When vox fabulae composer Elia Navarro writes for piano the resulting sounds don’t always sound like, well, a piano. Pianist Rebekkah Laeuchli’s concert equipment includes chopsticks, sticky tack, post-its, and a right angle screwdriver. Naturally you will hear the classic sounds of hammers hitting piano strings at a vf concert, but not a lot. You’ll also hear wood clacking, percussive beats, and clanging wire.

That’s extended piano for you.

Ever since the twentieth-century composers have been experimenting with non-traditional sounds and opened up new possibilities for every instrument. This technique is what’s known as “extended” flute, piano, violin, etc. The father of extended piano was Henry Cowell (1897-1965), an American composer who is now largely forgotten but who came up with many of the piano techniques contemporary composers use today.

Cowell influenced many American musicians including John Cage, whose Sonatas and Interludes call for inserting all kinds of material onto and between the strings of the piano. The resulting sounds can be heard in this YouTube recording: John Cage: Sonata II for piano, performed by Boris Berman:

 

 

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