Harry Partch

Profile

Harry Partch (1901-1974) was an American composer, music theorist, creator of musical instruments and performer who lived most of his life in the American Midwest and Pacific Coast regions. Travelling around the Western states during the years of the Great Depression, he kept a diary which was published posthumously under the title Bitter Music. Partch was a self-taught composer, who worked with natural tunings, from before equal temperament systems, and the physical aspects of music – he wanted to make 'corporeal' music, music which is best equipped to release its emotion. Partch discarded Western octaves and techniques, designing his own complex tonal system and instruments. From the 1930's onwards, he developed various string and percussion instruments as well as a harmonium, which did not only look unique, but were also given exotic names such as Zymo-Xyl, Boo, Gubagubi en Chrychord.

His compositions combine American folklore, African and Oriental literature, and mystical and pre-Christian magical thoughts, laced with parody, satire, studied naivety, and irony. His works received wide attention only late in his life, largely as a result of a performance of Delusion of the Fury in 1969. Other works include the cycle The Wayward and And on the Seventh Day Petals Fell in Petaluma. Most of Partch's works are made for the theatre and constructed so that the musicians and the instruments are integral to the staging: the instruments look fantastic and the musicians play from memory; the theatrical effect partly derives directly from the production of the music.