Piano Study in Mixed Accents

Ruth Crawford Seeger

Piano Study in Mixed Accents

About this work

Ruth Crawford Seeger's tiny piano piece Piano Study in Mixed Accents occupies three pages of printed music as published in October 1932, as part of volume six in Henry Cowell's New Music Quarterly. Although Crawford Seeger's pre-compositional strategy for the piece was laid out in 1929, the work was written between November and December 1930. Its earliest known public performance was over the Yiddish-language radio station WEVD in New York, in January 1933, as played by Crawford Seeger's protégé, composer Vivian Fine.

Crawford Seeger's biographer, Judith Tick, has described Piano Study in Mixed Accents as a "modernistic Minute Waltz." A single line of music is played in both hands, consisting of rapidly played 16th notes accented in a rugged, uneven fashion. Piano Study in Mixed Accents is conceived and executed in a tightly rigorous experimental milieu, and is barely a minute and a half in length. It is so short that it might take even an attentive listener a couple of tries to get it. However, the piece has an urgency and rhythmic drive that immediately perks up one's attention. While Piano Study in Mixed Accents is not famous, it has long been a favorite of pianists who specialize in twentieth century American literature. It is an appealing, accessible virtuoso concert encore, despite its origins in the avant-garde.

Although Crawford Seeger never adopted Schoenberg's serial methods, this piece -- a double palindrome, constructed of a single, highly chromatic line -- shows how close she came at times to embracing the older composer's idiom. The texture of the piece is monophonic (one voice only), with the two hands doubling each other at the octave. It is a toccata built of very short staccato notes. The palindromic aspects of the work exist in both the rhythm and in the melodic line: either is the same when read forward or backward, yet the two have different center points (if the melodic line is considered without note values).