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Cowell, Henry

Henry Cowell (1897-1965)

Henry Cowell was born on March 11th, 1897 in Menlo Park, California, and died on December 10th, 1965 in Shady, NY. His distinguished and extraordinarily productive musical career began with his first public appearance as a prodigy violinist at the age of six. His debut as a composer-pianist took place on March 12th, 1912 in San Francisco, when his advanced compositions - with their newly-invented "tone clusters" - created a minor scandal. In the 1920s, Cowell made five tours of Europe (in addition to his many domestic tours) and struck up friendships with such colleagues as Bartók and Berg. In 1927 he founded New Music Edition and published major works of Ives, Ruggles, and Varèse, as well as many other American and Latin American composers, plus a small number of works by european masters; e.g., Schönberg.

He lectured at universities throughout the world, taught at the New School for Social Research, and, from 1951-65, was on faculty of Columbia University. In 1941 Cowell married Sidney Robertson, distinguished writer and folksong collector, with whom he later collaborated on the book Charles Ives and His Music.

Cowell's active role in musical organizations and his efforts on behalf of his colleagues' new and difficult music are legendary. All the while he continued to compose exceptionally original, diverse, and fascinating music. The range of his musical inspiration, as clearly evidenced in his compositions, is nothing less than phenomenal, yet throughout his work one clearly senses a unifying spirit. Cowell once stated that what concerned him was to write "as beautifully, as warmly, and as interestingly as I can." The large measure of his success is now part of our rich musical heritage.

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