Francis Llewellyn Harrison, better known as “Frank Harrison” or “Frank Ll. Harrison” and one of the leading musicologists of his time and a pioneering ethnomusicologist, is born in Dublin on September 29, 1905. Initially trained as an organist and composer, he turns to musicology in the early 1950s, first specialising in English and Irish music of the Middle Ages and increasingly turning to ethnomusicological subjects in the course of his career. His Music in Medieval Britain (1958) is still a standard work on the subject, and Time, Place and Music (1973) is a key textbook on ethnomusicology.
Harrison is the second son of Alfred Francis Harrison and Florence May (née Nash). He becomes a chorister at St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin in 1912 and is educated at the cathedral grammar school and Mountjoy School. A competent organist, he is deputy organist at St. Patrick’s from 1925 to 1928. In 1920, he also begins musical studies at the Royal Irish Academy of Music, where he studies with John Francis Larchet (composition), George Hewson (organ) and Michele Esposito (piano). In 1926, he graduates Bachelor of Music at Trinity College Dublin and is awarded a doctorate (MusD) in 1929 for a musical setting of Psalm 19. He then works in Kilkenny for one year, serving as organist at St. Canice’s Cathedral and music teacher at Kilkenny College.
In 1930, Harrison emigrates to Canada to become organist at Westminster Presbyterian Church in New Glasgow, Nova Scotia. In 1933, he studies briefly with Marcel Dupré in France, but returns to Canada in 1934 to become organist at Knox Presbyterian Church in Ottawa. In 1935, he takes a position as organist and choirmaster at St. George’s Cathedral in Kingston, Ontario, as well as taking up the newly created post of “resident musician” at Queen’s University at Kingston. His duties include giving lectures, running a choir and an orchestra, and conducting concerts himself. His course in the history and appreciation of music is the first music course to be given for full credit at Queen’s. He resigns from St. George’s in 1941 to become assistant professor of music at Queen’s in 1942. During his years in Canada he still pursues the idea of remaining a performing musician and composer, winning three national composition competitions: for Winter’s Poem (1931), Baroque Suite (1943) and Night Hymns on Lake Nipigon (1945).
On a year’s leave of absence from Queen’s, Harrison studies composition with Paul Hindemith at Yale University, also taking courses in musicology with Leo Schrade. In 1946, he takes up a position at Colgate University in Hamilton, New York, and then moves on to Washington University in St. Louis as head of the new Department of Music (1947–1950).
In 1951, Harrison takes the degrees of Master of Arts (M.A.) and Doctor of Music (DMus) at Jesus College, Oxford, and becomes lecturer (1952), senior lecturer (1956), and reader in the history of music (1962–1970) there. In 1965, he is elected Fellow the British Academy and Senior Research Fellow at Oxford. From 1970 to 1980, he is Professor of Ethnomusicology at the University of Amsterdam in the Netherlands, retiring to part-time teaching in 1976.
Harrison also holds Visiting Professorships in musicology at Yale University (1958–1959), Princeton University (spring 1961 and 1968–1969), and Dartmouth College (winter 1968 and spring 1972). He also briefly returns to Queen’s University at Kingston as Queen’s Quest Visiting Professor in the fall of 1980 and is Visiting Andrew W. Mellon Professor of Music at the University of Pittsburgh for the calendar year 1981.
Harrison’s honorary titles also include Doctor of Laws at Queen’s University, Kingston (1974), Corresponding Member of the American Musicological Society (1981), and Vice President and Chairman of the Plainsong and Medieval Music Society (1985). At Queen’s also, the new Harrison-LeCaine Hall (1974) is partly named in his honour.
Harrison dies in Canterbury, England on December 29, 1987.
In 1989, Harry White appreciates Harrison as “an Irish musicologist of international standing and of seminal influence, whose scholarly achievement, astonishingly, encompassed virtually the complete scope of the discipline which he espoused.” David F. L. Chadd writes of him “He was above all things an explorer, tirelessly curious and boyishly delighted in the pursuit of knowledge, experience and ideas, and totally heedless of artificially imposed constraints and boundaries.”
Since 2004, the Society for Musicology in Ireland (SMI) awards a bi-annual Irish Research Council Harrison Medal in his honour to distinguished international musicologists.