Cowell, Henry Dixon

Cowell, Henry Dixon

(kou`əl), 1897–1965, American composer and pianist, b. Menlo Park, Calif., largely self-educated, studied musicology in Berlin (1931–32). Cowell experimented with new musical resources; in his piano compositions he introduced the tone cluster, played with the arm or the fist, and wrote compositions, e.g., The Banshee from the mid-1920s, played directly on the strings of the piano. He founded (1927) New Music Edition, a quarterly publishing music by contemporary American and European composers. In 1931, with the help of Leon ThereminTheremin, Leon
, 1896–1993, Russian engineer and inventor, b. St. Petersburg as Lev Sergeyevich Termen. He studied and worked in his native city, attending its university and conservatory and directing a lab at one of its technical institutes, where he invented the
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, he invented the rhythmicon, a device that produces various rhythms and cross-rhythms mechanically, for which he wrote a concerto (1932). An interest in counterpoint produced the five Hymns and Fuguing Tunes (1941–45). Extremely prolific, Cowell wrote 20 symphonies as well as piano pieces, band music, and vocal and chamber music, and edited American Composers on American Music (1933). He also wrote on numerous musical subjects and was an influential teacher whose many students included John CageCage, John,
1912–92, American composer, b. Los Angeles. A leading figure in the musical avant-garde from the late 1930s, he attended Pomona College and later studied with Arnold Schoenberg, Adolph Weiss, and Henry Cowell.
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, George GershwinGershwin, George
, 1898–1937, American composer, b. Brooklyn, N.Y., as Jacob Gershwin. Gershwin wrote some of the most original and popular musical works produced in the United States.
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, and Alan HovhanessHovhaness, Alan
, 1911–2000, American composer, b. Somerville, Mass., as Alan Vaness Chakmakjian. Hovhaness was of Armenian and Scottish descent, and many of his works are based on Armenian culture or show influences from Middle Eastern, Asian, or early European music.
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. In the late 1950s he and his ethnomusicologist wife traveled throughout the Middle East, India, and Japan collecting musical materials, which he later incorporated into compositions.

Bibliography

See his New Musical Resources (1930, repr. 1969) and D. Higgins, ed., Essential Cowell: Selected Writings on Music (2002); biography by J. Sachs (2000, repr. 2012).

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