Henry Cowell (1897-1965) was a prolific composer in many
different genres, as well as an important teacher whose pupils
included George Gershwin, John Cage, Lou Harrison, and
The first work on this disc, “Set of Five,” dates from 1952 and
is scored for violin, piano and percussion. The five movements
comprising this 18-minute piece are in a tonal idiom, making
imaginative use of various percussion instruments including
tom-toms, gongs, celesta and xylophone. Cowell was particularly
famous for his tone clusters, which are featured here as well as
strumming the strings inside the piano. It’s attractive and
Cowell’s “Four Combinations for Three Instruments” are just that:
various permutations of violin, cello and piano, only using all
three instruments in the last movement. He composed this
piece in 1924.
All of the aforementioned works and the remaining two
compositions from 1950 and 1965 feature interesting
juxtapositions of dissonance against consonance in an
engaging way, which wouldn’t be considered “radical” today.
However, when Cowell was starting to make a name for himself
as a composer, both in Europe and the United States during
the 1920’s, many of his techniques involving unorthodox
treatment of the piano helped inspire riots! The music on
this disc often features hymn-like tunes and folk elements.
When filtered through Cowell’s rather “maverick” sensibilities,
they resulted in a strikingly individual compositional style.
The performances by the Trio Phoenix and percussionist
Rick Kvistad seemed to do full justice to the music. This CD
was a nice musical adventure for me, and I recommend it.