Monday 18 June 2018, 7.30pm
Amsterdam-based Scordatura Ensemble perform works by US microtonal composer Harry Partch, as part of Rose Petal Jam – a cross-disciplinary, year-long project encompassing performances of Harry Partch’s earliest chamber music, mainly from 1930 to 1950, as well as commissions of new compositions influenced by Partch’s legacy.
For this show they will perform the following works by Harry Partch (1901-1974), all from his early period:
- Three Intrusions: The Rose, The Crane, The Waterfall
- By the Rivers Of Babylon
- Two settings from Joyce’s Finnegans Wake
- Dark Brother
- a selection from Barstow
- a selection from Seventeen Lyrics by Li Po
- The Letter
- Yankee Doodle Fantasy
- Cloud Chamber Music
SCORDATURA ENSEMBLE is based in Amsterdam. Since its original inception as a trio in spring 2006, led by the eminent musicologist Bob Gilmore [1961-2015], the ensemble has presented exploratory music by a range of contemporary composers and sound artists that looks toward new tuning systems and microtonality as a way of expanding the harmonic vocabulary of music. Their concerts feature “classics” from the worlds of microtonal and spectral music together with new commissions.
Scordatura has performed in various guises at a variety of venues including Roulette (New York), the TRANSIT Festival (Leuven), Festival Dag in De Branding (Den Haag), Microfest (Los Angeles), De Doelen: Classical Next (Rotterdam), Blurred Edges Festival für Aktuelle Musik (Hamburg) and November Music (Den Bosch). In the past few years the group has also premiered new commissions from Christopher Fox, Anne La Berge, Anton Lukoszevieze, Kate Moore, Harald Muenz, Phill Niblock, Marc Sabat, and others.
- Elisabeth Smalt (Adapted Viola, Diamond Marimba, Cloud Chamber Bowls, recorder, flexatone)
- Alfrun Schmid (voice, Diamond Marimba, Cloud Chamber Bowls)
- Chris Rainier (voice, Adapted Guitars I, II and III)
- Reinier van Houdt (Chromolodeon/keyboard, Cloud Chamber Bowls,
- Adapted Guitar III)
- Lucia Mense (flutes, recorders)
- Samuel Vriezen (Kithara)
- Lucas van Helsdingen (bass clarinet, frame drum, tin oboe)
SCORDATURA is an Italian word that means ‘mistuning’. (We keep hoping someone will suggest a more positive-sounding alternative.) In music it has come to refer to the practice of tuning the open strings of a string instrument to pitches other than the conventional ones. This is occasionally done in classical repertory, and is a practice frequently encountered in folk traditions around the world. In our case we use the word both literally and metaphorically – literally, because several pieces in our repertoire call for various instruments to be tuned differently than normal, and metaphorically, because almost all the music we play uses intervals other than those found in twelve-note equal temperament. Needless to say, we don’t think of this as ‘mistuning’ – rather, the music we play comes from a long-standing interest on the part of composers and performers in alternative tunings.
“Continuing and, for all we know at this writing, concluding, our series of Composers Who Don’t Like Things as They Are and Have Thought Up Something Different, we here take up Mr. Harry Partch…who has devised a orty-three- tone scale. Chromatically speaking, it has forty-three tones to the octave instead of the twelve you find on a piano. He gave a concert at Carnegie Music Hall recently, in which, with assisting musicians, he presented four of his works. These compositions called for the use of the Chromolodeon, the Kithara, the Adapted Guitar, the Adapted Viola, and the Flexatone, instruments which can cope with the forty-three- tone scale and which were adapted, or built, mainly by Mr. Partch. Mr. Partch is a pale bachelor who in June will be, as he puts it, the same age as the number of tones in his scale. He lives in a couple of rooms on West Ninety-second Street, surrounded by his Kithara, his Chromolodeon, and the rest. Next to the number of tones in Mr. Partch’s scale, the most unusual feature of his compositions is the spoken, or intoned, text which goes with them. In Barstow, this consists of messages written on a California highway railing by hobos and copied verbatim by the composer. He believes that with his forty-three- tone scale he can duplicate the tones of human conversation. He made a pretty good stab at this, we thought. As we understand it, which is dimly, Mr. Partch’s complaint against the ordinary scale is that it is tempered, which means that it compromises. If you tuned a piano, for example, by fifths, the basic interval in harmony, instead of by octaves, by the time you got to the twelfth fifth from the starting tone – stick with us, now – your pitch would be an eighth of a tone higher than what the octave tuner gets out of the same key on the keyboard. The octave tuner knows this, but he figures he’s close enough. Mr. Partch doesn’t. He wants accuracy, and he’s willing to build instruments to get it. He feels, also, that the tempered scale is a form of regimentation, and he has long been opposed to regimentation. This is evidenced by the fact that he has drifted restlessly from one occupation to another: schoolteacher, fruit picker, apprentice seaman, writer and proofreader, as well as indigent transient and composer. ‘My father was a Presbyterian minister who turned agnostic,’ he told us. ‘Maybe that had something to do with it.’”
[From ‘Kitharist’, The New Yorker, 27/05/1944]
ROSE PETAL JAM is a cross-disciplinary, year-long project encompassing performances of Harry Partch’s earliest chamber music, mainly from 1930 to 1950, as well as commissions of new compositions influenced by Partch’s legacy. It also has an important research and education component, involving the adaptation of existing instruments and building of replicas of Partch’s unique sonic creations. Since 2017 we have added the following instruments to our growing ensemble - Adapted Guitar II and III (adaptation by luthier James Mumford), Tin Oboe (developed Lucas van Helsdingen), Mazda Marimba (various contributors), Diamond Marimba (Aart Strootman) and Harmonic Canon II aka ‘Castor’ (David Lavis). Investigations into the myriad manifestations of Partch’s early scores and biographical contexts inform the group’s constantly developing approach to performing his music. Scordatura has also presented many workshops for musicians and non-musicians alike, constantly exploring how Partch’s work can exist as a source of inspiration for new generations of composers, audiences and performers. Rose Petal Jam is supported by a.o. Performing Arts Fund NL, Fonds 21, Prins Bernhard Foundation, AFK (Amsterdam Fund for the Arts) Gaviniès Society, VSB Foundation.