During the Great Depression, Harry Partch rode the railways, following the fruit harvest across the country. From his experience among hoboes he found what he called "a fountainhead of pure musical Americana." Although he later wrote immense stage works for instruments of his own creation, he is still regularly called a hobo composer for the compositions that grew out of this period of his life. Yet few have questioned the 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 an Associate Professor of Musicology in the Conservatory of Music and Dance, University of Missouri-Kansas City.
Subjects: History, Music
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