Partch Harp Manfred Stahnke

For harp and synthesizer

This piece was written in 1987/89 for a harp in scordatura, containing “natural” just major thirds (5/4) and “natural” just minor sevenths (7/4). The numbers 5 and 7 indicate the partials of a fundamental tone “1” of course.

The synthesizer’s tuning follows the harp tuning and allows these just intervals for any played pitch up and down (the tuning is 12th root of 1.956, which means a12ET of a narrow “non-octave”; the mistake against just 5/4 or 7/4 is less than 1 cent).

The way of thinking in “whole numbers” looks quite mathematical, but it is very much linked to how our ear is working. Apparently it measures towards “simplicity”: If we listen to a so-called “tempered” interval, the ear adjusts these intervals mentally to the simpler forms, and will accept a “distuned” third as a “natural” third with some added noisy features. In my piece “PARTCH HARP” however, the “noisiness” becomes a well incorporated part. If the deviation from the simple interval is too big — say a quarter tone — then the ear cannot adjust anymore and detects a “wrong” interval. This is especially true for my octaves and fifths, the very simple 2/1 and 3/2 proportions. Imagine three “just thirds” on top of each other C-E-G#-B#. the summed up deviation from an octace C-c is almost a quartertone. The same is true for my synthesizer tuning where every minor second is “short” by 3.5 cents. If you superimpose 7 of them to get a fifth, this strange “fifth” misses 7x3.5=24.5 cents, a very audible eighth tone.

The strange — or charming — feature of PARTCH HARP is that the harp is tuned in perfect octaves, and the synthesizer not. By this I get a strangely drifting vessel in an ocean of well tuned asymmetry.

As to the title: Harry Partch (1901-73) invented a just tuned 43 tone scale, and to play it, he built his own instrumentarium.

The movements are:
Zwiegesang — double chant
Partch Harp
Partch Bourdon
Partch en ciel

  • Year of composition: 1987
  • Genre: Mixed
  • Format: Mixed work
  • Instrumentation: harp and synthesizer
  • Hardware used: Synthesizer Yamaha DX7-2 FD
  • Duration of the submitted work: 8:30
  • Production: Home

Linked project