Cowell, Henry

Cowell, Henry (Dixon)

(1897–1965) composer; born in Menlo Park, Calif. Largely self-taught as pianist and composer, in his teens he gravitated to radical musical experiments including his trademark use of tone-cluster harmony. From the 1920s he pursued an international career as composer, concert promoter, and pianist, specializing in his own and others' "ultra-modern" music; he also taught and wrote books including the 1919 New Musical Resources, and in 1927 founded the historic New Music Quarterly. In his own music, progressive ideas appear alongside traditional material; his works include 20 symphonies.
The Cambridge Dictionary of American Biography, by John S. Bowman. Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1995. Reproduced with permission.
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The achievements of many American-born musicians active in Southern California before World War II--among them Charles Wakefield Cadman, Aaron Copland, Henry Cowell, Henry Eichheim, George Gershwin, Mary Carr Moore, William Grant Still, and representatives of progressive jazz--have been commonly overshadowed by the presence and views of certain musical emigres, although the Americans should also deserve some credit for their contributions to the postwar "musical mecca" in Southern California, if such a thing has indeed ever existed.
Michael Hicks nevertheless managed to publish an unauthorized, but excellent, biography of Henry Cowell, Henry Cowell: Bohemian (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2002).
The collection contains statements and narratives written by Clarissa Dixon Cowell, Henry Cowell, Olive Thompson Cowell, and Sidney Robertson Cowell.