Contemporary Music in Evolution; 28; 1957
Tonight only one composer and one work. The bewitched dance satire by the American composer satirist philosopher and instrument inventor Harry Partch. This is a long work lasting an hour and a half and consisting of a prologue 10 scenes and an epilogue. I will therefore have to limit myself to excerpts from the work. The Bewitched was commissioned jointly by the Contemporary Arts Festival of the University of Illinois and the frum Foundation of Chicago and was first performed at the University of Illinois in the spring of 950 7. John Garvey the violist of the Walton quartet conducted and the choreography was done under considerable protest from the composer I might add by Alan Keyes. The work represents part his artistic aesthetic visions in their most complete form up to that time in the sense that the Bewitched is a kind of highly original total theatre which is part satire part metaphysics part philosophy part dance part and pantomime and of course part music.
And in its scope and total vision not in its substance of course analogous to Wagner's concepts of a total world of music musical dramatic theatre. Those of you who know Harry Partch as music or who have heard my previous programs on Paanch know that his music is virtually unrelated to anything in the previous Western European tradition and that it is conceived in a 43 tone microtonal scale. And that it is performed entirely on instruments conceived and built by Harry Partch or adapted by him to his musical concepts. Parche is a real American original although I do not mean that in any shover mystic sense whereas previous parch pieces were limited to the half a dozen instruments he had either invented or adapted by then. The bewitched has a rich instrumentation requiring a total of 17 players a chorus and the female soloist.
In addition to Parker's earlier diamond marimba cloud chamber balls harmonic cannon and a chrome melodeon kind of reed organ the Bewitched calls in addition for several other instruments which project developed and built in the early and mid 50s. These are first the marimba Eroica a magnificent instrument consisting of four eight foot planks made of Sitka spruce which are suspended about four resonating chambers eight by four by one feet that is. And played with either very heavy mallets or with hands and padded gloves like boxing gloves. The four pitches thus produced are an F B lo the concert of the piano the lowest of the piano and the other three pitches are the lower C and E of the piano and another a an octave above the lowest note on the piano. I warn you that you may not be able to properly hear these low notes on the recording
unless you or the station's equipment are capable of handling such low frequencies. We'll see. Then next in part as family of members is the base member with 11 pitches then a bamboo marimba called Blue for short made of Philipine bambo a middle range instrument with dry percussive sound and a 60 for pitch range. Naturally not tuned in our conventional chromatic scale but in part is forty three tone scale. Then there's something called spoils of war which consists of an odd assortment of wood blocks brass artillery casings and glass balls all played on a great variety of mallets played with a great variety of mallets Castor and Pollux as another instrument. What a marvelous name. This is a twin bodied instrument which like part as harmonic Canon has guitar strings suspended over
kind of a desk form and these strings can be fixed in various pitch patterns by means of mandolin turning heads and then are plucked with guitar picks. Aside from these instruments doesn't all together the bill which also calls for a Japanese koto adapted to parch as microtonal scale. And lo and behold four conventional instruments Piccolo clarinet bass clarinet and cello. But these latter are notated by means of color analogies to get the microtonal playing on those instruments. The notes are underlined in blue and purple when he wants to indicate the degrees of microtonal flattening of the normal semi-tone while our engine red is used to indicate sharpening of the pitch. I have stated that the bit which does one of punches dramatical musical compositions specifically a dance satire under the circumstances the music is only one element among several. And at
times plays only a supporting role. Lacking the visual aspects parts as music heard alone on a recording sometimes loses a lot and is not always strong enough to hold one's entire attention. It is like good film music which is or should be partly functional. In fact as music I find the bit which less compelling than patches earlier efforts such as Oedipus or US highball. But having witnessed the bewitched as a musical dramatic event I find myself captivated by the recording in a sort of retroactive memory process. In this connection part his concept of a total musical dramatic theater is worth dwelling upon for a minute. In the program book booklet accompanying the record of the Bewitched Potch makes the following statement and I quote him. It is inherent in the being of the creative arts worker to know and understand the materials
he needs and to create them where they do not exist. To the best of his ability in music this characteristic must go far beyond the mere competence to compose and analyze a score. Indeed it is more difficult for the composer to create the colors of needed sound than it is for the painter to create the colors of needed light. But it is no less important that he find it possible to do so. The usual musical traditions are against him in the effort. In our time they are recognizable as traditions only when they have reached the comfortable plateau of academic security. But the rebelliously creative act is also a tradition. And if our art of music is to be anything more than a shadow of its past. The traditions in question must periodically shake off dormant habits and excite themselves into palpable growth. If one must have the solid feeling of historical respectability beneath him in order to function our world provides it in myriad variety beyond the immediate
locale before the immediate past. He does not need to become an archaeologist to realize that there is hardly an exotic line he could write a variant article he could create or a singular idea he could brew that would not be felicitous in some tradition at some point on the globe at some conjectured time in the cultured past. My instruments belong to many traditions especially including the present ones affirm ation of parentage provides the primary substance of rebellion. The instruments tuning is based on a forty three tone to the octave system of acoustic. Not equal intonation which explained is explained in my book Genesis of a music published by the University of Wisconsin Press in 1949. A new range of melodic resources a new series of tonality relationships and a new perspective on consonance and dissonance are all implicit in the system. Beyond these severely definable ideas is the music itself elusive to
words. I call it corporate because it roots itself with other arts necessary to civilization in a unity that is important to the whole being mind and body. Even the visual element of seeing the instruments played is a vital one. And I might interpret here that it is a performance requirement of Prodgers music that his instruments be fully visible on the stage. His final paragraphs as I began designing and building instruments twenty nine years ago. Well this was written in 1957. Five of those represented here are explained in my book. The others have been built since that time. Since the time of that publication all have been build and rebuild. One of them 7 times to improve quality. No two are exactly alike. I am not an instrument builder but if a last philosophic music man seduced into carpentry signed Harry Partch September 1957. More
specifically about the bee which Harry Partch goes on to state his particular iconoclast of philosophy as it applies to the thoughts and impulses which generated this work the bewitched. I quote again. We are all bewitched and mostly by accident the accident of form color and sex of prejudice is conditioned from the cradle on up of the particular ruts we have found ourselves in or have dug for ourselves because of our individual needs. Those in a long tenanted right enjoy larger comforts of mind and body and as compensation it is given to others who are not so easily domesticated to become mediums for the transmission of perception among these are the last musicians and hear Harry Partch is thinking of himself. The present day musician grows up in a half world between good music and not so good music even when he has definitely made his choice between the two. He is still affected by the
other and to that extent he is caught a mess and disoriented his head is bathed in an ancient light through a gothic window while his other end swings like a miniature suspension bridge in a cool right angle gale. The perception of displaced musicians may germinate evolve and mature in concert through a developing at oneness through their beat. That's the end of that quote. Since the musical and thematic materials of the prologue are repeated in part in the epilogue and in other parts of the work as well. I will now begin the playing of the bewitched by playing only the first few minutes of the prologue mainly to see if we can. Well to give you an idea of how parch sets the tone of the piece and also to see if we can hear the aforementioned marimba Eroica which starts the piece and which is gradually joined by the three other members of part as member family.
Before we hear this first excerpt Let me read one more quotation for you. And this time this will be part of a scenario for the prologue. It's the prologue is subtitled The last musicians makes magic. The forms of strange instruments are seen on stage. How did they get there. They came on in a dark celestial silence doing tumbles and handsprings and for no other purpose than to be discovered by these musicians in this theater before this audience. One of the musicians gives a low beat and that's the number ICA and others swing in one at a time. They are Neolithic primitives and their unspoken acceptance of magic as real unconsciously reclaiming and all but lost value for the exploitation of their perception. In an age of scientific hierarchs a value lost only about a minute ago in relation to that ancient time when the first single cell moved itself
in such auto erotic agitation that it split into the first animate magic. One more point as you listen to this opening music prologue to the Bewitched from a purely musical point of view you will undoubtedly note the parallels to Oriental especially Japanese and Chinese music major influences on ponchos development. Although some of the melodies paradoxically some of the melodies used here are not Japanese or Chinese but American Indian. But the whole repetitive hypnotic cast of The Music brings it very close to non western music and more specifically in respective parts as rhythmic techniques. They are much closer to the additive rhythmic concepts of Oriental and African music than that of our European divisive rhythmic approach. You know is a short excerpt from the prologue to Harry Potter is the bewitched.
I think. I think I think. I own it. We skipped the rest of the prologue and seen one which by the way is entitled
Three undergrads become transfigured in a music hall. And we go on to scene two. Scene Two is entitled exercise in an in harmony and counterpoint I tried in a court of ancient ritual. A scene which satirizes the world of musical academics says I'm one of ponchos favorite topics. Obviously the conventional instruments and you know in the instant in the in this instrumentation represent academic exercises in harmony and counterpoint while the other instruments breaking in sort of standing in judgment. Specifically part here attacks the blind. And I quote be witched unquote acceptance of the Western chromatic scale as an unassailable Cinna qua non of music or parts using a forty three tone scale naturally feels compelled to satirize this comfortable acceptance of the conventional. In the senario for this scene Harry Partch says in part there is
probably nothing so disorienting I'm quoting now There is probably nothing so disorienting to a modern man as suddenly to have to consider how appallingly ancient he is. The exercises in harmony and counterpoint are cast into a sea of ancient rules and ritual. Now the immediate colors are strong and violent and rich with symbolism. While the distant past tells of the eighteenth century are barely perceptible in the dim dim future. Instead of an ignominious drowning the unknown which exercises suddenly looked to an inspired day parthenogenetic. And here is Scene two. We skip Scene 3 and go on to four which is entitled
his soul tormented by contemporary music finds a humanizing alchemy. Again a very personal statement of Potter's philosophy and his position visibly the mainstream of contemporary European American music. Pasha scenario for this scene reads as follows. Of all the sad tales sung by the poets of old some are sadder than this some more poignant many more tragic but none more pathetic. For this is a scene of inner conflict conflict arising out of an absorbing regret over the passage of time. The story of this all began with the injustice of having been born at such a miserable time in history as the present. But as the years passed the regret became equivocal because except for such modern trivia as the current price of babysitters it became so immersed in the bewitchment of some preceding century as in fact to function only in that century. Yes we all know many people like that.
Even the growing child falls somewhat behind the surge of the modern world because of the shelter of its home and during a year or so out on its own it must catch up. Imagine then the degree of nervous tension that is generated in the excruciating ordeal of being forced to catch up through a couple of centuries. The chorus which is the orchestra by the way plus present actual chorus whistles dolefully while the slow beats told off the neuroses one by one. The amplitude of the shocks increases. Now there is utter silence breathing loudly in a crescendo of emotion and you hear this on the record the chorus of this placed musicians brings the climax. The other sensory soul has returned to the world of living people through a hole saw old abandonment to modern slapped a slapstick comedy scene for from Harry punches the bewitched.
We skip a scene 5 which is called Visions fill the eyes of a defeated
basketball team in the shower room and scene six and titled euphoria descends a Sausalito stairway Sausalito near San Francisco being part his former home and one of the real breeding grounds of the American oven Guard and all the arts and including the recent beatnik movement. Well going on now seen seven reuses material from the prologue and hear parts deftly combines the bass clarinet with his members producing some remarkable low register tampers. The scene is called Two detectives on the tail of a tricky culprit turned in their badges and as a satire on the culprits need of detectives that is to say the guilty ones need of punishers who's lives in patches words are dedicated to the single purpose of complimenting the culprits ego. Here is Scene 7. And.
I think. I think. Now the final three scenes of the Bewitched scene eight
is entitled A court in its own contempt rises to a motherly up a thesis and it starts with a magnificently Reedy low register sounds on the organ like crow melodeon setting a really austere cake and ritualistic atmosphere. The scene gradually rises in pitch and fervor and excitement as a court ruled by a matriarchy. Another one of punches bones of contention finds itself in contempt of itself. As he puts it hasn't even one CT ever become so disgusted with itself as to be in it's own content. Flip it's calendar so to speak. Oh.
Scene 9 has a bittersweet melancholy mood which one tends not to
expect in Harry Potter's music. Built as it is to such a largest large extent on rhythmic repetition with devices and percussive sounds C9 is involved with another of patches pet peeves the League of Women Voters in in this vision contained embodied in the scene last political soul dreams of a paradise inhabited only by vote less League of Women Voters. Why.
The final scene is entitled The Conure shanty are plunged into a demonic descend while at cocktails parch rounds out his bitter satiric attacks on the establishment by annihilating the so-called communist shanty the all knowing academies in other words which parch sees as always having stood in his way. This somewhat ungratefully despite the fact that the University of Illinois was at this very time supporting and sponsoring him through financial grants and in fact had commissioned this very piece which satirizes them. But let Harry Partch stated in his own inimitable way. And I quote It is soon evident that can you Shanti as subjects for an witching hour by all odds the most difficult their armor for all practical purposes is untouchable and they are to that extent the rarest of mortal creatures. Now the heel of Achilles and the drawing room load
problem mentally where you will there is not an unfilled crevice or if you suddenly discern when like lightning they find a filling for the crack wise or otherwise. Even before you have time to open your mouth remark on the phenomenon now the power of magic seems an unfair advantage in anyone's in anybody's game. But we must remember that the displaced musicians himself again have had encounters with the conure Shanti before and those humiliating explications their retreating feet invariably got tripped on their own vocal chords. Not so tonight. The power they have generated is both fierce and controlled and a bit frightening even to the kind of shanty busters the chorus and that one word makes up in violent delivery. What it lacks in intellectual sparkle. You'll hear these six bars of the chorus. How extraordinary. Say the Congo shanty propelled by a chorus of dragons in backward somersaults into the middle of limbo. Off the stage. Not a bad night's work says the witch. And
as everyone knows this may be rendered as I really don't give a raspberry about all this nonsense. Furthermore it's time you children were in bed. And this scene then is followed immediately without interruption by the epilogue which has the following scenario later says the witch and vanishes. But the last musicians cannot unwind so fast and a few of them linger with their beat as a kind of final refuge. Then one by one they wander away and finally the last hurries after them. Thus the music ends as it started fading into silence as it once started arising out of silence. Here is the final scene an epilogue of Harry Partch as the bewitched. And.
I am. Now that I think that. I am. The One. With. The I think. You're. Right. I think. With that. I am at the and
I am who I am. I am. I. Am I Am. Through a
our. Law and. That was the final selection from Harry Partch is 957 the
work of Bewitched. We've heard excerpts from the Bewitched tonight on contemporary music and evolution and Gunter Schuller has requested that I tell those of you who are interested in obtaining information about where to get Mr. Parcher is music that you can write to Mr. Sherlock care of WBA I New York 16 New York. This is WB II. Listener sponsored radio in New York City.
- Episode Number
- Contributing Organization
- University of Maryland (College Park, Maryland)
- AAPB ID
- Series 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.
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Host: Schuller, Gunther
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University of Maryland
Identifier: 64-36-28 (National Association of Educational Broadcasters)
Format: 1/4 inch audio tape
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- MLA: “Contemporary Music in Evolution; 28; 1957.” University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. March 3, 2024. <http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-500-rj48tx1b>.
- APA: Contemporary Music in Evolution; 28; 1957. 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-rj48tx1b