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Cowell - Four Encores to Dynamic Motion

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Uploaded on Jun 14, 2009

Four Encores to Dynamic Motion (1917)

Henry Cowell (1897-1965) was one of the most innovative American composers of the 20th-century and influenced a generation of American and European avant-gardists from Varèse and Nancarrow to Cage and Stockhausen. As a child, Cowell displayed a precocious musical talent and started learning the violin at the age of five. Although he received no formal music training during his childhood, he showed an interest in composition. In his teenage years he experimented with tone-clusters (a term he invented) and unconventional methods of playing the piano, such as plucking and strumming the strings. Cowell later studied music with Charles Seeger at UC Berkeley, where he also met Ruth Crawford.

In the 1920s, he toured throughout America and Europe as a piano virtuoso, achieving enormous notoriety if not fame. His compositions, and by extension his method of using the forearm, fist, and palm to create tone-clusters, disturbed conservative audiences and music critics while garnering enthusiasm from the musical intelligentsia. Cowell's unorthodox methods and ideas are contained in his New Musical Resources (1930), which was a genuine bible to American composers of the avant-garde. Among other things in this work, Cowell defines the tone-cluster and details his theories concerning its harmonic flexibility.

Cowell's constant search for new means of expression is reflected in over 900 compositions for a variety of ensembles and instruments. While his music of the early 1910s and 1920s is aligned with the avant-garde, his later works beginning in the late 1930s demonstrate a return to a simpler music language. Though Cowell explored new sounds, even his most avant-garde music is tempered by a predilection for melody and accessible expressivity.

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