"The Tzadik disc is welcome simply because it is the first new issue of Partch's music in a couple of decades. The recorded sound is far and away the finest of any Partch disc..."
(American Record Guide, Sept./Oct. 1996)
Total time: 36:46
"I am first and last a composer. I have been provoked into becoming a musical theorist, and instrument builder, a musical apostate, and a musical idealist, simply because I have been a demanding composer. I hold no wish for the obsolescence of the widely heard instruments and music. My devotion to our musical heritage is great -- and critical. I feel that more ferment is necessary for a healthy musical culture. I am endeavoring to instill more ferment." --Harry Partch 1942
In 1930, the composer Harry Partch (1901-1974) broke with Western European tradition and forged a new music based on a more primal, corporeal integration of the elements of speech, rhythm and performance using the intrinsic music found in the spoken word, the principles of acoustic resonance and just-intonation. Borrowing from the intonation systems of the ancient Greeks, he created a scale of 43-tones per octave, in part to enable him to capture the nuances of speech in his music, and to forge purer harmony.
His unique ideas forced him to become a theorist, an inventor of musical instruments and a brilliant spokesman for his ideas. Living on the fringes of society, he was ignored by the standard musical institutions, although after reading some of his more barbed criticisms of musical culture one can understand how his presence might have disrupted the smooth indoctrination of good musical soldiers. He rejected ossified concert traditions, the 12-tone equal-temperament scale and the idea of "pure" or abstract concert music. He redefined the roles of the performing musician, composer and by extension, even the role of music in society . His body of work is rigorously constructed, sensual, alluring and emotional, and, sad to say, almost impossible to hear live, since it requires Partch's own invented instruments to be performed.
The Seventeen Lyrics of Li Po were composed between 1931 and 1933 and are among Partch's earliest extant compositions. They were composed for Intoning Voice and Partch's Adapted Viola, a hybrid instrument consisting of a cello neck grafted onto the body of a viola, its open strings sounding one octave below the violin. He used texts from the eighth century Chinese poet, Li Po, selected from Shigeyoshi Obata's 1928 English translation, The Works of Li Po, the Chinese Poet.
In Partch's own words:
"The Lyrics by Li Po are set to music in the manner of the most ancient of cultured musical forms. In this art, the vitality of spoken inflection is retained in the music, every syllable and inflection of the spoken expression being harmonized by the accompanying instrument. The music accompaniment, or, more properly, complement, in addition to being a harmonization, is an enhancement of the text-mood and frequently a musical elaboration of ideas expressed" ...from Partch's liner notes for six of the Li Po settings for an acetate recording
In this recording, the instrument used in place of the Adapted Viola is a tenor violin, a member of the new Violin family of instruments, invented, built and maintained by Carlene Hutchins of the Catgut Acoustical Society. The tenor violin has the identical tuning of Partch's Adapted Viola, with the advantage of a greater string length and a larger, more resonant body, better suited to the instrument's range.
This is the first recording of all seventeen of Partch's Lyrics of Li Po. The project was arduous. Written transcriptions from Partch's original notation were prepared, an instrument that could duplicate the range of Partch's Adapted Viola was found, a suitable way of achieving the flattened bridge effect was rigged (Partch calls for a flattened bridge in several of the songs, allowing the simultaneous sounding of three strings), and the laborious process of making sense out of Partch's meticulous notation was begun. Since there are almost no notated rhythms in the entire piece, every interpretive choice was threaded between two known excesses: to not submerge the text in a wash of "bel canto vowels", and other "devitalized tricks of 'serious singing'", and to not slight Partch's careful harmonies. The improvisatory performances on this disc are but one set of possibilities, here offered as a tribute to the magnificent merger of two great creators, Harry Partch and Li Po.
Partch's original score for the Lyrics of Li Po was notated on 3 staves. The top line showed the approximate 12-tone Equal Temperament equivalent pitch, the second line was transposed for Partch's Chromelodeon, which reproduced his 43-tone per octave scale in Just Intonation, and the third (bottom) line was scored in strict ratio notation for the Adapted Viola. The transcription pictured above compiles Partch's three different scoring methods into two lines of standard Western notation, using micro-tonal diacritical marks to indicate the necessary pitch adjustments. This microtonal system was invented by composer Ezra Sims, and resolves each pitch of Partch's 43-tone source scale to within three cents, and simultaneously offers an easy means to recognize Partch's unique brand of chromatic intervallic relationships to people not accustomed to working in ratios.
The font used for the diacritical marks is a postscript font, named MICRO, useful in making computer score transcriptions of micro-tonal music. It is quite easy to describe a 72-note division of the octave with this system, and if your computer notation program will support the importation of fonts, it works easily. . For more information about this shareware font, see the sample page.
View a full page of sample score.
Baritone Stephen Kalm has sung with many of America's leading regional opera companies and symphony orchestras, including the Houston Grand Opera, Chautauqua Opera, Lake George Opera Festival, Minnesota Opera, Connecticut Opera, The Pennsylvania Opera Theater, and the Milwaukee, Springfield, and Billings Symphony Orchestras. Among his roles performed are Figaro in The Barber of Seville, Marcello in La Boheme, Papageno in The Magic Flute, and Mercutio in Romeo and Juliet. Internationally, Mr. Kalm received critical acclaim for his solo's in Orff's Carmina Burana with the Filharmonica de Bogota, as the Subjective Voice in Harry Partch's US. Highball with Newband in Berlin, and creating the role of Franco Hartmann in Meredith Monk's Atlas, which he has also recorded for ECM. He can also be heard on New World Records' Ponder Nothing, singing Five Fragments by Ben Johnston. Mr. Kalm teaches voice and directs the opera workshop at the University of Montana.