ROSE PETAL JAM – The Amsterdam Partch Project
Scordatura Ensemble presents: chamber music by Harry Partch (1901-1974)
Showcase Thursday 18/5 13.00 Lunch with the Residents
Harry Partch grew up in California, at first composing in the European tradition which he had learned as a classical musician. In roughly 1930 this pioneer radically changed course. He invented his own tonal system, based on Ancient Greek and acoustic laws of nature. He adapted his viola accordingly and wrote his Li Po Songs, the germ cells to his entire oeuvre. His ‘Adapted Viola’ was the first in a series of fantastic instruments, built to enable his own music to be performed.
We have built replicas of his earliest instruments for The Amsterdam Partch Project, with such exotic names as Kithara, Diamond Marimba and Mazda Marimba. You will be able to actually hear them during our Rose Petal Jam tour! We also asked eight composers to write an answer to the Partch’s Li Po Songs. These delicate songs, pervaded with love, longing and nostalgia for a home beyond reach, have become extremely dear to us. For many years we were able to work with musicologist and musician Bob Gilmore (1961-2015). Bob published a biography of Partch at Yale in 1998. We still consider it our Bible, along with Harry Partch’s own standard work, Genesis of a Music. We sincerely hope that you will experience as much pleasure in listening to his music and instruments as we have!
Rose Petal Jam line-up
Elisabeth Smalt – viola, Adapted Viola, Diamond Marimba*), Flexatone
Alfrun Schmid ¬– voice, Harmonic Canon*)
Reinier van Houdt – Chromelodeon, Bass Marimba*), Mazda Marimba
Lucas van Helsdingen – Tin Oboe, Indian Drum, oboe, bass clarinet
Chris Rainier – voice, Adapted Guitars I, II
Lucia Mense – Tin Flutes, recorders
Samuel Vriezen – Kithara I
Huib Ramaer – pre-concert talk, text and presentation
*) As we are in the process of building the Partch instruments, some of them will temporarily be rendered in a sampled sound replica.
Diamond Marimba (2017): Aart Strootman
Harmonic Canon (2017): Pim Piët
Kithara I (2011): William Lindhout
Mazda Marimba (2017): Rose Petal Jam team
Tin Oboe (2017): Lucas van Helsdingen
Adapted Guitar I (2013) and II (2017) adapted by James Mumford
Adapted Viola (2002) adapted by Ronald de Jongh
Sampled sound replicas of Partch instruments (2015-17) by Christian Smalt
Meet us after the concert and try someorganic rose petal jam, following Partch's own recipe. Enjoy!
Harry Partch (Oakland June 24, 1901 – San Diego September 3, 1974)
Listening to the music of Harry Partch is as much a revelation as eating forgotten vegetables or drinking craft brewed beer. Performing his music, feels as creative as making jam out of rose petals. Welcome to Rose Petal Jam, an adventurous project, named after the home-made product from the composer’s own kitchen, with music and outlandish instruments according to the recipe of this maverick composer from California.
“I feel more ferment is necessary for a healthy musical climate.” (Harry Partch)
Born in the desert on the outskirts of San Diego, right from the very start Partch had critically distanced himself from European music practice and its established well-tempered tuning on the basis of half note intervals. He described the keys of the piano as ‘bars’ that got in the way of musical freedom. After all, how many subtleties could conceivably be hidden in the unused intervals between them?
Chinese, Japanese or native traditions and wilderness constituted his homeland. His parent’s had lived in China for years doing missionary work for the Presbyterian church, until they were forced to flee due to the Boxer Rebellion of 1900. They started a new life on Native American land in Arizona. His father repented and became an atheist. His mother rolled up her sleeves to fight for women’s rights. Her son discovered homoerotic love.
Partch wasn’t out to do away with existing music, he just wanted to add his ‘ferment’ to it. The core of his pursuit was the restoration of a natural harmonic interval and a vital connection between music and speech. He adopted its far-reaching consequences better than anyone: microtonal refinement and radical adaptation of the usual set of instruments.
Around 1930 Partch began building his own tonal and notation system from scratch. The starting point were the adaptations he made to his viola and his composition of the Li Po Songs. They sing the praises of natural beauty or reveries of intoxication and form the heart of this project. Ancient Greece formed his point of departure. The composition Archytas utilizes ancient Greek modes. The kithara, a stringed instrument, was built according to a depiction of it on a Grecian vase in the British Museum. Pythagoras’s monochord inspired him to invent his Harmonic Canon: 44 strings, stretched over movable bridges. Herculean effort is required to play an archaic marimba, created from gigantic blocks of blood-red mahogany. Primal blows on this ‘Marimba Eroica’ open his 1951 musical drama King Oedipus. Partch’s unique tonal system becomes physically real with his Diamond Marimba: the ‘Otonalities’ and ‘Utonalities’ of his ‘tonality diamond’, geometrically arranged in 36 blocks of Pernambuco wood. The showstopper of this second tour is the brand-new Diamond Marimba, built in the Spring of 2017 by Aart Strootman, thanks to a successful crowdfunding campaign supported by a growing number of Scordatura fans.
Delicate as they may be in terms of their microtonal composition, his pieces are scrupulously notated accounts of the downside of American society. This gives his abrasive songs the rugged humor of socially engaged pop music. Such noted stars from David Bowie to Frank Zappa and Tom Waits all explored and admired that aspect of Partch’s work. The myth that David Bowie had supposedly led the life of a hobo in his younger years was something he himself had invented. Partch, on the other hand, genuinely was a hobo, albeit not until he had become a grown man.
As a Homeless Body (hobo) Partch had crisscrossed the United States from 1935 to 1941, hitchhiking and riding the rails leading a life of utter destitution along with thousands of others like him. His pieces Barstow and Letter from Hobo Pablo attest to this.
These songs reveal the harsh side of a world power in a time of economic crisis and war. Nowadays, people are still forced to flee or languish on the fringes of society. Under Trump, Native Americans are again losing out to the oil companies. Homosexual and women’s rights appear more vulnerable than ever. Partch’s songs are still relevant.
Partch felt an affinity to ill-fated outcasts his entire life, from the Indians in the region where he was born to hobos, to Li Po, maligned poet in Imperial China, wandering along the reaches of the Yangtze River. Partch was conscious of his own position as an outcast. He had resigned himself to it for years, confessing in May 1969 “that there will be no extension of my work beyond my death”. But: “if there is extension of spirit I’ll be happy!”
An Outcast with a Future: spanking new Li Po Songs
The tenacity with which this ‘carpenter in music’ built his instruments, is inspirational to this day. It was one of the many steps in his quest for the ritualistic, physical aspect of making music, ‘the corporeality of musical performance’. Scordatura aims to find new audiences for this fantastic chamber music and plumb the depths of its significance once again. What does his music mean in our day and age? Eight composers tackled this question. They present a hot off the press Li Po Song for Partch instruments inspired by his Seventeen Lyrics for Li Po. Scordatura workshops given to conservatory students throughout the country act as a stimulus to get them out of their comfort zones.
Translation: Scott Rollins
Chamber music by Harry Partch
Bless this Home (1961)
Dark Brother (1943-51)
December 1942 (1942)
Eleven Intrusions (1950)
Letter from Hobo Pablo (1943-50)
O Frabjous Day! (1954)
San Francisco (1943)
Seventeen Lyrics by Li Po (1930-33)
The Potion Scene (1931)
Two Psalms (1932-1943)
Two settings from Joyce’s Finnegans Wake (1944)
Two Studies on Ancient Greek Scales (1946-50)
Ulysses departs from the Edge of the World (1955)
U.S. Highball (1943)
Yankee Doodle Fantasy (1944)
New Li Po Songs (2017)
Anna Mikhailova – SURUAH SIRAJO
Anne LaBerge – JUST BEFORE THE RAIN
Chris Rainier – WILDERNESS SONG
Christian Smalt – JINGTING
Kate Moore – EXILE
Lisa Illean – LU
Miranda Driessen – THESE THINGS
Samuel Vriezen – A YEAR
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The Hague – May 13 Festival Dag in de Branding – Korzo 15.00
Amsterdam – May 15 Splendor – première. pre-concert talk 19.00, concert 20.00
Rotterdam – May 18 Seriously Festival/Classical NEXT – de Doelen 13.00
Hamburg DE – June 7 Blurred Edges Festival
Zutphen – June 24 Dat Bolwerck Kunstcentrum
s’Graveland – July 21 Wonderfeel Festival
Nijmegen – Oct 15 Galerie Marzee 16.00
Assen – April 8 De Muziekkamer Podium Zuidhaege – 12.00
Tilburg – April 10 De Link
Rose Petal Jam is a production of Scordatura Foundation,
created by Alfrun Schmid & Elisabeth Smalt, artistic leaders of Scordatura Ensemble
Curator The Amsterdam Partch Project: Huib Ramaer
Bookings: Elisabeth Smalt firstname.lastname@example.org
Marketing & publicity: Sonja Heimann email@example.com
article submitted by:Huib Ramaer, Scordatura Ensemble