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.