Henry Dixon Cowell was an American composer, music theorist, pianist, teacher, publisher, . of his output—important works from this era include The Banshee ( ), requiring numerous playing methods such as pizzicato and longitudinal. Henry Cowell () was an American composer, teacher and pianist. He was a part of the avante-garde movement in music at the turn. Henry Cowell’s The Banshee an audience sits in the dark facing a grand piano on a brightly lit stage. The piano’s lid angles upward, the keyboard waits for.
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His contribution to the world of music was summed up by Virgil Thomsonwriting in the early s: Henry Cowell’s music covers a wider range in both expression and technique than that of any other living composer. His experiments begun three decades ago in rhythm, in harmony, and in instrumental sonorities were considered then by many to be wild.
Today they are the Bible of the young and still, to the coewll, “advanced. No other composer of our time has produced a body of works so radical and so normal, so penetrating and so comprehensive.
The Banshee, for piano strings, HC 405
Add to this massive production his long and influential career as a pedagogue, and Henry Cowell’s achievement becomes impressive indeed. There bannshee no other quite like it. To be both fecund and right is given to few. Born in rural Menlo Park, Californiato two bohemian writers—his father was an Irish immigrant and his mother, a former schoolteacher, had relocated from Iowa—Cowell demonstrated precocious musical talent and began playing the violin at the age of five.
After his parents’ divorce inhe was raised by his mother, Clarissa Dixonauthor of the early feminist novel Janet and Her Dear Phebe.
His father, with whom he maintained contact, introduced him to the Irish music that would be a touchstone for Cowell throughout his career. While receiving no formal musical education and little schooling of any kind beyond his mother’s home tutelagehe began to compose bwnshee his mid-teens. By the summer ofCowell was writing truly individualistic works, including the insistently repetitive Anger Dance originally Mad Dance.
It requires the performer to use both forearms to play massive secundal chords and calls for keys to be held down without sounding to extend and intensify its dissonant cluster overtones.
Cowell soon returned to California, where he had become involved with a theosophical community, Halcyonled by the Irish poet John Varianwho fueled Cowell’s interest in Irish folk culture and mythology.
InCowell wrote the music for Varian’s stage production The Building of Banba ; the prelude he composed, The Tides of Manaunaun cowfll, with its rich, evocative clusters, would become Cowell’s most famous and widely performed banshre. Beginning in the early s, Cowell toured widely in North America and Europe as a pianist, playing his own experimental works, seminal explorations of atonalitypolytonalitypolyrhythmsand non-Western modes. It was on one of these tours that inhis friend Richard Buhlig introduced Cowell to young pianist Grete Sultan in Berlin.
They worked closely together—an aspect vital to Grete Sultan’s personal and artistic development. Another novel method advanced by Cowell, in pieces such as Aeolian Harp ciwell. Cowell’s endeavors with string piano techniques were the primary inspiration for John Cage ‘s development of the prepared piano. InCowell had begun writing New Musical Resourceswhich would finally be published after extensive revision in Focusing on the variety of innovative rhythmic and harmonic concepts he used in his compositions and others that were still entirely speculative bansee, it would have a powerful cowelk on the American musical avant-garde for decades after.
Conlon Nancarrowfor instance, would refer to it years later as having “the most influence of anything I’ve ever read in music. The world’s first electronic rhythm machinewith a photoreceptor-based sound production system proposed by Cowell not a theremin -like system, as some sources incorrectly stateit could produce up to sixteen different rhythmic patterns simultaneously, complete with optional syncopation.
Cowell wrote several original compositions for the instrument, including an orchestrated concerto, and Theremin built two more models. Soon, however, the Rhythmicon would be virtually forgotten, remaining so until the s, when progressive pop music producer Joe Meek experimented with its rhythmic concept.
He built on his substantial oeuvre of chamber music, with pieces such as the Adagio for Cello and Thunder Stick that explored unusual instrumentation and others that were even more progressive: Six Casual Developmentsfor clarinet and piano, sounds like something Jimmy Giuffre would compose thirty years later.
His Ostinato Pianissimo placed him in the vanguard of those writing original scores for percussion ensemble. Cowell and his circle were sometimes referred to as “ultra-modernists,” a label whose definition is flexible and origin unclear it has also been applied to a few composers outside the immediate circle, such as George Antheiland to some of its disciples, such as Nancarrow ; Virgil Thomson styled them the “rhythmic research fellows.
In Cowell founded the periodical New Music Quarterlywhich would publish many significant new scores under his editorship, both by the ultra-modernists and many others, including Ernst Bacon, Otto LueningPaul Bowlesand Aaron Copland.
Before the publication of the first issue, he solicited contributions from a then-obscure composer who would become one of his closest friends, Charles Ives. Major scores by Ives, including the Comedy from the Fourth Symphony, Fourth of July34 Songsand 19 Songswould receive their first publication in New Music ; in turn, Ives would provide financial support to a number of Cowell’s projects including, years later, New Music itself.
Many of the scores published in Cowell’s journal were made even more widely available as performances of them were issued by the record label he established inNew Music Bansshee.
Its next concert, in Aprilfocused on the U. Growing up on the West Coast, he had been exposed to a great deal of what is now known as ” world music “; along with Irish airs and dances, he encountered music from China, Japan, and Tahiti.
These early experiences helped form his unusually eclectic musical outlook, exemplified by his famous statement “I want to live in the whole world of music. In a Guggenheim fellowship enabled Cowell to go to Bandhee to study comparative musicology the predecessor to ethnomusicology with Erich von Hornbostel. He studied Carnatic theory cwell gamelanas well, with leading instructors from South India P. In MayCowell was arrested on a “morals” charge for allegedly having oral sex with a seventeen-year-old boy.
After initially denying the allegation, under questioning he admitted not only to it but to additional sex acts with the teenager and his male friends. While jailed awaiting a court hearing, he wrote a full confession accompanied by a request for leniency on the basis that “he was not exclusively homosexual but was in fact in love with a woman he hoped to marry”. Cowell would ultimately spend four years in San Quentin State Prison.
He also continued his experiments in aleatory music: Interpreters of the piece are invited to bansshee perform two or even three versions of the same movement on multiple pianos. In the Ritournelle Larghetto and Trio for the dance piece Marriage at the Eiffel Towerperforming in Seattle, he explored what he called “elastic” form. The twenty-four measures of the Larghetto and the eight of the Trio are each ocwell though Cowell offers some suggestions, any hypothetically may be included or not and played once or repeatedly, allowing the piece to stretch or contract at the performers’ will—the practical goal being to give a choreographer freedom to adjust the length and character of a dance piece without the usual constraints imposed by a prewritten musical composition.
Cowell had contributed to the Eiffel Tower project at the behest of Cage, who was not alone in lending support to his friend and former teacher. Cowell’s cause had been taken up by composers and musicians around the country, although a few, including Ives, broke contact with him.
Cowell was eventually paroled in ; he relocated to the East Coast and the following year married Sidney Hawkins Robertson —, married name Sidney Robertson Cowella prominent folk-music scholar who had been instrumental in winning his freedom.
Cowell was granted a pardon in Despite the pardon—which allowed him to work at the Office of War Information, creating radio programs for broadcast overseas—arrest, incarceration, and attendant notoriety had a devastating effect on Cowell. Conlon Nancarrowon meeting him for the first time inreported, “The impression I got was that he was a terrified person, with a feeling that ‘they’re going to get him.
Cowell’s compositional output became strikingly more conservative soon after his release from San Quentin, with simpler rhythms and a more traditional harmonic language. Many of his later works are based on American folk musicsuch as the series of eighteen Hymn and Fuguing Tune s —64 ; folk music had certainly played a role in a number of Cowell’s prewar compositions, but the provocative transformations that had been his signature were now largely abandoned.
And, as Nancarrow observed, there were other consequences to Cowell’s imprisonment: He had been radical politically, too, before. No longer an artistic radical, Cowell nonetheless retained a progressive bent and continued to be a leader along with Harrison and McPhee in the incorporation of non-Western musical idioms, as in the Japanese-inflected OngakuSymphony No. Despite the break in his friendship with Ives, Cowell, in collaboration with his wife, wrote the first major study of Ives’s music and provided crucial support to Harrison as his former pupil championed the Ives rediscovery.
Cowell resumed teaching— Burt BacharachJ. Kwabena Nketiaand Irwin Swack  were among his postwar students—and served as a consultant to Folkways Records for over a decade beginning in the early s, writing liner notes and editing such collections as Music of the World’s Peoples —61 he also hosted a radio program of the same name  and Primitive Music of the World In he recorded searching, vivid performances of twenty of his seminal piano pieces for a Folkways album. Perhaps liberated by the passage of time and his own seniority, in his final years Cowell again produced a number of individualistic works, such as Thesis Symphony No.
Cowell was elected to the American Institute of Arts and Letters in He died in in Shady, New Yorkafter a series of illnesses. Correct dating and orthography of titles throughout is based on the standard musicography, The Music of Henry Cowell: From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.
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Piano Music issued in There the quote is datedbut no source is provided. Given that a many of the dates listed for Cowell’s piano pieces in the Folkways liner notes are incorrect see Hicks , p. Cowell biographer Michael Hicks describes the work as one of Cowell’s “most prescient” and “proto-minimalist” p. The piece does, in terms of structure, anticipate minimalist procedures, and an interpretation by Steffen Schleiermacher from is simultaneously metronomic and jazzy in a way that reveals its kinship with the work of Steve Reichin particular.
But in his own recording, Cowell expresses a torment, through jagged tempi and ambivalent dynamics all clearly purposefulthat renders Anger Dance very different in character from the work of the American minimalists.
The liner notes to the Folkways Henry Cowell: Piano Musicwritten in and revised inassert that each phrase of Anger Dance “may be repeated many times, depending on how angry the player is able to feel. He observes, however, that Cowell in his own recording of the piece reiterates certain phrases beyond the specified number.
Maverick Conductor” essay by Carol J. Oja; part of the American Composers Orchestra website. For instrumentation details, see Percussion Ensemble Music — The first entr’acte in Dmitri Shostakovich ‘s opera The Nose is scored for percussion ensemble.
Henry Cowell – The Banshee () – Music Sales Classical
Cowell as a young man. Classicalavant-gardejazzworld fusion. Musician, composer, music theoristimpresario.