"He's a person who clearly has a bigger role in American just intonation history than most people would ever know."
– Johnny Reinhard, director, American Festival of Microtonal Music
Paul Gallagher saw a world at war with itself and responded with untempered harmony — an experience of sublime sonic cohesion evoking the interconnectedness of all existence.
The finely lyrical resonance that gives the music of Paul Gallagher (1953–2011) its distinct sound arises from his original approach to harmony.
Attracted to its exceptional harmonic clarity, he adopted the microtonal tuning system known as just intonation and then took it to new expressive territory. Through explorations of harmony as both a transportive sonic experience and vital existential value, he made enduring contributions to the artistic possibilities of just tuning. The body of work he left is now being reconsidered as a missing chapter in modern American musical innovation.
Born in Pittsburgh, Paul Gallagher received his undergraduate degree in music from the Pennsylvania State University and his M.A. and Ph.D. in composition from the State University of New York at Buffalo, where he studied under Morton Feldman and Lejaren Hiller. His orchestral, instrumental, and vocal compositions in just intonation have been performed in New York, Copenhagen, and Pittsburgh. His legacy includes a rare feat, a four-movement symphony for full orchestra in just intonation, which premiered in New York in 1987.
Early in his career, he derived a musical language from the array of overtones that naturally emanate from a given tone, giving particular attention to the most consonant intervals between the pitches of the series. He then used those same ratios to determine every element of his compositions.
"From the outset, 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 syntax ... so I began to develop a style that unfolds from the intervals themselves and the way they relate to each other," he wrote. "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."
"After several years of working this way," he wrote, "the feel of these relationships has sunk in to the extent that the language has a life of its own, and I'm free to be completely poetic and intuitive within its framework."
The pieces he composed using this system were his musical response to a world out of balance, to the discord inherent in the modern worldview of the human condition, to conflict and catastrophic degradation of the natural world.
"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."
"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