Thursday, September 23, 2004 +

Partch and Varèse Meet

From Bob Gilmore, Harry Partch: A Biography:

A farewell gathering was held for Partch in New York on the evening of December 21, 1958, at the studio of Lenore Tawney, a tapestry-maker friend. Partch wrote to invite his old composer friend Quincy Porter and his wife, Lois, “to see a 20-minute color film on my instruments, and also some rhythmically swinging color (!), on three screens, by a man from Ann Arbor. Milton Cohen and his assistant perform—this is not a film—with various gadgets, and the result is a four-hand experience in rhythmically moving, dissolving, expanding color.” He reported the event to Bertha and Harold Driscoll, telling them of a distinguished guest who turned up at the gathering: the composer Edgard Varèse. Varèse “liked the film [Music Studio] so much he almost embraced me. This surprises me immensely, because his own music is so utterly different, even though I admire it and have frequently said so.” What had perhaps overwhelmed Varèse was his recognition that Partch had brought to life the very dream that had obsessed him for years: the building of new instruments free from the constraints of the tempered scale. Four years earlier, Varèse had emerged from some eighteen years of creative silence with his Déserts for orchestra and tape, finally having at his disposal the resources to produce electronic music and thus to expand the parameter of pitch: perhaps he felt a sense of kinship with that aspect of Partch’s work. Partch told the Driscolls: “Altogether, I shall hate to leave New York, because in people it is the [liveliest] place I’ve been in in a long long time.” After he left her penthouse, Anaïs Nin wrote to thank him for renewing her husband’s faith in human nature, and telling him that he was “the best and kindest guest” they had ever had.