Harry Partch, Hobo Composer

Harry Partch, Hobo Composer

S. Andrew Granade

Personal eBook

University of Rochester Press



Examines the impact of Harry Partch's hobo years from a variety of perspectives, exploring how the composer both engaged and frustrated popular conceptions of the hobo.
Harry Partch (1901-74) was one of the most distinctive and influential American composers of the mid-twentieth century. During the Great Depression, Partch rode the railways, following the fruit harvest across the country. Although he is renowned for his immense stage works, such as Delusion of the Fury, and his use of highly sophisticated instruments of his own creation, Partch is still regularly called a "hobo composer." Yet few have questioned this label's impact on his musical output, compositional life, and reception.
Focusing on Partch the person alongside the cultural icon he represented, this study examines Partch from historical, cultural, political, and musical perspectives. It outlines the cultural history of the hobo from the mid-1800s through the 1960s, as well as those figures associated with the hobo's image. It explores how Partch's music, which chronicled a disappearing subculture, was received, and how the composer ultimately engaged and frustrated popular conceptions of the hobo. And it follows Partch's later years to question his response to the hobo label and the ways in which others used it to define and contain him for over thirty years

S. Andrew Granade is Associate Professor of Musicology in the Conservatory of Music and Dance, University of Missouri-Kansas City.


19 black and white, 1 line illustrations
368 pages
9x6 in
Eastman Studies in Music
Personal eBook, 9781580468749, October 2014
Hardback, 9781580464956, October 2014
Library eBook
University of Rochester Press
BISAC BIO004000, MUS020000, HIS036060
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Table of Contents

Prologue: To Sound American
The Hobo in Partch's Early Life and Aesthetic
Interlude 1: Transients and Migrants
The Transient Journey
Bitter Music
A Knight of the Road
Interlude 2: Hoboes
U.S. Highball: Becoming a Musical Hobo
A Newsboy Letter
Trading on a Hobo Image
The Strangest Kind of Hobo
Epilogue: To Be American
Glossary of Instruments and Hobo Slang


Shows us how Partch kept experimenting with varying strategies of self-definition in order to find some social acceptance for a music that was radically original. A portrait of America between the wars, as refracted through an artist determined to transmit the American experience purely as he found it. . . . Seems unlikely to be superseded. TWENTIETH-CENTURY MUSIC

Deploys an array of little-known primary sources. . . . Granade's research is deeply sourced, his analyses are probing, and his book substantially advances Partch studies in numerous ways. . . . Presents a rich bounty of information about Partch and his attitudes toward his patrons and contemporaries. A welcome supplement to Gilmore's (long-standard) biography, matching its predecessor's depth and exceeding its accessibility. AMERICAN MUSIC

Contributes an important, largely overlooked perspective to the modest but growing Partch literature. . . . Accomplishes the difficult task of balancing biography with microhistory. . . . Explain(s), in the clearest manner I have encountered, the peculiar nature of Partch's place within American musical thought. . . . (Chapter 5) does tremendous work and, in my opinion, is in itself worth the price of the book. . . . Set(s) a high standard for future Partch scholarship. MUSIC LIBRARY ASSOCIATION NOTES

Granade shows that the grim predicament of the transient population during the Depression depicted in films, the novels of Steinbeck and the songs of Woody Guthrie, is also central to Partch. Provides new material, including details of his friendships and his contacts with other composers. Well produced and cheap at the price. GRAMOPHONE (Peter Dickinson)

Harry Partch, Hobo Composer is almost epic in its panoramic view of an American subculture as seen through the lens of one artist's life. It should find a ready audience among composers and scholars of American music, not to mention the legions of microtonalists who look to Partch as their primogenitor and patron saint. An important book.
--Michael Hicks, author of Henry Cowell, Bohemian

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