December 22, 2006

Mind Reader

My winter break got to a good start today with an unset alarm clock and a little transcribing for a solo recital I'm giving in the spring. My plans for school vacations usually include what most people would describe as work. I can't wait to get into them, however, because what I'm doing is entirely at my discretion. In short, less time with books and more time with music (and hopefully with the ol' blog). Over the next few days, I'll try to get some thoughts up on the Alarm Will Sound show that was at Kilbourn last Friday. Until then, an already-eloquent version of most of the program note I was intending to write for that recital:
Getting back to Cowell, let’s start with the early piano pieces, the so-called cluster pieces plus The Aeolian Harp and The Banshee. I think their simplicity is their strength, and the reason for their continued freshness. In this regard they share something with modern-day pop songs, in that relatively little information is conveyed, so that communication is immediate and right there on the surface. Many of the pieces have very simple, modal melodies, so the harmonic language is likewise very basic. I don’t really take Cowell’s justification of the tone cluster as the incorporation of the major and minor seconds into our harmonic/melodic language along some sort of musical evolutionary line too seriously. Okay — sure, fine. What blows me away about these pieces is that by compressing the interval relationships so tightly, they virtually cease to exist as such. So you are sidestepping the harmonic implications of the concept of interval, and what you are left with is: pure RESONANCE. That is the glory, the originality, the freshness of these pieces. By reducing melody and harmony to a background function, that of the simplest framework possible, one is affirming music not so much as a question of relationships, but rather of pure sounding and resonance. That is very radical, to me. One does not need to use tone clusters necessarily to achieve this effect. By severely limiting melodic and harmonic movement and by emphasis on repetition, the same effect can be achieved.
from Peter Garland, "Henry Cowell: Giving Us Permission"

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