Partch, Harry

Partch, Harry, 1901–74, American composer, b. Oakland, Calif. Highly individualistic and largely self-taught, Partch rejected many of the traditions of Western music. He developed a theory of corporeal music based on harmonized spoken words, capturing the patterns of real speech and uniting text with music. The technique is exemplified by works such as Account of the Normandy Invasion by an American Glider Pilot, based on a recording of the pilot's recollections. Partch also wrote music based on such sources as newsboy cries, hitchhiker inscriptions, and hobo descriptions, the latter drawn from his own several years of experience riding the rails. Another of his innovations was the division of the octave into a 43-note scale. He designed and built string, keyboard, and percussion instruments to play the music composed from this scale and his iconoclastic book Genesis of a Music (1949) explains his tunings and theories. Partch wrote several stage works, including, in 1952, music for William Butler Yeats's adaptation of Sophocles' Oedipus.

See T. McGeary, ed., Bitter Music: Collected Journals, Essays, Introductions, and Librettos (1991, repr. 2000); biography by B. Gilmore (1998).

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