by Robert Leeper
Maverick American composer Harry Partch is revered in modern musical circles, but due to the difficulty of presenting his mammoth works on the unique instruments he created, his music is rarely experienced. In 2010, German instrument builder Thomas Meixner decided to spend three years replicating the sole remaining set of Partch's original instruments for the Cologne-based Ensemble Musikfabrik, of which he is a member.
Last week, Ensemble Musikfabrik brought their Partch instrumentarium to New York City Center, where the Lincoln Center Festival presented Partch's 1964 theater work Delusion of the Fury. It is impossible to separate the unique sound of Partch's music from the beautiful instruments on which it's made. They seem to be performers in their own right, keyed to a 43-tone scale of Partch's own creation. Most visibly striking were the elegant Cloud-Chamber Bowls, painted with the numerical value of their precise resonance. The most visceral sound came from the Marimba Eroica: its notes reverberated throughout the hall at such low frequencies that they were felt as much a heard.
Partch also wrote the libretto, choreographed dances, and made costumes for Delusion, but while everything had to be done his way, his music was neither overly esoteric, nor inaccessible. Indeed: Delusion is a primarily tonal work with a regular, driving rhythm.