IV (1935)

Johanna Beyer

9 percussionists

2 minutes

IV is written for nine percussion instruments, which are left unspecified and open to the tastes of the performers—a purely modernist gesture that was to re-appear only in the 1950s New York School (John Cage, Morton Feldman, et al). A gradually accelerating and decelerating shuffling rhythm alternately energizes and puts the brakes on non-periodic and short, single percussive stabs and rolls. At the end of this brief composition, the runner has reached the goal line and grabs a few deep breaths as the beat stops in its final emphatic beats. This is music for (or of ) an unknown culture, completely unique but at the same time appealing to a fundamental feeling.

—”Blue” Gene Tyranny


Born in Leipzig, Johanna Beyer came to New York City in 1924. A mysterious “enigma” who led a solitary life with few friends, she nonetheless left over 50 compositions—pieces that anticipated techniques and sounds half a century before their re-discovery by other composers—many of which are still unperformed. She was also very active within the new music community and studied composition with such notable moderns as Dane Rudhyar, Ruth Crawford, Charles Seeger and Henry Cowell. Her death in 1944 of ALS (“Lou Gehrig’s Disease”) makes it likely that her reputation as an alcoholic resulted from the unfair assumptions of casual observers who mistook her symptoms for drunkeness.

—”Blue” Gene Tyranny


annotated by Tyler Flynt