|To mark the 25th anniversary of the composer's death (on September 4, 1974), and just in time for his centenary (June 24, 2001), Delusion of the Fury, the monumental work of ritual-theater that propelled Harry Partch into the limelight, is being released on CD. Originally recorded for Columbia Masterworks and long-since out of print, innova has reissued this central item of American musical history. With the appearance of this recording, executive producer Philip Blackburn's 15-year project to release the complete works of Harry Partch (1901-1974), one of the most important of American artists, has been realized.
Like composer Conlon Nancarrow, Partch had to wait until late in life for his radical contributions to the arts to receive wide attention. With the 1969 production of Delusion he was "discovered", idolized, and gurufied, as a 43-tone-to-the-octave, ex-hobo, eccentric, maverick, iconoclastic instrument-builder, and a "philosophic music-man seduced into carpentry." Hippy hyperbole notwithstanding, Partch was a genuine far-out radical whose time has come. Again. "Sounds like this have rarely been heard before, at least not on this planet."
Written from 1963-1969, this stage work in two parts is for singers, mimes, dancers and musicians playing on 25 of the beautiful microtonal instruments designed and built over the years by this legendary composer who was the first thinker on tuning theory in centuries (see his famous book Genesis of a Music, an exposition on his theories and instruments). The stage set is made up of the instruments themselves, mostly tuned to Partch's 43-tone scale; the instrumentalists may also take over the roles of singing if the mimes and dancers are not musical in that way (and much of the text is vocables, "oh-ah" etc.). The whole experience is akin to ancient ritual theater, as new as it is old.
The beginning music which takes the place of an overture is called an "Exordium," the beginning of a statement or "web" to entice the listener. The music begins slowly, somewhat like a Noh drama, with high and low bell-like sounds from the Cloud Chamber Bowls, strumming sounds and strange bending tones. Then simple rhythm, almost a folk tune begins. Another section somewhat like double-speed gamelan music takes over, with slow chords underlining the fast patterns. Staged in an indefinite ancient time, the story of Act One is taken from a classic Japanese Noh play in which a prince is again making a pilgrimage to expiate the sin of having killed another prince in battle; he meets the dead man's ghost and together they relive the death scene. Eventually, realizing they cannot keep repeating this conversation again and again, they come to a reconciliation, the dead with the living ("You are not my enemy"), the living with the dead ("Pray for me"), and that is the theme of Act One. A "Sanctus" is both a postlude to Act One and a prelude to Act Two.
A different mood, that of a farce, follows the tragedy of Act One. The story is based on a jolly West African tale of comical misunderstandings -- a woman approaches a deaf hobo asking if he has seen her kid, the hobo motions her to leave which she thinks is the direction of the lost child. She finds the kid, returns to thank the hobo who now thinks she is accusing him of stealing. The local villagers make both of them appear before the justice of the peace. The judge is also deaf and also nearsighted, who gets confused by the mimed arguments and finally tells the hobo to take his "young wife" and child home. The villagers laugh ("Oh, how did we ever get by without justice?"), a storm comes up, clearing the stage. Offstage we hear the voice from Act One singing "Pray for me, pray for me again." A reconciliation with death in Act One, a reconciliation with life in Act Two; the music of the "Exordium" is repeated and the ritual concludes.