Henry Cowell

简介:by Blair Johnston Of all the early-20th-century American musical revolutionaries, it is composer Henry Cowell whose influence was most vivid and far-reaching. Born in 1897, Cowell studied the violin briefly at age five, and began to write his own music by his eleventh birthday. Until he began musical studies with Charles Seeger at the University of California at Berkeley in 1914 Cowell remained a basically self-taught musician (as well as a young man who had never spent so much as a day in school during his life). Free of the often confining attitudes which govern formal musical education, Cowell had come to view any sound as musical substance with which he could work, and his early music owes more to the influence of birdsong, machine noises and folk music than it does to any knowledge of earlier masterworks. However, Seeger felt that without structure and guidelines Cowell would remain an unskilled, if impressively inventive, musician, and he encouraged the young composer to make a rigorous study of traditional harmony and counterpoint. Concert appearances throughout North America and Europe during the 1920s earned Cowell countless friends and enemies throughout the musical establishment. Although he had earned the respect of such luminaries as Bartok and Schoenberg, his concerts frequently caused audience riots and invoked the wrath of critics who wondered if Cowell's headstrong independence disguised a lack of true musical craftsmanship. Later music, such as the "Amerind Suite for piano" (1939) and the "26 Simultaneous Mosaics" (1964) incorporate generous helpings of indeterminacy, though from the 1930s on Cowell's compositional language grew increasingly tonal and rhythmically simple. He died in 1965 after several years of serious illness.