The Tides of Manaunaun

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The Tides of Manaunaun is a short piano piece by American composer Henry Cowell (1897–1965). It was composed in 1917, originally serving as a prelude to a theatrical production, The Building of Banba. The Tides of Manaunaun is the best known of Cowell's many tone cluster pieces.

Contents

Background

The Building of Banba, for which The Tides of Manaunuan was composed, was based on Irish mythological poems by the theosophist John Osborne Varian. The Building of Banba has been described by some scholars as a "pageant" or "play," and by Cowell himself (more than fifty years later) as an "opera." The production was staged in the summer of 1917 at a convention of the theosophical community of Halcyon in coastal San Luis Obispo County, California; Varian was a leader of the group, to which he had introduced Cowell.[1] Cowell would later claim that The Tides of Manaunaun had been composed in 1912, or even earlier.[2]

The work is the most famous and widely played of Cowell's tone cluster pieces, which he performed during tours of North America and Europe from the early 1920s through the mid-1930s. A performance of Cowell's so inspired Béla Bartók that the great Hungarian composer sought Cowell's permission to use tone clusters in his own work. Bartók would feature them in his Piano Sonata (1926) and suite Out of Doors (1926), his first significant works after three years of little composition.

Other early pieces of Cowell's featuring tone clusters include the atonal, dissonant Dynamic Motion (1916) and its five "encores"—What's This? (1917), Amiable Conversation (1917), Advertisement (1917), Antinomy (1917, rev. 1959; frequently misspelled "Antimony"), and Time Table (1917). In The Tides of Manaunaun the clusters resound majestically and then slowly subside, conveying not dissonance but transcendent mystery. As Cowell describes on the final, narrative track of the Folkways album on which his last piano recordings appear,

In Irish mythology, Manaunaun was the god of motion and of the waves of the sea. And according to the mythology, at the time when the universe was being built, Manaunaun swayed all of the materials out of which the universe was being built with fine particles which were distributed everywhere through cosmos. And he kept these moving in rhythmical tides so that they should remain fresh when the time came for their use in the building of the universe.[3] About this sound listen

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