Contemporary Music in Evolution; 17; 1943
That was very hard. And those were the last few moments of AP US highball 23 the year we have been dealing with them a week. Harry Potter is a fascinating phenomenon to say the least. You're the man who not only composes and writes with facts through his composition but also has conceived invented and build a whole ensemble of new instruments upon which your compositions are to be performed. He had one of the few surviving individual in a society in which conformity on all levels seems to be almost a prerequisite. And the only comparable predecessor in music that I can think of is Charles I who was for his time as a radical and individualistic a composer as ever lived. Although come to think of it both Ives and Potter would probably reject the term radical incident. It
is food for thought to realize that the three most radically individualistic composers of the 20th century are three American hearts and John Cage. And when I say that I'm not saying that these are the three most important composers of the century obviously but simply that they are the three who have experimented more radically and more completely more thoroughly with new musical ideas than their musical innovations involve not just the more formal aspects of composing but have thrown into question the instruments themselves. And in the case of Potch and cage they have invented new means of generating Ezekial sounds as well as reinvestigating compositional methods and procedures. I suppose one might include about as in this group as well. He's certainly an American for all intents and purposes although his contributions have not been as single handedly individualistic nor as complete and consequent in that radicalism.
Anyhow the first thing one can say about Harry Potter's music is that it is in one of its elements. Conventional the most conventional aspect of his music is youth of rhythm which is unusual enough but is on the other hand more familiar to us at a time when asked symmetrical rhythmic patterns are no longer a novelty. All other aspects of his work are certainly revolutionized. For example his music is not conceived in the usual tempered scale intonation of western music and not even in the quarter tone scales of certain other 20th century experimenters but rather in a forty three tone to the octave system developed in the 20s. I've already stated that his music is played only on instruments of his own invention or of not of his own invention adapted to his musical concepts by him. And certainly there is nothing conventional about the texts and scenarios creates
his entire concept of a grammatical musical art form a synthesis of all the arts. While that original with pot is certainly handled in a very original manner by him. And lastly the fundamental philosophy that generates these unique musical concepts is certainly not the conventional one of musical career making and all the other social and musical that this involves. Parche began his strange musical course way back in 1923 when he was 22 years old. He had had almost no formal musical training growing up in a remote desert areas of Arizona and New Mexico and being for all intents and purposes self-taught and a restless experimenter at heart. His overall vision of music is to quote him a music that grows from an awareness a world wide and millenniums
old cultures not limited to either the instruments or the musical philosophies of Europe's 18th and 19th centuries. We finished the first draft of a book expounding this musical philosophy his own musical philosophy that is and his forty three tone system in one hundred twenty eight. The book was finally published and I can put in nine part his first compositions and performances came in the early 30s and at Hirst were mostly limited to experimental compositions and improvisations by himself playing various stringed instruments. In the course of these studies Potch came into contact with Oriental music and Oriental philosophy much in the same way as the Bay Area based Cowles article had a column in it including John Cage and Lou Harrison and others. Potter was born in Oakland California and has spent a good part of his life in the Bay area mostly in Sausalito although whether he was actually a member of the group
I do not know. In any case his theoretical innovations as I've already indicated came in the 20s and therefore predate the experiments of Kate and others by at least a decade. My first contact with parts was in the late 40s in Madison Wisconsin where I read some of his early music which consisted of settings of poems by a Chinese poet Lee pole voice and adapted Viola. I remember thinking at the time that here was a curious and inadvertent meeting of Oriental music with the ventilators and lances of a canal and western form. There were many fundamental differences but there were also many perhaps less basic similarities. These lead post setting dates from the 30s I believe and the next work that talks conceived was us highball the piece we shall hear shortly. By that time pot
had invented three or four of his own instruments and use them in this work. He has invented built and taught musicians to play about seven or eight other instruments and slam us highball was conceived for the following instruments and instrument called a harmonic camera and adapted guitar and vocal parts one's vocal and the others from these instruments must really be singing to be fully appreciated. And of course heard but a few descriptive words might be in order. The guitar is about 6 feet high is an elaboration of the Cathar of ancient Greece and looks like a giant lyre and is made of redwood. It has seventy two strings. These are guitar and banjo string the pitch of which is changed by sliding glass tubes along with strings.
You will recognize this as the instrument often producing sliding and glissando sounds on this recording. The harmonic cannon looks like a sort of desk or artist's drafting table except that it is mounted with 44 guitar strings. These can be stopped with 44 sets of votes and wingnuts The idea being that the 44 strings can be preset for a piece or for a section of a piece in a particular tone pattern analogous incidentally in some ways to the preset pattern of a 12 tone row. When all the nuts and bolts are set in various positions the instrument looks like some oversized string chessboard with all the pieces in various battle positions. The strings are plugged with picks or fingers. Parker says that this instrument is a contemporary elaboration of the minor chord of the Middle Ages.
The third instrument the comal audion is a kind of organ. Again tune to the forty three tone to the octave scale and having a range of about 5 normal octaves. The adapted guitar which on this record is played by Harry Potter himself is a fretless guitar that has the frets have been removed and the fingerboard is instead provided with markings for the 43 tone scale. Now I've been continually mentioning parters 43 tone scale. What is this what does it mean. Well quite simply that our conventional octave is divided into 43 not necessarily equal tones. Most of you have undoubtedly heard of chord tones. They've also been experiments with Ace and six or even 12 tone. And these are called by the general term microtonal system comes out to about
one seventh tones although I repeat that these are not all equidistant from each other. Before hearing the parts work I thought it might be interesting to hear a few short excerpts from other microtonal compositions both to give a more complete picture and to give you the listener a chance to become accustomed. To. Michael Tom Ford is an easily proven fact at what may sound at first like me or out of tune as well after a while assimilate itself into easily discernible pitch differentiation and after some listening. Even an average year can distinguish between out of tune and in tone quarter tone for example. The examples I still play all were composed before 1943 and I'm therefore momentarily stepping out of our chronological context. The Czech composer is generally thought of as the first composer to experiment with microphone. This
was in the earliest 20 years after studies in acoustics at the University of Berlin but actually there were experiments long before the minor German composer theoretician by the name of the sax and wrote two quarter tone pieces with cello and piano as early as in 1906 and chiles I have conducted experiments with quarter tones even earlier than that and it is almost certain that he wrote some quarter tone piano pieces long before I bought it. The earliest microphone piece that I happen to have on records was composed in 1934 by the Mexican composer hoodie and cutting deal. This was originally written for voice flute violin guitar and harp but it was recorded in a different instrumental combination in the 30s by an ensemble of Cuban musicians and led by the violinist
who is now at Northwestern University in Chicago. The instrumentation here includes a trumpet quarter tone trumpet in other words a French horn and an unidentified siren like instrument as well as the voice and the guitar. Now this is a quarter eighth and sixteenth tone please. I'll go just how accurate the performance is and it's microtonal representation. I would question also it certainly isn't much of a composition. It has no development at all and really no melodic shape. It's simply sort of revolves micro chromatically around certain central pitches and is in the most primitive sense merely an acoustic experiment. But that very simplicity may be an advantage for anyone in the audience and countering microtones for the first time. Here is a part of those crystal cologne.
You are. Sure. You are. Her.
A somewhat more developed then for 50 years by the Russian composer who I believe emigrated to Paris. I'd like you to hear the third movement of a piece of it for pianos entitled The subtitle A symphony for poor piano then quote it comes as we compose in the mid 30s that only the slow movement of the symphony and I think a rather attractive and expressive piece. If you listen carefully you will hear that the harmonies and melodies. If deprived of their own characteristics nothing more than late Wagnerian the lakes we haven't asked chromaticism but amended and modified by the Court of the music takes on a strangely hypnotic almost ritualistic flavor. There are some marvelous moments in this piece.
Well now that we are experts and fully accustomed to microtonal Let's get back to Cotch and his US highball. This is an account of a transcontinental Hobel trip by a character named Lim who ride the rails from Carmel California to Chicago on such places as Sacramento a dozen unknown watering places and the Green River Wyoming Laramie Cheyenne and so on through Davenport to Chicago and the city and state names are sung while the hobos thought associations with those places are speech and does interesting things with the place names. Enjoy and man are altering the last syllables of the state names to match and rhyme with the last syllable of the town names. Colfax California becomes Colfax California X Lovelock Nevada becomes Lovelock Nevada. Salt Lake Utah
Salt Lake you take York and the brass becomes York Nebraska cork and so on. There was also towards the end of the piece as the hobo approaches Chicago a marvelous pan of praise in honor of that city and takes the syllables of Chicago apart per mutates and rotates them in various ways. Return of burial this is not the first one to have had this idea. Harry Partch delivers the spoken lines himself. He accompanies himself partly improvised on the adapted guitar. I think it might be well to remember that this is part of his first longer extended work and has since learned to deal with musical continuity in a much more varied and sophisticated way. In US highball there is still the slight aura of experiment and a feeling of limitations. Some self-imposed and some not limitations like the particular narrative format of this piece or the
limited use of the four instruments in part his later work like the bewitched. All these problems and limitations are resolved or eliminated. In any case US provides a unique listening experience. Despite these limitations it has many moments certainly and strangely cumulative effectiveness for me at least. It is also work full of biting satire and humor. Qualities always present ponchos work. Let's listen to us by point.
Right. Go on.
No matter. What the figure in the fort. You want to have a little hole in the. Head of the river.
They only want. Water for. The rest.
We got. One. Right on. Your bill that. Will go over. Your group.
For you. We're not going to but I get the governor. Well if you're.
What. No one ever thought that your.
Bring. Up the drive go. For the break.
Oh oh oh oh oh oh oh oh oh oh oh oh oh for real.
What. Never write. That. One time I was waiting for the.
I am I am. I am.
Foreign. Leave. By order.
Right. Now. With Idaho Wyoming Colorado or Nevada. I am.
You just heard a remarkable piece called us by the American composer Harry Potter conceived in 1943. It certainly seems to capture the feeling that hazards and the loneliness of double life. Incidentally I was just told by my engineer that the business of making the state names rhyme will coincide with the city names as normal hobo practices and pots does logically adapt to this for his piece in this recording. The composer himself participated playing the guitar and reciting the spoken lines. The singer was William Wendland and the performer on the case incidentally was Lee Harvey who has since become a well-known composer mostly of operas in his own right. The recording by the way was financed as have all of Patras recordings by himself
- Episode Number
- Contributing Organization
- University of Maryland (College Park, Maryland)
- AAPB ID
- Other Description
- Contemporary Music in Evolution is a radio program hosted by Gunther Schuller, which traces the evolution of Western classical music from 1899 to 1961. Each episode focuses on a specific year and chronicles some of the significant works, schools, and composers of the time. Schuller introduces several performance recordings in each episode, and gives commentary and analysis that also touch on previous episodes.
- Media type
Host: Schuller, Gunther
- AAPB Contributor Holdings
University of Maryland
Identifier: 64-36-17 (National Association of Educational Broadcasters)
Format: 1/4 inch audio tape
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- Chicago: “Contemporary Music in Evolution; 17; 1943,” University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed May 21, 2022, http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-500-kp7trv7n.
- MLA: “Contemporary Music in Evolution; 17; 1943.” University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. May 21, 2022. <http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-500-kp7trv7n>.
- APA: Contemporary Music in Evolution; 17; 1943. Boston, MA: University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-500-kp7trv7n