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Harry Partch

Harry Partch

Country of origin: United States of America
Birthday: June 24, 1901
Date of death: September 3, 1974

About Harry Partch

I wouldn’t mind slipping into the skin and bones of [composer] Harry Partch. One of our greatest, pioneering artists, who is rarely given the respect, let alone the appreciation, that he so richly deserves. (Johnny Depp)

Harry Partch was born in Oakland, California as son of missionary parents on 24 June 1901. 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. He used the natural intervals of just intonation and built his own percussion and wind instruments for this purpose in a 43-note scale.

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, Partch, 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.

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. 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 on 3 September 1974.

For further information please visit the Harry Partch website www.corporeal.com