Free, like dandelion seeds

Writing a series of 24 short keyboard pieces in all the major and minor keys of a 12-note scale (whether equally-tempered or otherwise) is, of course, an idea that goes back to Bach, but it has since captured the imagination of composers as unrelated as Chopin and Shostakovich. It’s an idea that continues to resonate among contemporary American composers, too, ranging from Easley Blackwood, who created a cycle in all equal temperaments between 13 and 24, and Sebastian Chang, who created an atonal cycle based on each trichord, to Henry Martin whose jazzy preludes and fugues were a CD highlight last year.

Ken Benshoof’s set, composed in 2003, is probably closest in spirit to Henry Martin’s in terms of his reconciliation of common practice period pianism with American vernacularisms. Where it stands alone among all the other cycles I’ve heard, however, is in its brevity. The longest one clocks in at under three minutes while the shortest, offered here, is a mere three measures. But undoubtedly next year someone will attempt to surpass this with a whole cycle that’s just 24 notes!