University of Arizona

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Harry Partch Collection

Photograph of Harry Partch Surrounded by His Handmade Instruments, undated

Harry Partch is renowned as one of the 20th century's most innovative American classical composers. He was one of the first composers in that century to extensively work with microtonal scales, which he wrote exclusively for his custom-made instruments that he built himself.

Partch's parents were missionaries, which resulted in the family relocating numerous times throughout Partch's childhood, often in small remote towns located in Arizona, California, and New Mexico. In these small, isolated parts of the country Partch was exposed to various cultures and their music. Partch began to compose music at an early age using standard western tunings. However, he became frustrated by the limited structure of these tunings and began to develop his own methods of tuning which he performed on instruments that he created himself. Partch composed numerous operas, concertos, and various other musical projects using his tunings and instruments exclusively. In the late 1950s Partch started his own record label, Gate 5 Records, to release recordings of his works and to generate income. Near the end of his life Columbia Records made recordings of his work which resulted in his music being exposed to a wider audience. Partch died on September 3, 1974 in San Diego, California.

Collection includes photographs and phonographs, 1957-1962. This collection is comprised of photographs of instruments and opera rehearsals and phonograph recordings. The bulk of the photographic materials detail the handmade instruments that Partch created. The phonograph recordings are comprised of recordings ranging between 1956-1962, self-released on Partchs Gate 5 Records. The collection consists of black and white photographs of varying sizes as well as seven 12" phonographic LPs and one 10" phonograph. May of the phonographs are autographed by Harry Partch, some with a personalized and dated inscription.