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Work of the Week: The Harry Partch Edition

In August 2013, Ensemble Musikfabrik presented the European premiere of Harry Partch’s Delusion of the Fury at the Ruhrtriennale Festival in Germany, 45 years after the world premiere in the USA. Inspired by this performance, Schott created a new series of facsimile study scores featuring Partch’s remarkable handwriting, beginning with Delusion of the Fury. The series currently features twelve works.

The Harry Partch Edition scores offer a deep insight in the unique musical world of the composer. His simple titles include Daphne of the Dunes, based upon the ancient Greek myth of Daphne and Apollo, and The Lord is my Shepherd, a setting of the well-known psalm. Other works in the Harry Partch Edition are Rotate the Body in all its Planes, a piece conceived to accompany gymnastics, Two Settings from “Finnegan’s Wake”, composed for soprano Ethel Luening, whose voice Partch admired, and the recently published Summer 1955 is a collection of pieces written in that same year.

The Harry Partch Edition: a unique musical cosmos

As a pioneer of microtonality, Partch created his own large collection of unique instruments with various timbres, each adapted to work with his own, continually developing, tonal system. Instead of the standard twelve note octave, he invented his own scale consisting of 43 microtones.

To realise the sounds in his imagination, Partch became an equally imaginative instrument-maker. He initially resorted to using unusual and exotic instruments but when this was no longer enough, he began to develop his own inventions in order to exploit the full potential of sound in his compositions. His never-ending creativity led to the “Chromelodeon I, an expansion on a harmonium to fit his tonal system. He built other instruments by adapting everyday objects: the “Zymo-Xyl” was built out of wine and spirit bottles, and the “Bloboy” was made from car horns.

The direction in which I have been going for the last forty-four years has much in common with the activities and actions of primitive man as I imagine him. Primitive man found magical sounds in the materials around him – in a reed, a piece of bamboo, a particular piece of wood held in a certain way, or a skin stretched over a gourd or a tortoise shell: some resonating body. He then proceeded to make the object, the vehicle, the instrument, as visually beautiful as he could. His last step was almost automatic: the magical sounds and visual beauty into something spiritual. – Harry Partch

The next work in the Harry Partch Edition will be Ring around the Moon. Other planned releases this year are Castor and Pollux, Windsong and Oedipus.


Photo: MazdaMarimba of the Ensemble Musikfabrik