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Keyboard instruments are particularly suited to the performance of tone clusters because it is relatively easy to play multiple notes in unison on them.
The modern keyboard is designed for playing a diatonic scale on the white keys and a pentatonic scale on the black keys. Three immediately adjacent keys produce a basic chromatic tone cluster.
In the 1910s, two classical avant-gardists, composer-pianists Leo Ornstein and Henry Cowell, were recognized as making the first extensive explorations of the tone cluster.
During the same period, Charles Ives employed them in several compositions that were not publicly performed until the late 1920s or 1930s.
Composers such as Béla Bartók and, later, Lou Harrison and Karlheinz Stockhausen became proponents of the tone cluster, which feature in the work of many 20th- and 21st-century classical composers.