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Harry Partch
(June 24, 1901 - September 3, 1974) U.S.A.

Harry Partch



Harry was born in Oakland, California as son of missionary parents. Largely self-taught, he enhanced his skills as instrument maker and developed during the 1920s and 1930s his own theory of music. Taking his authority from the Greeks, he argued for music as a 'corporeal' rather than an intellectual art.

Harry, fed up with Western music, ceremonially incinerated all his compositions in a pot-bellied stove in 1930, and ventured into un-traveled territory, as he started developing and building his own instruments. Creating, adapting and constructing many beautiful instruments tuned to a 43-tone octave, his compositions feature shimmering glissandi, ritualistic rhythms, hobo sayings and much more.

Harry PartchHe left the traditional system of tuning used in the Western world since Bach; the Equal Temperament. Of the four major tunings systems - Equal Temperament, Pythagorean, Meantone Temperament and Just Intonation - Partch preferred Just Intonation, and used it through-out his life.

His own major works were dramatic, their drama enhanced by the striking presence of his instruments. Largely ignored by standard musical institutions, he criticised concert traditions, the roles of performer and composer, the role of music in society, the twelve-tone equal-temperament scale and the concept of pure or abstract music. To explain his ideas, he wrote Genesis of a music.

Between 1930 and 1972, Harry, who held no teaching appointments, but had research posts at the universities of Wisconsin, Illinois, and California, created music dramas, dance theatre, vocal music and chamber music - mostly performed on instruments he built himself.

Harry PartchHis 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. The influence of his music, however, on other composers has been profound and unabating, as is evident in the works of composers experimenting with just intonation, in mixed-media works since the 1960s, and in the percussive motor-rhythmic music of the minimalists.

Harry Partch died in San Diego, California.


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