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Encyclopedia of Microtonal Music Theory

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Harry Partch: The Intruder

[Joe Monzo]

An Examination of
Partch's Li-Po Lyric "The Intruder"

webpage and music examples © 2002 by Joe Monzo

download mp3 of The Intruder
(use of Partch's recording of 'The Intruder' courtesy of The Harry Partch Foundation, 2002)

Harry Partch in 1932
holding his Adapted Viola and model of the Ptolemy keyboard

Harry Partch's earliest surviving microtonal compositions are his Seventeen Lyrics of Li Po, settings for intoning voice and Adapted Viola of poems from Shigeyoshi Obata's 1928 English translation The Works of Li Po, the Chinese Poet. They were written between 1930 and 1933 in places as widely separated as New Orleans, Gloucester (Massachusetts), and San Francisco.

The poet's name is now usually spelled Li-Bai; he used to be known as Li Po or Li T'ai Po. He lived during the Tang Dynasty and wrote this poem around 740 AD. Below is a map of China during the T'ang Dynasty:

Below is the poem as it appears in the original Chinese, and next to it the English translation of each character. The Chinese characters, translation, and notes are from The Heart of Chinese Poetry: China's Greatest Poems Newly Translated, by Greg Whincup (Anchor Press/Doubleday, New York, 1987). Whincup's translation of the original title is "Spring Longing".

In the third column is the translation by Shigeyoshi Obata which was used by Partch. The title and translation by Obata differ in several aspects from Whincup's. Note that the version by Obata transposes the 3rd and 4th verses, and Partch retained this order in his setting.

by Li-Bai




bright green

The grass of Yen
is growing green
and long
Chin 2

mulberry trees

hang down


While in Chin
the leafy mulberry branches
hang low.

Lord's 3



Are you thinking, my dear,
of coming back
to me?

servant's 4


guts 5

Even now,
while my longing heart
is breaking,

wind 6



O wind of spring,
you are a stranger;



gauze silk

Why do you enter
through the silken curtains
of my bower?

NOTES to poem

1 Yen is the area around modern-day Peking. It was in the far north-east of Tang China, and soldiers were stationed there to guard the border.

2 Chin is the area around the Tang capital, Chang-an (now Sian), at the western edge of the North China Plain.

3 "Lord" was how friends addressed each other, and how a wife addressed her husband.

4 "Servant" was how wives referred to themselves when speaking to their husbands.

5 "Cut guts" is like our "heart-rending" or "heart-broken"

6 "Spring wind" is a conventional symbol of sexual feelings.

Partch's setting is for Intoning Voice and Adapted Viola. Both parts are tuned in just intonation. The rhythm is free, the viola part following the rhythm of the voice part, which may be viewed as a form of stylized speech. Partch's own score simply notated the pitches of both parts as numerical ratios. Joe Monzo transcribed it into a 12-EDO-based version of HEWM notation, as published in his book JustMusic: A New Harmony. The HEWM notation is supplemented by the prime-factors and their exponents, as described in Monzo's article JustMusic Prime-Factor Notation. The 2-page transcription of Partch's score is shown below (click on the small graphic for the full-size version. Note that Monzo now prefers to use a version of HEWM which has additional accidentals and is based on 72-EDO.)

Below is a Monzo lattice diagram of the pitches used in "The Intruder". (This is the non-inverted form of Monzo lattice, as described on his Harmonic Lattice Diagrams page; compare this diagram with the 7-limit Tonality Diamond shown there.)

Below are two lattices of Partch's Intruder tuning, produced by Tonescape, the first using rectangular geometry (similar to the Monzo lattice above) and the second using triangular geometry.

[special thanks to Jon Szanto]

See also: