PARTCH: And on the Seventh Day Petals Fell in Petaluma; Castor and Pollux; Windsong (excerpts); The Bewitched (excerpts); The Letter. Gate 5 Ensemble of Sausalito and other performers recorded under the supervision of Harry Partch. CRI CD-7000 [AADJ; 76:20.
There is little I can add to the enthusiastic recommendations and informative comments of Adrian Corleonis and James North regarding the music of Harry Partch (see Fanfare 14:1, pp. 328-31), beyond a few personal, subjective reactions. Ordinarily, music that renounces traditional Western syntax in favor of “originality” or “innovation” holds little appeal for me. Yet ever since I first encountered the music of Partch, nearly thirty years ago, I have been deeply impressed by its creative vitality, its visionary idealism, its authentic originality, and the grandeur of its bold, dauntless ambition — not to mention its profound primal resonance. However, like other works of extraordinary originality and ambition–from Wagner’s Ring to Sorabji’s Opus Clavicembalisticum — Partch’s grandest efforts can be taxing to one’s patience and concentration, unless one has undertaken some preparation.
Furthermore, despite Partch’ s gesamtkunstwerk aesthetic, articulated so eloquently in his book Genesis of a Music, and despite the acoustical uniqueness of an ensemble of Partch instruments heard without intermediating electronics, the novice might do well to discover his music through recordings — and in small doses. For such a purpose — and with some essential Partch LPs no longer in print — this CD reissue in CRr’s “Historic Recordings Series” provides an excellent selection of what Corleonis legitimately describes as “a significant part of the core of our national heritage, among the central achievements of music in our time.”
The major offering here — and the only one recorded in stereo — is And on the Seventh Day Petals Fell in Petaluma, a 36-minute instrumental work dating from the mid-196Gs that served as something of a study for Partch’s magnum opus, the theater piece, Delusion of the Fury. …Petals…consists of 34 short sections of which the final 11 are overdubbed composites of the first 23. The enormous rhythmic, tonal, and timbral variety that results provides a rich and representative introduction to Partch’s unique sound-world.
The three earlier instrumental pieces are taken from private recordings on the composer’s own Gate 5 label. “Castor and Pollux” is an excerpt from the 1952 composition Plectra and Percussion Dances. The Bewitched is a theater piece dating from Percussion Dances. 1955, of which the final scene is included here. Windsong is an excerpt from the score to an experimental film made in 1958. All the performances were recorded under Partch’s own supervision and, in the case of Windsonq, the composer himself plays all the instruments, with the aid of overdubbing.
The Letter is a brief” song” dating from 1943 that reveals Partch’s special style of microtonal vocal monophony — heard here in his own rendition–as well as his indescribably haunting and dreamlike evocation of hobo life in the Southwest during the “Great Depression.”
There has never been a composer like Harry Partch. If you have not heard his music, you certainly ought to have the experience at least once. You will not forget it.