Harry Partch was an American composer and instrument creator. He was one of the first twentieth century composers to work extensively and systematically with microtonal scales, writing much of his music for custom made instruments that he built himself. Partch is famous for his 43 tone scale, even though he used many different scales in his work and the number of divisions is theoretically infinite.
He began to compose at an early age, using the equal tempered chromatic scale, the tuning system most common in Western music. However, Partch grew frustrated with what he felt were imperfections of the standard system of musical tuning, believing that this system was unsuitable for reflecting the subtle melodic contours of dramatic speech.
Interested in the potential musicality of speech, Partch invented and constructed instruments that could underscore the intoning voice, and he developed musical notations that accurately instructed players as to how to play the instruments.
The compositional apex of Partch’s life came with the completion of Delusion of the Fury, a ritual theater piece that unifies musicians, dancers, and mimes into a corporeal performance. Built upon the timeless theme of life and death, Delusion of the Fury is based on two Japanese noh plays and an African folktale
Partch’s instruments have been housed in the Harry Partch Instrumentarium at Montclair State University in Montclair, New Jersey since 1999. In 2004, the instruments crossed campus into the newly constructed Alexander Kasser Theater, which provides a large studio space in the basement. Concerts by Newband and MSU’s Harry Partch Ensemble may be viewed several times a year in this concert hall.