First edition
(publ. The University of Wisconsin Press)
The 11-limit tonality diamond, part of the basis for Partch's music theory
A closeup of a keyboard, whose keys are colorfully painted and marked with numbers
Part of the keyboard of the Chromelodeon

Genesis of a Music is a book first published in 1949 by microtonal composer Harry Partch (1901–1974).

Partch first presents a polemic against both equal temperament and the long history of stagnation in the teaching of music; according to Alex Ross, this is "the most startling forty-five-page history of music ever written". In particular, Partch holds Johann Sebastian Bach responsible for "the movement toward equal-tempered tuning, which meant that composers could not absorb the scales of other world traditions; and the urge to make music ever more instrumental and abstract."[1]

He then goes on to explain his tuning theory based on just intonation, the ensemble of musical instruments of his own invention (such as the "Surrogate Kithara, a struck-string, harplike instrument",[2] and the guitar with movable frets he used to compose Barstow[3]), and several of his largest musical compositions.

The book has been highly influential to succeeding generations of microtonal composers, including Lou Harrison,[4] Ben Johnston,[5] and James Tenney.[6] A revised and enlarged second edition was published just before Partch's death in 1974.[7]


Partch presents 4 "basic monophonic concepts":

  1. Consonance and dissonance: "The ear informs us that tones which are in small-number proportion, say in the relation of 2 to 1, are strong, clear, powerful, consonant."[8]
    • "The smaller the number involved in the [interval] ratios, the more consonant the ratio; the larger the numbers, the more dissonant".[9]
  2. "Dual Identity": "Every ratio of a Monophonic system is at least a dual identity."[8]
    • "Odentity [is] determined by the odd-number ratio component of the numerator, and another one, the Udentity [is] determined by the odd-number component of the denominator. A ratio thus always belongs to two tonalities, an Otonality in accordance with its Odentity, and an Utonality in accordance with its Udentity."[9]
  3. Minor: "Under-number Tonality, or Utonality ("minor"), is the immutable faculty of ratios, which in turn represent an immutable faculty of the human ear."[8]
  4. History: Music has appeared to have advanced up the harmonic series throughout history.[8]



  1. ^ Ross, Alex (18 April 2005). "Off the Rails". The New Yorker. p. 199. Retrieved 4 January 2013.
  2. ^ Gann, Kyle (23 January 2001). "New York Songs of the Open Road". The Village Voice. Archived from the original on 19 December 2013. Retrieved 4 January 2013.
  3. ^ Payne, John (27 May 2009). "Harry Partch's Boxcar Revelations". Los Angeles Weekly. Retrieved 4 January 2013.
  4. ^ Aaron, Peter (29 September 2011). "Lou Harrison: Outsider Inside". Chronogram. Archived from the original on 15 February 2013. Retrieved 4 January 2013.
  5. ^ Tabachnik, Sandy (17 April 2009). "They score! Composers John Harbison and Ben Johnston Have Left Their Mark on History". Isthmus. Retrieved 4 January 2013.
  6. ^ James Tenney/Harry Partch (1999). "Tenney, James: Song'n Dance for Harry Partch" (in German). Lydia Jeschke (trans.). Südwestrundfunk. Archived from the original on 7 December 2013. Retrieved 4 January 2013.
  7. ^ Falkenstein, Michelle (16 October 2005). "Sonata for Chromelodeon". The New York Times. Retrieved 4 January 2013.
  8. ^ a b c d Partch (2009), p.86-90. ISBN 9780786751006.
  9. ^ a b Dunn, David (2000). Harry Partch: An Anthology of Critical Perspectives, p.27-8. ISBN 9789057550652.