Like "Quartet Romantic" (1915-17) and "Concerto for Rhythmicon and Orchestra," this brief two-minute work, played here by the Emerson String Quartet, is built on yet another of Cowell
's groundbreaking resources: converting pitch intervals into rhythms (all tones vibrate in rhythmic cycles but you can only hear the separate beats on very low notes). Although these works were too difficult for players of that decade, they are quite playable now. Cowell
was the prime mover of the ultramodernist (the term used then) music scene in the early part of the century, who established the vitally important new music editions publishing some modern classics and who produced many concerts of new music (see Rita Mead's "Henry Cowell's New Music 1925-1936 -- The Society, the New Music Editions and the Recordings" UMI [University Microfilms International, Ann Arbor, MI] Research Press 1981). He invented many technical musical devices (see his 1930 book New Music Resources), such as playing inside the piano (in his famous work "Banshee"), producing artificial harmonics on the piano, and, like Charles Ives
, was writing atonally before the similar technique reached America from Europe (Schonberg, Berg
, Webern, Hauer). His interest in the musical techniques of other cultures led to attempts at synthesizing a world music, and greatly influenced his later more conservative works (his writing seemed to change after the sad episode of his undeserved imprisonment -- see Michael Hicks' article "The Imprisonment of Henry Cowell" in the Journal of the American Musicological Society. Nevertheless, he made the best of the situation, organizing and inspiring prison bands and continuing his editing and correspondence with the help of friends). A recording of his piano works is essential to any new music collection, but there are (amazingly) none available.