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harmony for our time


'Harmony seems to be a mostly forgotten notion in our society.'

 – Paul Gallagher

'Palongawhoya' – chamber ensemble. 

'Already Gone' – a cappella quartet.  video

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'Stationary Point' – trumpet, clarinet, bassoon, vibraphone.

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 'Kingdom of Mescal' – solo tenor in four movements.  video   

Dreamscape as a mythical quest for understanding.

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'Lure' – solo flute.

Recording courtesy of Johnny Reinhard

LURE - PAUL GALLAGHER - A. Bolotowsky, flute
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 'Seen' – three-part canon.

Beyond dreams, beyond myths, beyond anything necessary or conceivable.

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'Six Blind Men and the Moon– accompanied tenor in six movements.

Unaccompanied version for tenor and mezzo soprano, American Festival of Microtonal Music, on Bandcamp.

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6 BLIND MEN & the MOON song IV: Traveler - PAUL GALLAGHER
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'Tangible Midnight' – solo piano.

In appreciation of Morton Feldman.

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just intonation legacy
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Paul Gallagher (1953–2011) made enduring contributions to the artistic possibilities of untempered harmony.



Born in Pittsburgh, he graduated from the Pennsylvania State University and received M.A. and Ph.D. degrees from the State University of New York at Buffalo, where he studied composition with Morton Feldman and Lejaren Hiller and voice with Heinz Rehfuss.

Paul Gallagher's orchestral, instrumental, and vocal compositions in just intonation have been performed in New York, Copenhagen, and Pittsburgh. His symphony, “Way of the Hopi,” premiered at Merkin Hall in New York in 1987. His chamber opera, Six Blind Men and the Moon, was performed at the Kraine Theater in New York in 1998. The vocal work, “Kingdom of Mescal,” premiered in New York in 1992. His grants included a fellowship in composition from the New Jersey State Council on the Arts, a New York State Council on the Arts grant to produce a new music radio program, and grants from Meet the Composer. 


He was invited to lecture on microtonality at the Young Nordic Music Festival in Copenhagen, and his works for just-tuned piano were presented in concert on Danish Radio. Performances include a chamber orchestra piece by the Pittsburgh New Music Ensemble, a choral work in New York by Melodious Accord, and numerous vocal and chamber pieces in New York and New Jersey presented by Composers Concordance, North/South Consonance, Composers Guild of New Jersey, New York Open Center, Phoenix, Composers’ Forum, Newark Museum, and the New Jersey State Museum.

Occasionally working across the art-jazz-folk spectrum and sometimes in in standard temperament, his vocal catalogue includes an early album of rounds intended as accessible vehicles for his career-spanning themes of natural harmony and existential unity. One of the rounds, "Song of Survival" for mixed voices, flute, alto flute, and double bass, was chosen in a nationwide search for new choral music by Melodious Accord and performed for mixed chorus a cappella in New York in 1990. Another, "Close Your Sleepy Eyes," for mixed voices and flute, has received numerous performances. 

read:  Harmony for Our Time

just intonation legacy

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The music Paul Gallagher left to the world speaks uncannily to our time. Open conflict is ascendant. The planet and those who inhabit it seem at war with each other. Is tuning meaningful for today? 


Starting in 1980 – when tuning outside the standard 12 equally divided pitches to the octave was even more unfamiliar to audiences than it is today – Paul Gallagher developed an original approach to just intonation that extended the ratios of the natural harmonic intervals to all elements of the composition.


"From the outset," he wrote, "it was clear to me that the quality and richness of these harmonies, drawn untempered from the overtone series, would demand their own language and I began to develop a style that unfolds from the intervals themselves and the way they relate to each other. Rhythms, melodies, phrase structures, etc., were all derived from the same proportions as the harmonies."

"Thus the material – melodic, harmonic, rhythmic – reflects itself in the overall structure and at all levels between."

His compositions generally use 19 tones to the octave, occasionally up to 32, with his primary scale the 8th through 16th partials of an overtone series with C as the fundamental. His modal variations are built on the 3rd, 5th, 7th, and 9th partials of that series.

Though illness limited his active composing period to the 1980s and 1990s, his legacy includes a rare feat, a symphony for full orchestra in just intonation, the premiere of which was enthusiastically received at the American Festival of Microtonal Music in 1987. Premiering at the following year's festival was his composition for solo flute, "Lure." His other just-tuned instrumental compositions include two works for piano and another for piano and violin, a work for trumpet with woodwinds and vibraphone, a wind orchestra, and a single-movement work for chamber orchestra.

A tenor and vocal coach, Paul Gallagher also focused heavily on writing music and lyrics for accompanied and unaccompanied voice in just intonation. Several such pieces for solo tenor and soprano, alto, tenor, and bass quartet were eventually woven into a choreographed oratorio that was performed in New York in 1998, with his paintings and photo-intarsia projected as backdrops.

Like many just intonation composers, Paul Gallagher was captivated by the tuning system's clarity. With pitch intervals dictated by natural frequency relationships, just intonation produces what proponents consider pure, uncompromised sound not achieved through traditional tunings tempered into equally divided octaves to facilitate modulation and transposition. And like microtonal frameworks in general, just tuning permits wide experimentation outside the constraints of the prevailing European classical tuning system. 

In addition to these advantages, Paul Gallagher prized another: its poetic, metaphoric appeal.

"My use of just intonation stems from an interest in harmony both aurally and philosophically," he wrote. "Each partial of an overtone series is itself a fundamental, casting its own series of partials. Yet, this myriad of partials and fundamentals is not heard as a complexity but as a single composite sound."

Like the themes of universal inseparability, indigenous worldviews, and rites of awareness animating several of his narratives on existential harmony, the tuning itself contributed a layer of relevance that infused the act of composing with meaning.

"In each facet of Being can be seen both its fundamental identity and its relative or partial identity," he wrote. "To observe that each facet constantly embraces both poles is to see that they are in fact a single identity and to understand harmony as an inevitable reality."

read:  Harmony for Our Time


orchestra / chamber orchestra

Illumination – short overture (3, 3, 3, 2 / 2, 3, 3, 1 / 2 percussion / strings), 1984.

Nighthawk – symphony in two parts for large wind ensemble, 20:00, 1983.

Palongawhoya – piano, two flutes, bassoon, two horns, trombone, two violins, viola, cello, double bass, 1981. Premiered in Copenhagen, 1981, Royal Danish Academy of Music, the composer conducting. 

Way of the Hopi – four pieces for orchestra – (3, 3, 3, 2/2, 3, 3, 1 / 2 percussion / strings), 1985. Premiered in New York, 1987, Merkin Hall, American Festival of Microtonal Music, the composer conducting. Bandcamp

– two pieces for chamber orchestra – two violins, viola, cello, double bass, flute/alto flute, oboe, clarinet/bass clarinet, bassoon, horn, trumpet, trombone, percussion, 1989Premiered in Pittsburgh, 1990, Pittsburgh New Music Ensemble, David Stock conducting.


Just Piano –  solo piano, 16:00, 1984. Premiered in New York, 1988, CAMI Hall, Erik Skjoldan, piano.

Lure – solo flute, 12:00, 1985. Premiered in New York, 1988, American Festival of Microtonal Music Microfest, Columbia University, Andrew Bolotowsky, flute. Bandcamp.

Nierika – violin, piano, 10:00, 1986. Premiered in New York, 1988, CAMI Hall, Laura Seaton, violin, Erik Skjoldan, piano.

Nocturne – piano, 1982.

Peal – violin, cello, 1986.

Stationary Point – flugelhorn with clarinet, bassoon, vibraphone, 10:00, 1982. Premiered in Buffalo, 1982, David Kuehn, flugelhorn.

Tangible Midnight – solo piano, 62:00, 1995.

Windspoor – flute, clarinet, two violins, cello, 1984.



Already Gone – soprano, alto, tenor, bass, 1997.

Aspens – mezzo soprano, tenor, 1985. Premiered in New York, 1988, CAMI Hall, Barbara Hess, mezzo soprano, Paul Gallagher, tenor.

Blood Red/Exquisite Blue – soprano, alto, tenor, bass.

Canons and Exchanges (Not One, Not Two; To Hide in a Stone; The Seed Is Sown) – mezzo soprano, tenor, 5:00, 1990. Premiered in Newark, 1991, Newark Museum, Barbara Hess, mezzo soprano, Paul Gallagher, tenor.

Clear the Way – mixed voices, 8:00, 1987. Premiered in New York, 1988, New York Open Center.

Close Your Sleepy Eyes – three-part round for mixed voices, flute, 1987.

Colorado – tenor, ashiko, 4:00, 1993. Premiered in Madison, NJ, 1994, Paul Gallagher, tenor and percussion.

Fall Lightly – mezzo soprano, flute, clarinet, two violins, cello, 1984. 

Kingdom of Mescal – tenor / mezzo, tape in four movements, 20:00, 1991. Premiered in New York, 1992, Paul Gallagher, tenor.

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