Liner Notes from "Delusion of the Fury"
This is a transcription of the liner notes that accompanied the CBS Records box set "Delusion of the Fury", released in 1971 and long out-of-print. Bear in mind that any references to 'current' materials would be dated.
Notes by Eugene Paul
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The world has caught up with Harry Partch. For almost fifty years in the wilderness, Partch has been doing his own thing and suffering the slings and arrows of outraged musicians and musicologists. But the times they are a-changing, and critics who have called him "the Don Quixote of music" now see him as a "philosopher," a "prophet", a "visionary," an "inspired, stubborn radical."

He has been found. He is no longer the eccentric outsider. Europeans find him surpassingly American; Americans find him transcendental. At the age of 70, Partch marches on.

In his long-awaited masterwork, "Delusion of the Fury", he rises above all attempts at descriptive containment and becomes quite simple heroic. "Delusion of the Fury," proceeding from tragedy to comedy, is nothing less than the full, ritualistic expression, in vocal, instrumental and corporeal terms, of the reconciliation by the living both with death and with life. It is a total Partch statement, incorporating voices, mime, his celebrated instruments, dance, lighting and staging, all working to express this philosophical concept.

"Delusion of the Fury," as is to be expected, is not cast in the common dramatic/musical mold. There is no libretto. All action is danced or mimed. It is performed in four parts that proceed without interruption. (Partch scorns the breaking of a theatrical experience by the intermission.)

Partch's own words, prefacing his elaborate and complicated score, help to establish what he has called "all the information that I thought might be necessary to a performance":

"STATEMENT : Words cannot proxy for the experience of knowing -- of seeing and hearing. The concept of this work inheres in the presence of the instruments on stage, the movements of musicians and chorus, the sounds they produce, the actuality of actors, of singers, of mimes, of lights; in fine, the actuality of truly integrated theater. These introductory pages consist largely of technical data. They contain no argument, no exposition. I feel that the only investigation that has genuine integrity is the seen and heard performance.

SYNOPSIS: It is an olden time, but neither a precise time nor a precise place. The "Exordium" is an overture, and invocation, the beginning of a ritualistic web. Act I, on the recurrent theme of Noh plays, is a music-theater portrayal of release from the wheel of life and death. It opens with a pilgrim in search of a particular shrine, where he may do penance for murder. The murdered man appears as a ghost, sees first the assassin, then his young son looking for a vision of his father's face. Spurred to resentment by his son's presence, he lives again through the ordeal of death, but at the end -- with the supplication "Pray for me!" -- he finds reconciliation.

There is nowhere, from the beginning of the "Exordium" to the end of Act II, a complete cessation of music. The "Sanctus" ties Acts I and II together; it is the Epilogue to the one, the Prologue to the other. Act II involves a reconciliation with life. A young vagabond is cooking a meal over a fire in rocks when an old woman approaches, searching for a lost kid. She finds the kid, but -- due to a misunderstanding caused by the hobo's deafness -- a dispute ensues. Villagers gather and, during a violent dance, fore the quarreling couple to appear before the justice of the peace, who is both deaf and nearsighted.

Following the judge's sentence, the Chorus sings in unison, "Oh, how did we ever get by without justice?" and a voice offstage reverts to the supplication at the end of Act I.

SET: The instruments are the set, with only a cyclorama -- a good sound-reflecting surface -- behind. They must not be pushed back into tight corners. The movements required of the principals and chorus do not call for excessive stage space. In Act (, they are slow and intense; in Act II, vigorous and intense. The vigorous movers of Act II will simply learn to avoid instruments.

PRINCIPALS: The principals in each act must certainly be trained in music. It would be fine if they can be mimes, singers, dancers, simultaneously. However, the parts are essentially those of mimes and dancers, and it would be theatrically acceptable for a musician, or someone stationed among the instruments, to assume the rather slight singing roles of each principal, becoming a somewhat disembodied voice.

CHORUS: Singing -- or, to be more general, sound from the throat -- meaningless in English verbal communication but no meaningless in this music, is rather general. The 18 or 20 musicians (with conductor) are the Chorus in both acts. This was true in "The Bewitched" also, and to my mind the arrangement was effective. The choral voice-sounds were not coming from a body of people appearing just occasionally, but from among the instrument, from musician who were deeply involved throughout.

In the present work, I wish to progress beyond this concept. there are 25 instruments onstage (not counting small hand-instruments), but never do the 25 play simultaneously. In fairly long periods, only a small ensemble is employed. The tacit musicians may thus become actors and dancers, moving from instruments to acting areas as the impetus of the drama requires.

Where necessary, instrumentalist must memorize parts, of know them so well that faint stage light is enough. The effect of stand-lights on white music paper -- onstage -- tends to destroy almost any lighting concept. Actors and singer have always memorized parts, and it is irrational to exempt instrumentalists when they are cast in such a way as to be indispensable to the action.

COSTUMES: the musician must be in costume; they should convey a sense of magic, of an olden time, but never of a precise olden time.

The basic garment is a huge pair of pantaloons, wrapping around the waist in East Indian fashion. in Act I, they also wear a poncho-like garment -- a single, full piece of cloth with a neckhole. It is completely unadorned, without collages or beads or anything that twinkles in the light. The poncho is discarded at the end of the "Sanctus".

To compensate for this very simple costume, each musician will wear a fantastic headpiece. Each will be different, or frequently different. In contrast, the three principals will wear more imaginative costumes, and imaginative make-up. Wigs, perhaps, but not headpieces."

Part One, the "Exordium", takes the place of an overture. (The term itself is an exact, though unaccustomed, description of the composer's working intentions: to mark "the beginning of a statement." But in its Latin root, which means "to begin a web," lies the deeper significance of why Partch has chose this term and shows how thoroughly and painstakingly the composer has explored his idiom.) The "Exordium," totally instrumental, aims to snare its listeners in the web of Partch's devising and , after a slight pause, to deliver them into the ritual of Act One.

Here, Partch has chosen a celebrated Japanese Noh drama as his musical parable of the reconciliation of the living with the realm of the dead and, because it is a classic ghost story, the reconciliation of the dead with the realm of the living. A prince has made a pilgrimage to a shrine in order to do penance, to pray for the expiation of his sin. In battle, he has killed the prince of another warring royal house. Each time he makes this journey of repentance, he meets the ghost of the man he slew, and , together, they relive the dead man's death. The ghost of the dead man realized that he cannot re-enact the ritual of the moment of his death, that he must come to some reconciliation with the living, as must the living with the dead. The ghost drops his sword and says to his murder, "You are not my enemy." Then he entreats, "Pray for me, oh, pray for me again," and vanishes forever.

Partch's music for this Noh drama reflects its Oriental setting but is far different from any traditional Japanese Noh synthesis. His music holds to the basic Noh characteristic of being an accompaniment to the stage action, but it weaves a complete musical fabric that sustains and fulfills the main visual themes so strongly that the music stands on its own.

In the "Sanctus" that follows the "Exordium", Partch replaces the usual entr'acte with a postlude to Act One that is also a prelude to Act Two, designed to be so filled with compelling sounds that, in the composer's words, "...everybody would be frozen to his seat." Immediately following this fury of sound comes the rollicking West African folk tale that makes up the second act. Thus, Partch walks in the classic tradition of following tragic drama with farce, for the healthy purging of the spirit.

At the opening of Act Two, a deaf hobo -- the hobo is a recurrent character in Partch's work -- is seen trying to cook a meal for himself when an old goat woman comes up to him to ask if he has seen her lost kid. The hobo doesn't understand her and brusquely indicates that she should leave. She interprets the gesture as a direction in which she must go to find the missing kid. She goes, finds the lost kid, and returns to thank the hobo for helping her. He, of course, because he cannot hear, misunderstands her and thinks she has a kid in her arms that she has accused him of stealing.

At this juncture in the misunderstanding, the local villagers force the deaf hobo and the old goat woman to appear before their justice of the peace to settle the matter. However, the judge, unfortunately, is also quite dear and, in addition, very nearsighted, so that all the violent arguments -- done in mime -- finally exasperate him into saying, "Young man, take your beautiful young wife and your charming child and go home and never let me see you in this court again." The villagers fin this judgment utterly hilarious, and only the coming of a storm sobers them. Quickly, the tempest breaks about them, and, then, after the height of the storm has passed, on hears from offstage: "Pray for me, oh, pray from me," followed by the last themes of the "Exordium," and the mime-dance, or music drama, concludes.

As in his other creations, it is difficult to separate the unique sounds of Partch's music from the strange and beautiful instruments that give all his works their special qualities. The Partch instruments are not only performed upon; they, too, perform. Besides being co-conveyors of his music, along with singers and dancers, they are also striking sculptural works employed in the stage design, not only in "Delusion", but also in all of Partch's performed compositions. They are the vehicles of his creativity, around which Partch has designed his own notation system. His very precise and expandable multi-tone scale is painted on the keys of his Chromelodeon in a variety of colors and then numbered, as well, for identification in producing exactly desired musical combinations. All his other instruments are keyed, of fixed pitch only, to his 43-tone scale. his own musical language has frequently only the staff itself in common with other written music. Notation for the Diamond marimba, for instance, is arrange to resemble the shape of the instrument, with the exact position to be played shown at the exact time and place in the music. The luminous Cloud-Chamber Bowls have the numerical value of their precise resonance pained on them and are so indicate in the score. The giant marimba Eroica sends out deep, compelling tones that are felt as well as heard, and so noted.

Throughout, the timbre of all the instruments that Partch has built for his orchestra is mellifluous rather than harsh, consonant rather than unrelated. As a result, the intricate rhythms and harmonies the composer employs to evoke dramatic response, to be emotionally stirring an exciting and deeply moving, never become violent. This, Partch's concept of a "corporeal music", might truly be said to be in the mainstream of a music of love and of peace.