Statement on Performance: October 12, 1995

Danlee Mitchell

The music of Harry Partch was conceived by himself as having structural, timbral, visual, theatrical, and ritualistic components - any one component not overshadowing any other. At the same time, Partch held fast to the belief that any one component of his music should not be compromised, because in doing so the totality of his musical intent would not be fully realized. His music was not the music of the Western concert stage (with its "...tight coats and tight shoes"), but a music of theater and ritual where moving and costumed musicians (in league with singers and dancers) played an integral role in realizing this concept both sonically and visually. Partch tailored his musical material for specific instruments or combinations of instruments, instruments that he himself handcrafted for musical-compositional, and not theoretical, purposes. In essence, the"klang" of his musical corpus was intended for his own instruments, by his own choice, and not intended for transcription to any other musical sound producer.

In recent years (after Partch's death) some individuals have taken Partch's music and transcribed it for various combinations of traditional Western instruments and/or instruments of their own design. Some individuals asked for my "blessing", while others did not extend this courtesy to myself (as one of the curators of Partch's music). In some cases I have objected vehemently, and the transcription in question was not attempted. In other cases I went along with the individual's "enthusiasm" to perform Partch's compelling music, but in my estimation such transcription projects were of "low profile".

It has always been my feeling that Partch's music should not undergo any transcriptive treatment, and I would like to express this position at this time. In the past I should have immediately expressed this bias in relation to any overtures of transcription directed at myself. In other words - I should have known better!!! Partch's music is best displayed on the instruments of his own creation, and no others, in spite of any one person's naive enthusiasm to perform Partch's music by other means (thereby cheapening its original aesthetic intent). To transcribe Partch's music is to misrepresent the totality of its interrelated components. To do so is a "...mutilation..." of Partch's original concept. Harry Partch steadfastly maintained this posture throughout his life, and he would turn over in his grave at the thought of his life's work being compromised in any such manner.


Danlee Mitchell,
Harry Partch Archive
San Diego, California