Harry Partch

Delusion of the Fury


Innova 406


1. EXORDIUM: The Beginning of a Web  10:45


ACT I: Treats with Death and with Life Despite Death,

On a Japanese Theme.  Scene—A Shrine

2. Chorus of Shadows  5:10

3. The Pilgrimage  4:15

4. Emergence of the Spirit  3:32

5. A Son in Search of his Father's Face  6:01

6. Cry from Another Darkness  4:43

7. Pray for Me  3:02


8. SANCTUS: An Entr’acte  6:20


ACT II: Treats with Life and with Life Despite Life, Based on an African Folk Tale

9. The Quiet Hobo Meal  2:59

10. The Lost Kid  2:51

11. Time of Fun Together  8:08

12. The Misunderstanding  6:04

13. Arrest, Trial and Judgment (Joy in the Marketplace!)                                                                                            4:43

14. Pray for Me Again — A STRANGE FEAR!  3:32

                                                                        Total Duration: 72:08


Harry Partch was born June 24, 1901, in Oakland, California, the third child of Presbyterian missionaries who had spent 10 years in China prior to his birth.  His boyhood was spent near Tombstone, Arizona, where, despite the total lack of formal musical training, he grew up surrounded by music.  His mother, a woman of talent and determination, taught her children to read music and to play several instruments.  Young Harry, by the time he was 6, not only knew how to play the reed organ, but also the guitar, the clarinet and the harmonica.  He began to compose at 14.  When the family moved to New Mexico and he received the first music lesson outside his home, he discovered in short order that he loathed formal musical training as repressive and constricting.  It was an antipathy that colored the rest of his life.  He struck out on his own, and, in the years that followed, wrote a piano concerto, a symphonic poem, a string quartet, all in the conventional mold.  To keep body and soul together, he became a proofreader, a sometime piano player, a grape picker, while he continued to compose and to search for a way to express his music.  Then, at age 28, in New Orleans, he burned the whole body of his musical work of 14 years, determined to start anew, to develop for himself music that would transcend the conventions of musical composition.  Its basis was the multi-tones he found in the space of the octave.  It enabled him to make the first transitions ever from the human voice to the musical instrument.  During the Depression, Partch traveled throughout America by rail as a hobo, writing of his experiences in his music.  Although he had received a Carnegie Corporation of New York grant in  1934, it wasn’t until 1943 that he received the first of the more substantial grants that made it possible for him to work and travel and to give the 1931-34 and 1943-45 performances that started to make his work known.

            To this day, the difficulties surrounding a performance of Partch’s music—the complexities of training musicians to play his music on his instruments and then to transport those large and delicate objects that cannot function properly without his personal attention—inhibit managers and impresarios.

            Partch now [1971] lives quietly in Encinitas, California, in what he calls his first real home since his childhood, surrounded by the bizarre and wonderful array of instruments he has built, through which he has made, according to Jacques Barzun, “the most original and powerful contribution to dramatic music on this continent.”

—Eugene Paul, Producer, Columbia Masterworks Bonus Album, 1971


Delusion of the Fury

A Ritual of Dream and Delusion;..


Recorded at UCLA Playhouse, Macgowan Hall, University of California,

Los Angeles, January, 1969, following a production supported by Betty Freeman and the Pasadena Art Museum. Score composed November 1, 1965—March 17, 1966, and subsequently commissioned by the Serge Koussevitsky Music Foundation.



Bill Symons, Jr., Gary Coleman, Linda Schell, Emil Richards, Todd Miller, Ruth Ritchie, Frank Berberich, Mark Stevens, Michael Aaron, Robert Rose, Lynn Taussig, Dean Drummond, Stephen Tosh, Robert McCormick, Carol Brown, Nathan Widato, Joe Roccisano, Robert Randles, Latif Allen, John McAllister, John Grayson, John Stannard.

Tenor voice: John Stannard, Soprano: Victoria Bond, Bass: Paul Bergen. 


            Pilgrim (The Slayer): John Blount,

            Son of the Slain: Susan Marshall,

            Ghost (The Slain): Glendon Hornbrook,

            Deaf Hobo: John Blount,

            Old Woman with Lamb: Susan Marshall,

            Deaf and Near-Sighted Justice: Glendon Hornbrook.

Musical Director: Danlee Mitchell

Director: John Crawford

Choreographer: Virginia Storie Crawford      



The gamut of social integration and interpersonal community in the life of Harry Partch was one of loneliness, from the cradle to the grave. It was partly a loneliness due to the dynamics of the Partch family, partly a self-imposed loneliness due to the fact of the intellectual acceleration of his mental capacity, and partly seen in sexual identity aspects of his coming of age in the early 20th century.


As a well-known American “experimental” composer (his labeling by the “critical” establishment of the mid-century), his circle of close friends was always very small, whether the interchange might be by personal visits, cocktail parties, or the U.S. mail. Looking at the ever-growing importance of Partch as we approach his centenary, this may seem somewhat strange, but to those few who happened to be close to him during his life of constant travel, this reality is all too clear. If Partch had any semblance of an extended family of friends and visitors it would have been in his latter years, in Sausalito, Petaluma and ultimately San Diego.

Loneliness and a sense of isolation pervade much of Partch's music, and this “lack of community” was not only what Partch felt in his personal life, but also what he saw in the United States which he knew so intimately. Partch knew of the close personal and artistic Integration in the traditional cultures of Bali, Africa, the Americas, “primitive man”, and ancient Greek theater, yet he saw none of this first hand. His music (especially his later works) can be seen as his attempts (or fantasy) to rectify this void in his personal life, the lives of those around him, and society as a whole.  The spectre of Partch's loneliness or isolation can be seen, heard, and felt in the poetic images of the Li Po and Ella Young settings (the Intrusions), Bitter Music (Kaintuck and Pablo), U.S. Highball (Slim/Mac, the Old Piano Box Man, the Roseville Jungle Bo's, Jack Parkin), Barstow (Ed Fitzgerald, George, Johnnie Reinwald), the San Francisco Chronicle and Examiner streetboys, Ulysses, the klang of Ring Around the Moon and Even Wild Horses, in the pitiful protagonists of King Oedipus, The Bewitched (the Lost Musicians and their conjurings), Revelation (Pentheus-Sonny), the programmatic inspirations of And On The Seventh Day Petals Fell in Petaluma, the total dramatic-mime concept of mover-musicians and mime-dancers in Delusion, and the yell for “help” in The Dreamer That Remains.


Many of Partch's compositions espouse the ideas of “corporeality”, “integration of artistic media”, “ritual”, and “total theater”, in various combinations. U.S. Highball, Barstow, King Oedipus, Castor & Pollux, The Bewitched, Revelation in the Courthouse Park, Water! Water!, Delusion of the Fury, and even The Dreamer That Remains, all work within these extended music-theater categories. What is important to observe is the fact that when these works were performed, for a brief moment in Partch's life a performing ensemble with a communal sense would transpire, and a musical event that would extend beyond the limits of the concert proscenium stage would take place, thereby fulfilling his desperate desire to be understood, to be appreciated (loved?), and to bring the whole aggregate of people closer together, if only for a moment.


Delusion of the Fury is the composition that Partch crafted most carefully as a corporeal, or total-theater work. It was his last large piece, and it summed up all of his dreams that such a work could bring to bear on the stage. In it the musicians and dancers form a truly integrated ensemble of stage-craft, costuming, sound, movement, and ritual. Delusion also illustrates Partch's uncanny ability to synthesize separate ideas, in this case a Japanese tale juxtaposed with an African one. Synthesis such as this can be seen in many other Partch works as metaphors for reaching out for personal community. While he had not seen satisfactory productions of most of his previous theatrical works due to inappropriate conceptual interpretation on the part of others, or economic constraints, the 1969 production of Delusion did fulfill many of Partch's hopes and expectations.


None of Partch's works would ever have seen a performance if not for his own persistence and the dedication of others. This is a whole book in itself. In the case of Delusion they included Betty Freeman, who was crucial in her considerable personal support of Partch at the time, her involvement in pursuading the music department at UCLA to sponsor its production, and her financial underwriting of the whole production—from rehearsal space, production costs, to hall rental, etc. She was the linchpin and without her devoted support Delusion would not have seen its birth at that time. Noted session-player Emil Richards recruited many of the musicians for the ensemble from his top-flight fellow musicians in the Los Angeles music industry. All of the musicians were incredibly talented, quick learners, and highly motivated to get out on stage as movers and dancers, making the whole production flow smoothly at an accelerated pace. Emil also gave considerable personal support and time to Partch, and was a close friend. John and Ginny Storie-Crawford were set-designer and choreographer respectively. Without their dedication and considerable work the integrity of Delusion would not have been achieved. Partch was troublesome to choreographers because he was not interested in the abstract focus that pervaded the ideas of many dancers, but Ginny was the perfect match to implement Partch's choreographic vision of Delusion as corporeal and ritual mime-theater. Linda Schell, another indispensible member of the production, was involved as a musician in the ensemble, was assistant to the conductor (Danlee Mitchell) in teaching many of the musicians their parts, was of considerable personal assistance to Partch and the company as a whole, and as an expert and exquisite player on the Partch instruments (excepting Viola) is altogether one of the great Partch instrumentalists of all time. Cecil Charles Spiller dedicated much of his time to Partch's audio and recording needs, preparing the sound-track for the film version of Delusion (see Enclosure Four) which Madeline Tourtelot underwrote and produced.  Without the dedication of every musician, dancer, and singer who put in many extra hours of individual practice and group rehearsals, Delusion would not have seen the light of day. John McClure of Columbia Records became interested in Partch's music and had to pursue him with three letters before Harry actually believed that the musical “establishment” was really interested in him and he bothered to respond. McClure produced both The Music of Harry Partch and Delusion for Columbia Masterworks, and his vision of Partch's importance and realization of the need for its documentation should be lauded. He was very supportive of Partch, both artistically and personally.  These and many more formed the community that Partch brought together through Delusion.


—Danlee Mitchell, July, 1999.




Delusion of the Fury

A Ritual of Dream and Delusion;..


Recorded at UCLA Playhouse, Macgowan Hall, University of California, Los Angeles, January, 1969, following a production supported by Betty Freeman and the Pasadena Art Museum. Score composed November 1, 1965—March 17, 1966, and subsequently commissioned by the Serge Koussevitsky Music Foundation.



Bill Symons, Jr., Gary Coleman, Linda Schell, Emil Richards, Todd Miller, Ruth Ritchie, Frank Berberich, Mark Stevens, Michael Aaron, Robert Rose, Lynn Taussig,

Stephen Tosh, Robert McCormick, Carol Brown, Nathan Widato, Joe Roccisano, Robert Randles, Latif Allen, John McAllister, John Grayson, John Stannard.

Tenor voice: John Stannard, Soprano: Victoria Bond, Bass: Paul Bergen. 


            Pilgrim (The Slayer): John Blount,

            Son of the Slain: Susan Marshall,

            Ghost (The Slain): Glendon Hornbrook,

            Deaf Hobo: John Blount,

            Old Woman with Lamb: Susan Marshall,

            Deaf and Near-Sighted Justice: Glendon Hornbrook.

Musical Director: Danlee Mitchell

Director: John Crawford

Choreographer: Virginia Storie Crawford



Marimba Eroica, Bass Marimba, Bamboo Marimba, Quadrangularis Reversum, Cloud-Chamber Bowls, Gourd Tree and Cone Gongs, Spoils of War, Zymo-Xyl, Mazda Marimba, Cry-Chord, Boodongs, Harmonic Canon II, Bass Drum.

            Plucked Strings

Harmonic Canon I, Kithara I, Kithara II, Adapted Guitars I & II, Koto.

            Sustained-Tone Instruments

Chromelodeons I & II, Korean Piri.

            Hand instruments, carried and played by Chorus

Formosan drum, East Indian Drum, Japanese Pancake Drums, Ugumbo (Zulu), Bamboo Claves, Eucalyptus Claves, Drone Devils (Jewsharps), Chinese Cymbal (borrowed), American Sled Cymbal (borrowed), Bamboo Ceremonial Poles (bounced on rocks), Bolivian Double Flute, Belly Drums, Thumb Piano, Gourd Drum, Fiji Rhythm Boat, and Gubagabi.



            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.


            It is an olden time, but neither a precise time nor a precise place.  The Exordium is an overture, an invocation, the beginning of a ritualistic web.  Act 1, on the recurrent theme of Noh plays, is a music-theater portrayal of release from the wheel of life and death.  In simplest terms it is a final enlightenment, a reconciliation with total departure from the area of mortal cravings and passions.  It is based on the legend of a princely warrior who falls in battle at the hands of a young rival.  The act begins with the slayer's remorseful pilgrimage to the scene, and to the shrine.  The murdered man appears as a ghost, sees first the assassin, then his young son, born after his father's death, 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, based on an Ethiopian folk tale, involves a reconciliation with life, not as a separate mental act from that with death, but as a necessary concomitant, an accommodation toward a healthy—or at least a possible—existence.  Its essence is a tongue-in-cheek understanding, attained through irony, even through farce.  A young vagabond is cooking a meal over a fire in rocks when an old woman who tends a goat herd, approaches, searching for a lost kid.  Later, 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, force the quarreling couple to appear before the justice of the peace, who is both deaf and near-sighted.

            Following the justice'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.



            The instruments are the set, with only a cyclorama—a good sound-reflecting surface—behind it.  They must not be pushed back into tight corners.  The movements required of principals and chorus do not call for excessive stage space.  In Act I they are slow and intense; in Act II vigorous and intense.  The instruments must be prominent, and must not be crowded.  The clichés of modern dance must be avoided—unprepared anguish and long diagonal riots—, and I believe that the impediments of instruments will prove an effective deterrent.  The vigorous movers of Act II will simply learn to avoid instruments, and—as a matter of fact—it is quite possible to execute a vigorous dance with feet firmly limited to a couple of squares.



            The principals in each act must certainly be trained in music.  They must be singers in a strange sense.  Strange, because it is difficult to find stage arts comparable to what is called for, outside the Orient.  The quality of the trained opera singer, and the quality of the prominent singers of "contemporary" music, are equally wrong.  The principals must be actors, mimes, and—in another strange sense—dancers.  They must be able to move with firm dramatic or theatrical purpose—as cynosures.  However, the parts are essentially those of mimes and dancers, and it would be theatrically acceptable for a musician, or someone stationed among instruments, to assume the rather slight singing roles of each principal, becoming a somewhat disembodied voice.

            I should like the principals to be the same three persons in each act: two men, one woman (the woman takes the part of the young son in Act I).



             Very few words are involved.  There are perhaps a dozen recognizable English words in Act I, and less than three times that number in Act II.  Some of these are freely spoken, others are intoned.  There is much singing, or—to be more general—sounds from the throat, meaningless in English verbal communication.  For example, the "Ho——," in Act II, executed by the Chorus without using vocal chords, but—nevertheless—human vibrations from assembled throats.  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 an uncomfortable body of people appearing just occasionally, but from among the instruments, from musicians 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.  For example, as court attendants in Act II, bodyguards to the Justice.

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

            The musicians of course must be in costume, and I have a singularly clear idea as to what the costumes should be like as to detail and as to what they should convey: a sense of magic, of an olden time, but never of a precise olden time.  They should certainly not suggest anything that is either Japanese or Ethiopian.

            The basic garment of the musicians should be a huge pair of pantaloons, wrapping around the waist in East-Indian fashion.  In Act I they should also wear a poncho-like garment—a single, full piece of cloth with a neckhole.  It must be completely unadorned, without collages or beads, or anything that twinkles in the light.  The poncho is discarded at the end of Act I.  During Act II the musicians are naked from the waist up.

            To compensate for this very simple costume each musician will wear a fantastic headpiece.  Each will be different, or frequently different.  I have ideas as to the forms and symbolisms these might take, but the detailing of them here does not seem appropriate.  In contrast, the three principals would wear more imaginative costumes, and imaginative make-up.  Wigs, certainly, but no headpieces.

            I have been pondering [1964] this idea for some five years, and during the past two years I have filled a considerable number of pages with notes, both verbal and musical, and I have built a few new instruments, and made experiments with older ones—all looking toward an eventual production.

            This would not be a concert, in the usual sense.  Thought channels in the creative arts tend to follow the immediate well-traveled paths, and it is not unnatural that people, seeing—or hearing about—my instruments, should immediately react through the words concert and symphony.

            I do not disdain the idea of concert music, but theater work is the compulsive direction of my mind; it is what I want to do; it is the vehicle for whatever vision I possess.  I could no more become a writer of acceptable concert music than I could become an acceptable kangaroo, simply by saying to myself that I must become a kangaroo because that is what I am expected to be.  In my opinion, there are quite enough composers already producing concert music.  But whether they are or not, I cannot be one of them.

            This is indeed an adventurous concept.  However, looking back on my thirteen or fourteen years' involvement with full theater productions, I say flatly that it is not experimental.  It is a logical development, beyond The Bewitched, and beyond Revelation in the Courthouse Park.  In the case of The Bewitched alone, I remember clearly the reactions of six different audiences in three different places: the University of Illinois, St. Louis, New York.  I feel sure—in this unreal world—that I really know what I am doing.

—Harry Partch, Van Nuys, Calif., December 30, 1964

[Assembled from preliminary scenarios and the prefatory notes to the score]



            “I will not have any peace of mind until the problem described herein is cleared up—that of being entirely safe from any legal action against me in regard to Delusion... [Here is a description of] how I have treated the two stories [included in] the No Plays of Japan, by Arthur Waley, and African Voices, edited by Peggy Rutherford...

            “Despite the fact that I have used only nine or ten words from the Noh play, the last two lines on page 73 of the work cited, that I have made changes in the story line, that I have used the next play also—to introduce another character (the Son), that these plays were written in the fifteenth century, there is also the fact that they were translated into English by Arthur Waley, and that his work is copyrighted.  Even though I use almost no words, the action is based on those two Noh plays.

            “With regard to Act II: despite the fact that I have used not a single phrase or sentence from the story Justice (from African Voices), that I have changed the story line, that I have given all the words I use an American colloquial character, and—finally—that the story must be a folk tale, since no author is indicated, there is also the fact that I am basing Act II very largely on this story, and it is copyrighted.”

[HP letter to Betty Freeman, 10.27.1969]





Original Columbia Masterworks 2-LP set produced by John McClure. Engineers: Jack Lattig, Ed Michalski.  Notes by Eugene Paul.  The Columbia recording was accompanied by a Bonus Album which featured Partch introducing his instruments.  Similar material can be found at www.corporeal.com.

For innova Recordings:

Executive Producer, Series Editor, Graphic Designer: Philip Blackburn

For Sony Music Special Products: Tom Laskey, Wendy Glickman

Digital Engineer: Debra Parkinson

Photos: Ted Tourtelot, Madeline Tourtelot, Sylvia Spencer, Don Hunstein, Jon Szanto

Other design elements from the cover of Partch’s Delusion score.

Special thanks to Danlee Mitchell, Betty Freeman, Madeline Tourtelot, and Kash Yamada.   

This recording is funded in part by a grant from the Aaron Copland Fund Music Recording Program.

Also in this series: Enclosures I-V: Harry Partch (innova 400-405; videos, CDs, book)

            Further information on Delusion of the Fury:

• Enclosure Four (innova 404): Film version of Delusion by Madeline Tourtelot

• Blackburn, Philip. Enclosure Three (innova 402, 1997)

• Gilmore, Bob. Harry Partch: A Biography (Yale Univ. Press, 1998)

• Partch, Harry. Genesis of a Music (Da Capo, 1974)

The on-line home of Harry Partch: http://www.corporeal.com


Shortly before his death, Harry Partch remarked to a few friends that he, like his friend Anaïs Nin, considered his lifetime’s work to be a kind of letter to the world.  His final composition would therefore be an enclosure, a completion of the message in the form of a piece of music for which he would build a new instrument and tune another reed organ in a Pythagorean Enharmonic mode.  Enclosures, this series of writings, sounds, and visuals, is offered as a substitute: miscellaneous documents, odds and ends that add a ‘P.S.’ to the public letter by which Partch is known.  It intends to let Harry speak for himself.  Taken as a whole, with virtually the entirety of Partch’s output now available, Enclosures thus forms a multi-media [auto-]biography.

   Dr. Philip Blackburn