Harry Partch, born June 24, 1901, in Oakland, Calif., U.S.A., is the visionary and eclectic composer and instrument builder, largely self-taught, whose compositions are remarkable for the complexity of their scores (each instrument has its own characteristic notation, often involving 43 tones to each octave) and their employment of unique instruments of his invention. Partch’s early works are mainly vocal, based on texts collected during his travels as a hobo during the Depression (The Letter, a Depression Message from a Hobo Friend, 1943; 8 Hitchhiker Inscriptions from a California Highway Railing).
Opera, Blood, and Tears
King Oedipus / The Life You Give: Harry Partch
in celebration of his life in music
June 24 at 1pm EST
Later his interest in mythology and the occult led him to the magical sounds of common materials such as light bulbs and bowls. Instruments such as the boo (bamboo marimba, 1955–56), marimba eroica (1951–55, the largest plank 8 feet [2.4 metres] long), cloud-chamber bowls, mazda marimba, and many others resulted; some of these were exhibited at the San Francisco Museum of Art (1966) and at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York.
Typical of his works of the 1950s are Oedipus (1951; Partch’s first large dramatic work), the theatre pieces Plectra and Percussion Dances (1952), the dance satire The Bewitched (1955), and the soundtrack of the film Windsong (1958). The enormous suite And on the Seventh Day Petals Fell on Petaluma (1963–64, revised 1966) comprises 23 one-minute duets and trios among 20 instruments, followed (by means of electronic dubbing) by 10 quartets and quintets and a final septet. The traditional process of development is ignored; musical ideas are simply stated, then abandoned.
Later Partch was involved with “tactile” theatre pieces, which have the nature of rituals. In 1949 he summarized his esoteric theories in a book, The Genesis of a Music. In 1953 he began issuing his own recordings, and in 1966 he won an award from the National Institute of Arts and Letters.
The child of former missionaries, composer Harry Partch grew up in a musical family, and at an early age taught himself to play the guitar, harmonium, clarinet, and other instruments. During his early school years in Arizona and New Mexico he had some rudimentary music lessons, which he found unexciting and conventional. He wrote a considerable amount of music as a youth, but set it all afire in a pot-bellied stove around 1930.
Partch’s intensive studies in music history and intonation led him to reject conventional Western tunings and musical techniques. He devised a 43-note octave, and started adapting and building instruments to perform the new kind of music he was envisioning. Employment was hard to come by in those years, and Partch spent the Depression wandering the United States as a hobo, doing occasional odd jobs. Those experiences are reflected in his early works Barstow — 8 Hitchhiker Inscriptions from a Highway Railing at Barstow, California (1941) and U.S. Highball — A Musical Account of a Transcontinental Hobo Trip (1943).
Over the next three-plus decades, Partch created dozens of new reed, string, and percussion instruments using a variety of materials including found objects like artillery shell casings, Pyrex jars, bottles, and old fuel tanks. Many of the works he wrote for this ensemble are ambitious theater pieces that incorporate dance, mime, costumes, and ritual: Oedipus, The Bewitched (A Dance Satire, 1955), Revelation in the Courthouse Park, and Delusion of the Fury (1969), perhaps his best-known work. Partch never held a formal teaching post, although he was employed as a researcher at various times at the Universities of Wisconsin, Illinois, and California. He supported himself through foundation grants and the publication, performing, and recording of his works, working for much of that time out of an abandoned shipyard in Sausalito, California. The Gate 5 Ensemble (named after one of the gates at the shipyard) was created to perform his works, and Gate 5 Recordings made many of them available on record.
Partch’s book Genesis of a Music (1949, revised 1974) details Partch’s theories and methods, and describes many of his works in detail. The idiosyncratic list of influences Partch cites includes “Christian hymns, Chinese lullabyes, Yaqui Indian ritual, Congo puberty ritual, Cantonese music hall, and Okies in California vineyards, among others.” Hints of all these, and many more besides, can be found in Partch’s unique music.
By Chris Morrison / Source: all music
Oedipus Rex — by Sophocles
Oedipus Rex, (Latin: “Oedipus the King”) Greek Oidipous Tyrannos, play by Sophocles, performed sometime between 430 and 426 BCE, that marks the summit of classical Greek drama’s formal achievement, known for its tight construction, mounting tension, and perfect use of the dramatic devices of recognition and discovery. It examines the story of Oedipus, who, in attempting to flee from his fate, rushes headlong to meet it.
At the outset of the play, Oedipus is the beloved ruler of the city of Thebes, whose citizens have been stricken by a plague. Consulting the Delphic oracle, Oedipus is told that the plague will cease only when the murderer of Queen Jocasta’s first husband, King Laius, has been found and punished for his deed. Oedipus resolves to find Laius’s killer. His investigation turns into an obsessive reconstruction of his own hidden past when he discovers that the old man he killed when he first approached Thebes as a youth was none other than Laius. At the end, Jocasta hangs herself in shame, and the guilt-stricken Oedipus blinds himself.
In Sophocles’ later play Oedipus at Colonus (produced posthumously 401 BCE; Oidipous epi Kolōnō), the blind, aged Oedipus has spent many years wandering in exile. When he arrives at a sacred grove, he is guaranteed protection by Theseus, the noble king of Athens. He ultimately departs to a mysterious death at Colonus, a village near Athens, where he will become a benevolent source of defense to the land that has given him final refuge. The play is remarkable for its melancholy and beauty, the power of its lyric odes, and its majestic characterization of Oedipus.