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Program Notes: About Cowell’s Piano Concerto
Henry Cowell’s piano concerto tells us what a piano sounds like when forearm meets keyboard. The dramatic opening of the first movement, Polyharmony, lays out opposing statements of orchestra and soloist. In your opinion, how does this opening compare to other piano concertos?
Cowell: Piano Concerto Opening by SF Symphony
The second movement is titled “Tone Cluster”, after Cowell’s signature technique. You may be interested in hearing him describe the origins of this innovation: www.archive.org/details/HenryCowell.
The movement begins with atmospheric gestures from woodwinds and muted strings, joined by the piano before building up to an emphatic rhythmic section. The following excerpt begins about a minute into the movement, just before the piano enters.
Cowell: Tone Cluster at 1:00 by SF Symphony
In any concerto a primary challenge is creating compelling relationships between the soloist and the larger ensemble. Listen to this moment near the beginning of the third movement, Counter Rhythm:
Cowell: Counter Rhythm near beginning by SF Symphony
Cowell’s concerto employs unconventional techniques within a conventional genre and formal structure. What moments stand out to you as the most interesting combination of convention and innovation?