EXTENDED TECHNIQUES: Henry Cowell – Three Irish Legends

This version of Cowell’s Three Irish Legends follows the score and is fascinating because it allows a look at the notation the composer has used to express his directions. Very often, composers have to come up with new notational language, for which (hopefully!) they will include a key and instructions. One of the things to note while watching the score is that even though sounds may seem somewhat random, they are actually exquisitely and exactly placed….not random at all.

It is helpful to know the legends, and these are detailed in the first performance with the score. Here is a thumbnail sketch:

  1. The god of motion, before all time, sends giant tidal waves across the universe, leaving particles from which the other gods fashion suns and planets
  2. One created sun leaves his brothers in order to offer light and warmth to a dark and desolate people (us!).
  3. The Father God of the half tongue directs the other gods on their creations, but they can only understand half of what he says. That means that for every single creation, there is a secret, dark, or unexpressed part as well, which was the Father God’s plan.

The second version is for those who are interested to watch how these sounds are performed.

Listen to the Tides rolling across the Universe!