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Harry Partch Music Scores
MSS 629  
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Collection Details
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  • Descriptive Summary
  • Scope and Content of Collection
  • Biography
  • Preferred Citation
  • Publication Rights
  • Acquisition Information

  • Descriptive Summary

    Title: Harry Partch Music Scores
    Identifier/Call Number: MSS 629
    Contributing Institution: Mandeville Special Collections Library
    9500 Gilman Drive
    La Jolla, California, 92093-0175
    Language of Material: English
    Physical Description: 5.0 Linear feet (5 flat boxes)
    Date (inclusive): 1922 - 1972
    Abstract: The Harry Partch Music Scores consists of facsimiles of musical and theatrical compositions by Harry Partch, written between 1922 and 1972. Compositions include seminal works such as Delusions of the Fury, U.S. Highball, and Wayward.
    Creator: Partch, Harry, 1901-1974

    Scope and Content of Collection

    The Harry Partch Music Scores consists of bound facsimiles of musical and theatrical compositions by experimental composer and instrument-builder Harry Partch, written between 1922 and 1972. Compositions include seminal works such as Delusions of the Fury, Oedipus the King, U.S. Highball, and Wayward. The scores are arranged alphabetically.


    Harry Partch was born in Oakland, CA on June 24, 1901; both his parents had been Presbyterian missionaries in China who endured the Boxer Rebellion. By the age of 20, he had moved through parts of the Midwest and East Coast, then back through Northern and Southern California before settling in San Diego in 1964. He began his early musical training playing clarinet, harmonium, viola, piano, and guitar and composing music using a tempered chromatic scale normal in Western music. He became frustrated with the musical tuning of Western music and subsequently destroyed all of his early works.
    Interested in dramatic speech, Partch began to build his own instruments to reflect the musicality of speech and substantiate the intoning voice. His first instrument built in 1930 was the "Monophone," later known as the "adapted viola." Soon after, he was awarded a grant which allowed him to study the history of tuning systems in London and to try to gain permission to write an opera based on W.B. Yeats's translation of Sophocles' Oedipus the King. However, his grant money was depleted by the 1930s and he returned to the United States and to travel around on trains, as a hobo. He recorded his experiences in a journal named Bitter Music (late 1930s) and subsequently composed Barstow (1941), a piece originally recorded for voice and guitar; the latter was transcribed several times throughout his life as his instrument collection grew. Additionally, he composed U.S. Highball (1943), a musical memoir reflecting his train riding memories.
    After receiving a Guggenheim Foundation grant in 1943, he returned to completing Oedipus, recording from his own translation. In 1949, he published Genesis of a Music, an account of his own music with discussions of music theory and instrument design, explaining his concept of the fusion of all art forms with the body as its central focus. He later wrote the 'dance satire' The Bewitched, Revelation in the Courthouse Park, and Delusion of the Fury, the latter recorded by Columbia Records in 1969. In the fall of the same year, Partch taught a course at UCSD.
    Harry Partch is known for his experimental and conceptual compositions involving the 43-tone scale and his customization and design of musical instruments using raw materials such as retuned reed organs, glass bowls, bamboo stalks, liquor bottles, and car light bulbs.
    He died on September 3, 1974 in San Diego. The majority of his instruments and papers are housed at the Alexander Kasser Theatre and Sprague Library of Montclair State University in New Jersey.

    Preferred Citation

    Harry Partch Music Scores, MSS 629. Mandeville Special Collections Library, UCSD.

    Publication Rights

    Publication rights are held by the creator of the collection.

    Acquisition Information

    Not Available



    Subjects and Indexing Terms

    Microtonal music -- Scores
    Monologues with music -- Scores