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Henry Cowell

Bay Area native Henry Cowell (1897-1965) was a relentless innovator and musical explorer. He started composing in his early teens, and by 16 he was studying with the University of California's music department. As a child growing up in the Bay Area, he was exposed to a range of musical influences. Early on, his work drew from a mix of family's Irish folk heritage and the Bay Area's Asian culture. He employed a wide range of sound materials and experimented with different compositional methods. His most significant contribution to American music was his development of tone clusters -- harmonies built upon diatonic seconds rather than thirds. His ritings and compositions made lasting impressions on a significant number of artists, including George Gershwin, John Cage, Stephen Scott, and Lou Harrison.

The tracks presented here are live piano performances from New Albion's New Music: Piano Compositions by Henry Cowell, a document of a three-concert festival held in 1997. The festival highlighted Cowell's influence on 20th century music with performances of works by Terry Riley, John Cage, Charles Ives, Lou Harrison, Meredith Monk, and others. "Exultation" is performed by Chris Brown, "Hero Sun" by Sorrel Hays, and "II-High Color" by Sarah Cahill. Each song is a testament to Cowell's ability to meld his experimental compositional style with interesting and engaging music. There is a palpable sense of chaos in each composition, and at times it feels like the keys are going to fall right off the keyboard. However, chaos and disorder are coupled with unbridled beauty and character, lending the songs a palpable sense of depth and permanence.