Date of Award


Document Type




First Reader

Dr. George Keck

Second Reader

Dr. James Caudle

Third Reader

Professor Blane Baker


Since the eighteenth century, the piano has been one of the dominant instruments for musical expression. In numerical terms, only the symphony orchestra can boast a larger repertoire than the piano. Most of that vast amount of literature was composed during the nineteenth century. At the beginning of that century, technological advances allowed piano makers to add more notes to the instrument's range and more strings to existing notes to strengthen the sound and timbre they produced. In its basic design, that of small hammers striking three strings each, the piano is a percussive instrument. The advances of the nineteenth century only reinforced that nature. But almost since its inception, musicians steadily ignored the piano's percussive design and instead regarded the piano as an instrument that primarily produced beautiful melodies.


Many composers attempted varying experiments with the piano, but four stood out as primary innovators. Though the sum of their ideas has been the principle means through which a change in piano literature has taken place, these four Americans used differing techniques both on and with the piano. Henry Cowell experimented with tone clusters; John Cage utilized a prepared piano; George Crumb used the performer's own physical resources and manipulated the strings directly; Mario Davidovsky combined the piano with electronically-produced sounds.



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