The Bewitched Import
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Audio CD, Import, 18 Nov 1997
Sick of the seriousness of "the dance" and theater, American iconoclast Harry Partch wrote this "dance-satire" from 1952 to '55. Set in the mystical realm of the University of Illinois, Partch's 10 vignettes catapult the absurd into the life of the everyday student and audience member--and that life, in turn, on stage, is snapped right back into the absurd (representative titles: "Visions Fill the Eyes of a Defeated Basketball Team in the Shower Room," "The Cognoscenti Are Plunged into a Deep Descent While at Cocktails"). While the musicians and dancers intermingle indiscriminately on stage (the former performing on Partch's notorious carefully constructed and invented microtonal instruments), the theater rings with the cadences inspired by Chinese musical theater, erratic to the Western ear. That as the foundation becomes punctuated, when necessary, by wild percussion swirls, the odd screaming frenzy, solemn-march patterns, and scatters of bells: all in a delightfully shameless unpredictable fashion. --Robin Edgerton
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The pieces themselves ring with an air of ritual and ceremony that springs from the primary cultures of the world. It demands a sort of listening that most music doesn't. You have to listen with you're windows wide open. Accept that music is made of sound, not just notes. There also has to be a sort of willingness on the part of the listener. Allow the music to take you to a place where gravity doesn't work quite the same way. If you're lucky, you will go from listening to Partch as a curiosity to hearing the masterful music that has, for decades, inspired so many to follow up on one aspect of his work or another. There is a profound artistry that waits to be experienced in Partch's work that goes beyond the academic and historic importance that is associated with his work. The experience of Partch's music is without a doubt one of the finest in all of recorded music history.
After a disappointing experience working on a music-theater version of Oedipus, Partch turned to humor and satire in this work. Written for the University of Illinois/ Champaign-Urbana, the episodic work satirizes aspects of collegiate life but in the style of ancient ritual theater. Dancers, singers and musicians are integrated on the stage on a "gasamskunstwerk" for the 21st century.
Musically, the Bewitched is a good introduction to Partch's longer piece. It is written for a combination of his originally created instruments and some traditional wind and stringed instruments. Partch's musical language is dominated by percussive effects, microtonal scales and influences from music of world cultures. While this music is definately experimental, what hits me most as I grow older, is how familiar and assessible it really is. Partch bypasses the fiercest debates of his time (tonality vs serialism) and instead moves to a far older debate; equal temper vs just intonation. Partch opts strongly for microtonal music, but based on the laws of just intonation. At times the music resembles Chinese theater music, at other times it shows some African roots. And in this piece, the use of traditional western counterpoint and even western folk music is evident in some of the more satirical moments.
This CRI recording is marvelously remastered. Taken from the original 1st performance in 1957, it is amazing how clear and spacious the sound is. I would assume that there was quite a bit of cleanup on the origianl, just due to technological advances in the last 50 years, but the recording sounds as if it was made yesterday. It compares favorably to the Innova Recordings that have come out of the American Composers Forum...and has the added advantage of being one disc instead of a boxed set. As a result, you can purchase just the Bewitched and not shell out the moeny for 4 Partch theater pieces if you are new to the composer. (Those of us who are mad for Partch will want the Innova series as well, since it has Revelations in the Courthouse Square and Oedipus, both of which have not been available in other versions for some time.)
Partch is a great composer to listen to, especially if you are new to the avant-garde and want to listen to something that is both challenging but not too discordant. And the Bewitched is a great place to start listening to this wonderful American eccentric.