He acquired a piano at age 14, and the following year he gave a concert of his experimental piano compositions. At 17 he studied at the University of California with the influential musicologist Charles Seeger, who persuaded him to undertake the systematic study of traditional European musical techniques. He also urged Cowell to formulate a theoretical framework for his innovations , which he did in his book New Musical Resources ; published , an influential technical study of music. While studying comparative musicology in Berlin with Erich von Hornbostel , Cowell became interested in the music of other cultures; he later studied Asian and Middle Eastern music , elements of which he absorbed into many of his own compositions. In —33 Cowell undertook a series of tours of Europe as composer and pianist.
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Early life[ edit ] Born in rural Menlo Park, California , to 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. His father, with whom he maintained contact, introduced him to the Irish music that would be a touchstone for Cowell throughout his career. By the summer of , Cowell 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. It was on one of these tours that in , his friend Richard Buhlig introduced Cowell to young pianist Grete Sultan in Berlin.
Another novel method advanced by Cowell, in pieces such as Aeolian Harp ca. Focusing on the variety of innovative rhythmic and harmonic concepts he used in his compositions and others that were still entirely speculative , it would have a powerful effect on the American musical avant-garde for decades after.
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 Developments , for 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 Antheil , and to some of its disciples, such as Nancarrow ; Virgil Thomson styled them the "rhythmic research fellows. In Cowell founded the periodical New Music Quarterly, which would publish many significant new scores under his editorship, both by the ultra-modernists and many others, including Ernst Bacon, Otto Luening , Paul Bowles , and 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. Its next concert, in April , focused 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 Berlin to study comparative musicology the predecessor to ethnomusicology with Erich von Hornbostel. He studied Carnatic theory and gamelan , as well, with leading instructors from South India P.
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".
He also continued his experiments in aleatory music: for all three movements of the Amerind Suite , he wrote five versions, each more difficult than the last. Interpreters of the piece are invited to simultaneously 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 Tower, performing in Seattle, he explored what he called "elastic" form. Cowell was eventually paroled in ; he relocated to the East Coast and the following year married Sidney Hawkins Robertson —, married name Sidney Robertson Cowell , a prominent folk-music scholar who had been instrumental in winning his freedom. Cowell was granted a pardon in Late career[ edit ] 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.
He had been radical politically, too, before. Cowell resumed teaching— Burt Bacharach , J. 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.
The Banshee (composition)
The Banshee, HC 405 (Cowell, Henry)