Henry Cowell (1897-1965)

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01A World Of Music20151019

Donald Macleod looks at Henry Cowell's unorthodox childhood.

American composer Henry Cowell, one of the twentieth century's innovators, whose life is as extraordinary as his music.

Cowell's influence on American music has been immense, spread not only through more than 900 compositions of infinite variety, but through his many lectures, articles and recordings. One of the first advocates for World Music, his breadth of musical and cultural appreciation inspired pupils including John Cage and Lou Harrison. Cowell was tireless in his support of other contemporary composers, notably including Charles Ives and Ruth Crawford Seeger. He founded the New Music Society of California and ran the Pan American Association of Composers for much of their existence as well as founding the quarterly publication New Music.

Cowell's life is as unique as his music. Born in 1897 in Menlo Park, California his childhood was punctuated by periods of extreme poverty, which he alleviated by finding various means to earn money, including working as a cowherd and as a wildflower collector. Largely home schooled, his education was derived from his own natural curiosity. As a consequence Cowell acquired an encyclopaedic knowledge in diverse fields, yet he was unable to spell or do arithmetic with any degree of proficiency. A chance encounter with Stanford University psychologist Lewis Terman led to the recognition of his exceptional mind, and to some funding for a more formalised education, including studying with Charles Seeger at Stanford. Cowell carved out a career as an international concert pianist, presenting his own avant-garde pieces, despite the occasional riot and character-assassinating reviews. Cowell's musical activities were interrupted in 1936. Then in his late thirties, Cowell pleaded guilty to a morals charge and spent four years in San Quentin prison. It was due to the efforts of his stepmother Olive and the folk-music scholar Sidney Hawkins Robertson, who later became his wife, that he was released on parole in 1940. Two years later he received a pardon from the California governor, which allowed him to take up a position within the US Office of War Information and later on for Cowell to receive several awards and accolades in respect of his outstanding contribution to music.

Across the week Donald Macleod is joined by Joel Sachs, conductor, pianist, professor at Juilliard School and author of a comprehensive biography of Henry Cowell. They begin by looking at Cowell's formative years. His unorthodox childhood fostered an independence of mind which fed into the musical ideas he developed later in pieces such as Fabric and The Harp of Life, the latter recorded by Joel Sachs specially for Composer of the Week. "Old American Country Set" is Cowell's homage to the mid-West, where he and his mother lived temporarily with his aunt and there's a round-up of Cowell's musical preoccupations in the twenties to be experienced in his joyously brilliant Piano Concerto of 1928.

Fabric

Henry Cowell, piano

Return

William Trigg, percussion

Kory Grossman, percussion

Rex Benincasa, percussion

The Harp of Life

Joel Sachs, piano

Old American Country Set

Manhatten Chamber Orchestra

Richard Auldon Clark, conductor

Four Combinations for Three Instruments

Picasso Ensemble

Susan Brown, violin,

Karen Andrie, cello,

Josephine Gandolfi, piano

Piano Concerto

San Francisco Symphony Orchestra

Jeremy Denk, piano

Michael Tilson Thomas, conductor.

02Musical Pioneer20151020

Donald Macleod details Cowell's concert appearances, which were not without controversy.

During the 1920s Henry Cowell becomes an international concert pianist yet his music continues to divide opinion.

Cowell's influence on American music has been immense, spread not only through more than 900 compositions of infinite variety, but through his many lectures, articles and recordings. One of the first advocates for World Music, his breadth of musical and cultural appreciation inspired pupils including John Cage and Lou Harrison. Cowell was tireless in his support of other contemporary composers, notably including Charles Ives and Ruth Crawford Seeger. He founded the New Music Society of California and ran the Pan American Association of Composers for much of their existence as well as founding the quarterly publication New Music.

Cowell's life is as unique as his music. Born in 1897 in Menlo Park, California his childhood was punctuated by periods of extreme poverty, which he alleviated by finding various means to earn money, including working as a cowherd and as a wildflower collector. Largely home schooled, his education was derived from his own natural curiosity. As a consequence Cowell acquired an encyclopaedic knowledge in diverse fields, yet he was unable to spell or do arithmetic with any degree of proficiency. A chance encounter with Stanford University psychologist Lewis Terman led to the recognition of his exceptional mind, and to some funding for a more formalised education, including studying with Charles Seeger at Stanford. Cowell carved out a career as an international concert pianist, presenting his own avant-garde pieces, despite the occasional riot and character assassinating reviews. Cowell's musical activities were interrupted in 1936. Then in his late thirties, Cowell pleaded guilty to a morals charge and spent four years in San Quentin prison. It was due to the efforts of his step-mother Olive and the folk-music scholar Sidney Hawkins Robertson, who later became his wife, that he was released on parole in 1940. Two years later he received a pardon from the California governor, which allowed him to take up a position within the US Office of War Information and later on for Cowell to receive several awards and accolades in respect of his outstanding contribution to music.

Cowell's concert appearances were not without controversy. European modernists like Schoenberg and Bartok took him seriously, but his use of tone clusters and direct manipulation of the piano's strings scandalized audiences and critics alike, a situation that made him both a figure of some notoriety and highly in demand. Donald Macleod is again joined by Joel Sachs, conductor, pianist, professor at Juilliard School and author of a comprehensive biography of Henry Cowell.

Polyphonica

Continuum

Joel Sachs, conductor

The Sleep Music of the Dagna

Joel Sachs, piano

Tiger

Irish Suite for String Piano and Small Orchestra

Cheryl Seltzer, piano

Quartet Euphometric

Colorado Quartet

Julie Rosenfeld, violin

Deborah Redding, violin

Francesca Martin Silos, viola

Diane Chaplin, cello

Synchrony

San Francisco Symphony

Michael Tilson Thomas, conductor.

03A Life Interrupted20151021

Donald Macleod discusses Cowell's incarceration in San Quentin prison on a morals charge.

Henry Cowell's music-making is curtailed after he pleads guilty to a morals charge and is sent to San Quentin prison.

Cowell's influence on American music has been immense, spread not only through more than 900 compositions of infinite variety, but through his many lectures, articles and recordings. One of the first advocates for World Music, his breadth of musical and cultural appreciation inspired pupils including John Cage and Lou Harrison. Cowell was tireless in his support of other contemporary composers, notably including Charles Ives and Ruth Crawford Seeger. He founded the New Music Society of California and ran the Pan American Association of Composers for much of their existence as well as founding the quarterly publication New Music.

Cowell's life is as unique as his music. Born in 1897 in Menlo Park, California his childhood was punctuated by periods of extreme poverty, which he alleviated by finding various means to earn money, including working as a cowherd and as a wildflower collector. Largely home schooled, his education was derived from his own natural curiosity. As a consequence Cowell acquired an encyclopaedic knowledge in diverse fields, yet he was unable to spell or do arithmetic with any degree of proficiency. A chance encounter with Stanford University psychologist Lewis Terman led to the recognition of his exceptional mind, and to some funding for a more formalised education, including studying with Charles Seeger at Stanford. Cowell carved out a career as an international concert pianist, presenting his own brand of modernist pieces, despite the occasional riot and character assassinating reviews. Cowell's musical activities were interrupted in 1936, when in his late thirties, Cowell pleaded guilty to a morals charge and spent four years in San Quentin prison. It was due to the efforts of his step-mother Olive and the folk-music scholar Sidney Hawkins Robertson, who later became his wife, that he was released on parole in 1940. Two years later he received a pardon from the California governor, which allowed him to take up a position within the US Office of War Information and later on for Cowell to receive several awards and accolades in respect of his outstanding contribution to music.

In the third part of this week's series, Donald Macleod discusses the reasons behind Henry Cowell's incarceration in San Quentin with Joel Sachs, author of a comprehensive biography of the composer. Sachs, who knew Cowell's widow and had full access to Cowell's private papers, has done extensive research into the circumstances surrounding this extraordinary case, which even the prosecutor described as trivial.

Dance of Sport "Competitive Sport"

California Parallele Ensemble

Nicole Paiement, director

The Universal Flute

Ralph Samuelson, shakuhachi

Sound form No.1

Leta Miller, flute

Mark Brandenburg, clarinet

Jane Orzel, bassoon

Russell Greenberg, percussion

Michael Strunk, percussion

Where she lies

Mary Ann Hart, mezzo soprano

Jeanne Golan, piano

Deep Color

Joel Sachs, piano

Symphony No. 11

The Louisville Orchestra

Robert S. Whitney, conductor.

04Starting Over20151022

Donald Macleod explores Cowell's 1940s compositions, largely written to commission.

Released from prison on parole, Henry Cowell moves to New York to begin the difficult task of rebuilding his musical career.

Cowell's influence on American music has been immense, spread not only through more than 900 compositions of infinite variety, but through his many lectures, articles and recordings. One of the first advocates for World Music, his breadth of musical and cultural appreciation inspired pupils including John Cage and Lou Harrison. Cowell was tireless in his support of other contemporary composers, notably including Charles Ives and Ruth Crawford Seeger. He founded the New Music Society of California and ran the Pan American Association of Composers for much of their existence as well as founding the quarterly publication New Music.

Cowell's life is as unique as his music. Born in 1897 in Menlo Park, California his childhood was punctuated by periods of extreme poverty, which he alleviated by finding various means to earn money, including working as a cowherd and as a wildflower collector. Largely home schooled, his education was derived from his own natural curiosity. As a consequence Cowell acquired an encyclopaedic knowledge in diverse fields, yet he was unable to spell or do arithmetic with any degree of proficiency. A chance encounter with Stanford University psychologist Lewis Terman led to the recognition of his exceptional mind, and to some funding for a more formalised education, including studying with Charles Seeger at Stanford. Cowell carved out a career as an international concert pianist, presenting his own avant-garde pieces, despite the occasional riot and character assassinating reviews. Cowell's musical activities were interrupted in 1936. Then in his late thirties, Cowell pleaded guilty to a morals charge and spent four years in San Quentin prison. It was due to the efforts of his step-mother Olive and the folk-music scholar Sidney Hawkins Robertson, who later became his wife, that he was released on parole in 1940. Two years later he received a pardon from the California governor, which allowed him to take up a position within the US Office of War Information and later on for Cowell to receive several awards and accolades in respect of his outstanding contribution to music.

The terms of parole required Cowell to have a sponsor. The composer Percy Grainger offered both a roof over his head and a small salary for work as his assistant. Working largely to commission, Cowell's compositions from the 1940s reflect his interest in writing for unusual combinations of instruments and an integration of modernist principles into larger form works, heard here in the Quartet and his Variations for Orchestra. Cowell expert, conductor and pianist Joel Sachs has recorded Hymn and Fuguing Tune No. 6, a piece that's yet to be made available in published form, specially for Composer of the Week, and he joins Donald Macleod once again in discussion.

Rhumba from American Melting Pot,

Manhattan Chamber Orchestra

Richard Auldon Clark, conductor

Two Woofs

Joel Sachs, piano

Hymn and Fuguing Tune No. 6

Pulse

The New Music Consort

Quartet for flute, oboe, cello and harpsichord, 1st movement

Jayn Rosenfeld, flute

Marsha Heller, oboe

Maria Kitsopoulos, cello

Cheryl Seltzer, harpsichord

Variations for Orchestra

Polish National Radio Orchestra

William Strickland, conductor.

05The Extraordinary Entrepreneur20151023
05The Extraordinary Entrepreneur20151023
05The Extraordinary Entrepreneur20151023

Donald Macleod explores Cowell's later projects.

05The Extraordinary Entrepreneur20151023

05The Extraordinary Entrepreneur20151023
05The Extraordinary Entrepreneur20151023

Henry Cowell embarks on an ambitious, year-long world tour and experiences the music of other cultures first-hand.

Cowell's influence on American music has been immense, spread not only through more than 900 compositions of infinite variety, but through his many lectures, articles and recordings. One of the first advocates for World Music, his breadth of musical and cultural appreciation inspired pupils including John Cage and Lou Harrison. Cowell was tireless in his support of other contemporary composers, notably including Charles Ives and Ruth Crawford Seeger. He founded the New Music Society of California and ran the Pan American Association of Composers for much of their existence as well as founding the quarterly publication New Music.

Cowell's life is as unique as his music. Born in 1897 in Menlo Park, California his childhood was punctuated by periods of extreme poverty, which he alleviated by finding various means to earn money, including working as a cowherd and as a wildflower collector. Largely home schooled, his education was derived from his own natural curiosity. As a consequence Cowell acquired an encyclopaedic knowledge in diverse fields, yet he was unable to spell or do arithmetic with any degree of proficiency. A chance encounter with Stanford University psychologist Lewis Terman led to the recognition of his exceptional mind, and to some funding for a more formalised education, including studying with Charles Seeger at Stanford. Cowell carved out a career as an international concert pianist, presenting his own avant-garde pieces, despite the occasional riot and character assassinating reviews. Cowell's musical activities were interrupted in 1936. Then in his late thirties, Cowell pleaded guilty to a morals charge and spent four years in San Quentin prison. It was due to the efforts of his step-mother Olive and the folk-music scholar Sidney Hawkins Robertson, who later became his wife, that he was released on parole in 1940. Two years later he received a pardon from the California governor, which allowed him to take up a position within the US Office of War Information and later on for Cowell to receive several awards and accolades in respect of his outstanding contribution to music.

For the last time Donald Macleod is joined by Joel Sachs, conductor, pianist, professor at Juilliard School and author of a comprehensive biography of Henry Cowell. Today they discuss Cowell's later projects, his life-long fascination with world music and his absorption of the rhythms and sounds he heard while undertaking a world tour with his wife, the folk-music scholar Sidney Hawkins. There's a rare opportunity to hear Cowell's "Madras" Symphony, in a recording made by Joel Sachs with the New Juilliard Ensemble.

Firelight and Lamp

Robert Osborne, bass-baritone

Jeanne Golan, piano

Dynamic Motion

Henry Cowell, piano

Set of Five, Finale

Marily Dubow, violin

Gordon Gottlieb, percussion

Joel Sachs, piano

Persian Set, 1st movement

Manhattan Chamber Orchestra

Richard Auldon-Clark, conductor

Symphony No.13 (Madras)

New Juilliard Ensemble

Joel Sachs, conductor

26 Simultaneous Mosaics

Jo-Ann Sternberg, clarinet

Deborah Redding, violin

Dorothy Lawson, cello

William Trigg, percussion

Amy Rubin, piano.