Sound Forms for Piano: Cage/ Cowell/ Johnston/ Nancarrow

Composer(s): John Cage, Henry Cowell, Ben Johnston, Conlon Nancarrow
Album Title: Sound Forms for Piano: Cage/ Cowell/ Johnston/ Nancarrow 
Cat. No.: 80203
Genre: Classical
Description: Works by John Cage, Conlon Nancarrow, Ben Johnston and Henry Cowell

Robert Miller, piano

“ the past, the point of disagreement has been between dissonance and consonance, it will be, in the immediate future, between noise and so-called musical sounds.”  — John Cage

The most characteristic features of American music are its eclecticism and innovation.  The works presented here are perfect examples; their only common feature is that they were written for a piano altered in some way.

The disc opens with the eerie, wailing cries of
Henry Cowell’s (1897-1965) The Banshee. In order to conjure the demonic tones of this work, the performer must crouch within the piano and sweep the fleshy parts of his hands along the strings. The sounds created are unlike any that normally occur in a piano piece. In Aeolian Harp, the pianist also produces sounds directly on the strings of the instrument, but in this piece the resulting music is rich in overtones and mysteriously beautiful.  The Piano Piece, one of Cowell’s most extended and complex piano works, is a virtual catalog of Cowell’s new piano sonorities, featuring dense tone clusters played by forearms and pounding fists.  

As the innovator of the prepared piano, John Cage (1912-1992), with his Sonatas and Interludes, features a gamut of sounds produced by mutes of various materials (rubber, wood, metal, glass, paper) placed within the strings of the piano.  Cage chose the individual sounds produced by the various mutes because they appealed to his ear, and the gleaming combinations of overtones, tones, and nonpitched thumps are unlike anything ever heard in western music.  

Ben Johnston (b. 1926) has embraced the complex microtonal world of untempered tuning "to reopen doors closed by the acceptance of the equal-tempered scale as the norm of pitch usage."  His Sonata for Microtonal Piano is performed on an instrument with a radically altered tuning.  

Conlon Nancarrow's (b. 1912) Studies for Player Piano utilizes carefully placed perforations on a piano roll to produce sequences of pitch and rhythm that no human pianist could ever hope to reproduce. The works on this disc are tremendously exciting pieces which move to increasingly complex and dynamic combinations of rhythm and sonority.

The brilliant interpretations are by the late Robert Miller. The accompanying booklet features extensive liner notes on the composers and their compositions, American invention, and the history of the piano. 
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