestra Association. He also worked as a researcher in the fields of acoustics and sound measurement for the Rockefeller Foundation. In 1955, he published his findings in collaboration with O.H. Schenck in the book New Methods of Measuring Sound. In recognition for this acclaimed book, McDonald was elected to the scientific society Sigma Xi.

In addition to his administrative duties with the University, Harl McDonald composed numerous musical works, often of a programmatic nature.. His four symphonies are subtitled "The Santa Fe Trail" (#1 - 1933), "The Rhumba" (#2 - 1934), "Lamentations of Fu Hsuan" (#3 - 1935) and "Festival of the Workers" (#4 - 1937). His other works include a concerto for two pianos, two piano trios, and choral music. His 1938 Lament for the Stolen, for women's chorus and orchestra, was written in commemoration of the Lindbergh kidnapping.


Orchestral (all 1st perf. in Philadelphia unless otherwise given):
4 symphonies:
- No. 1. The Santa Fe Trail (1932; November 16, 1934)
- No. 2. The Rhumha (1934; October. 4, 1935)
- No. 3. Lamentations of Fu Hsuan, for Soprano, Chorus, and Orchestra (1935; January 3, 1936)
- No. 4. Festival of the Workers (1937; April 8, 1938)
3 Poems on Aramaic Themes (1935; December 18, 1936)
Concerto for 2 Pianos and Orchestra (1936; April 2, 1937)
San Juan Capristrano, 2 nocturnes (1938; Boston, October 30, 1939)
The Legend of the Arkansas Traveler (1939; Detroit, March 3, 1940)
Chameleon Variations (1940)
From Childhood for Harp and Orchestra (1940; Jan. 17, 1941)
Bataan (Washington, D.C., July 3, 1942)
Saga of the Mississippi (1943; April, 9, 1948)
My Country at War, symphonic suite (1943)
Violin Concerto (1943; March 16, 1945)
Song of the Nations for Soprano and Orchestra (1945)
Overture for Children (1950)

2 piano trios (1931, 1932)
Fantasy for String Quartet (1932)
String Quartet on Negro Themes (1933)
numerous piano pieces

The Breadth and Extent of Man's Empire for Chorus (1938)
Songs of Conquest for Chorus (1938)
Lament for the Stolen for Women's Voices and Orchestra (1939)
Dirge for 2 Veterans for Women's Voices and Orchestra (1940)
Wind in the Palm Trees for Women's Voices and Strings (1940)
God Give us Men for Voices and Orchestra (1950)
numerous other vocal pieces

Source: Baker’s Biographical Dictionary of 20th Century Classical Musicians (1997); All Music Guide Website (Author: Michael Jameson); Wikipedia Website
Contributed by
Aryeh Oron (October 2009)

Harl McDonald: Short Biography | Orchestral Transcriptions: Works | Recordings

Links to other Sites

Harl McDonald - Biography (AMG)
Harl McDonald (Wikipedia)

Guide to the Harl McDonald Recordings, 1937-1944 (University of Pennsylvania)
Mendelssohn Club of Philadelphia: History



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