|The Harry Partch Collection, Volume 1
Eleven Intrusions, Castor and Pollux, Ring Around the Moon, Even Wild Horses, Ulysses at the Edge
Harry Partch, principal vocals (Eleven Intrusions); Gate 5 Ensemble (Sausalito), Horace Schwartz, conductor (Plectra and Percussion Dances: Castor and Pollux, Ring Around the Moon, Even Wild Horses); Gate 5 Ensemble (Evanston, Illinois) (Ulysses at the Edge)
This newly remastered reissue marks a welcome return to the catalog of the first volume of the classic 4-CD collection that was formerly available on the CRI label. The works recorded on this disc span the first six years of what Harry Partch (1901–1974), slightly tongue-in-cheek, called the “third period” of his creative life. They show him moving away from the obsession with “the intrinsic music of spoken words” that had characterized his earlier output (the vocal works of 1930–33 and 1941–45) and towards an instrumental idiom, predominantly percussive in nature. This path was to take him through the “music-dance drama” King Oedipus (1951)—the culmination of his “spoken word” manner—to the “dance satire” The Bewitched (1954–55), in which his new percussive idiom manifests itself. The three works on this disc show Partch before, during, and after this period of transition.
In their quiet, forlorn way, the Eleven Intrusions are among the most compelling and beautiful of Partch’s works. The individual pieces were composed at various times between August 1949 and December 1950, and only later gathered together as a cycle. Nonetheless they form a unified whole, with a nucleus of eight songs framed by two instrumental preludes and an essentially instrumental postlude.
Although foreshadowed by the dance sequences of King Oedipus, the Plectra and Percussion Dances (1952) are the first of Partch’s major works to be wholly instrumental in conception. They stand in relation to Oedipus as a satyr play in relation to a Greek tragedy—hence the work’s subtitle, “Satyr-Play Music for Dance Theater.” He felt that after the prolonged period of composition and production of Oedipus it was “almost a necessity to give vent to feelings and ideas, whims and caprices, even nonsense, that seem to have no place in tragedy.”
The final work on this disc is Ulysses at the Edge, written at Partch’s studio at Gate 5 in July 1955. Ulysses, which Partch describes as a “minor adventure in rhythm,” is unique among his mature compositions in that, in its original form, it did not call for any of his own instruments. The version recorded here, for alto and baritone saxophones, Diamond Marimba, Boo, Cloud-Chamber Bowls, and speaking voice, is considered the third version of the piece.