Sources for more information on Henry Cowell:
Open to the public since 2000, the New York Public Library (NYPL) houses a prodigious collection from Cowell’s estate within the Music Division of the Performing Arts Library. Included in the 203 boxes of materials are manuscripts, recordings, correspondence, writings by and about Cowell, photographs, teaching materials, and financial and business records. Visit the Music Division’s website at http://www.nypl.org/research/mus/mus.html for more information or see George Boziwick’s article, “Henry Cowell at the New York Public Library,” published in 2000.
A “Related Materials Note” listed within the NYPL Henry Cowell papers states that, “The Music Division holds other collections with notable Henry Cowell content, including the John J. Becker Papers (JPB 04-27), the Frank Wigglesworth Papers (JPB 97-44), the Wallingford Riegger Papers (JPB 91-18) and the Hugo Weisgall Papers (JPB 00-43). The Rodgers and Hammerstein Recorded Sound Division holds the Henry Cowell Collection of Non-Commercial Recordings (*L(Special) 88-33).”
The University of South Carolina houses a Henry Cowell collection that includes manuscripts, autographed scores and correspondence: http://www.sc.edu/library/music/hc_cl.html.
Stanford University also has a Henry Cowell collection that includes various recordings and print materials donated by Sidney Robertson Cowell (Cowell’s wife from 1941 to his death): http://wwwsul.stanford.edu/depts/music/collections/Cowell.html.
Although not open to the general public, the Library of Congress owns copies of Cowell’s scores and some of his writings.
One of the most complete single resources for information on the life of Henry Cowell is Michael Hicks’ biography, Henry Cowell: Bohemian, published in 2002. Hicks explores Cowell’s life from the context of his bohemian upbringing in San Francisco suggesting that Cowell’s innovations were inspired by a variety of early influences.
Joscelyn Godwin wrote the first dissertation about Henry Cowell in 1969. Although Sidney Robertson Cowell initially endorsed Godwin’s research, making a fair amount of information from the Cowell estate available to him, she later restricted others from obtaining access to his research saying that Godwin was not enough of an authority on the music of Cowell’s era to write a biography. The dissertation provides a detailed account of Cowell’s life, particularly his childhood and early adulthood, and is now available through UMI microfilm.
George Boziwick wrote a concise but thorough biography as an introduction to his article, “Henry Cowell at the New York Public Library.” As with Godwin’s research and in an effort to protect Cowell’s legacy, Sidney Cowell restricted access to much of the Cowell collection at the NYPL except for those whom she deemed worthy. Boziwick writes, “No one was permitted to see [the Cowell] materials except for those whose work was sanctioned by Mrs. Cowell. Through the years, though she handpicked several individuals to write the definitive biography of her husband, no such work appeared. The most recent of the chosen biographers is Joel Sachs, who took on the task in the late 1980s, and his biography of Cowell (to be published by Oxford University Press) is well underway.” The current Amazon.com entry for Joel Sachs’ book (as of October 2008) states it will be released by Oxford University Press in April 2009.
Although not a biography, William Lichtenwanger’s, The Music of Henry Cowell: A Descriptive Catalog, published by the Institute for American Studies in 1986, is the compendium for Cowell’s almost one thousand compositions. Lichtenwanger provides detailed information on each work including historical background, publication and discography, and often includes biographical information on Cowell.
Rita Mead’s book, Henry Cowell’s New Music 1925-1936, published in 1981, provides excellent biographical detail on Cowell’s life, although it is primarily an account of Cowell’s New Music organization, including the concert series, publications and recordings.
Steven Johnson’s article, “Henry Cowell, John Varian and Halcyon,” is a well-researched and detailed account of Cowell’s interaction with John Varian and the theosophists from 1913 to the mid-30s. Johnson also discusses compositions Cowell wrote for members of Halcyon, Cowell’s article “Tonal Therapy,” that discusses the medical benefits of colored light and music, and his discussions with Varian’s son, Russell, about a new rhythm machine, similar to Cowell’s later invention, the Rhythmicon.
David Nicholls, a scholar of Cowell, Ives, Cage and others, authored a concise and favorable entry for Cowell in the Grove online dictionary.
Michael Hicks was the first scholar to publish detailed information on Cowell’s prison years. His article, “The Imprisonment of Henry Cowell,” from the Fall 1993 issue of Musical Quarterly, gives the details of Cowell’s arrest and his activities at San Quentin. This well-researched article provides court documents, articles, correspondence of Cowell, and the correspondence of many others concerning Cowell’s case. Hicks’ book, Henry Cowell: Bohemian also discusses his incarceration, drawing links between Cowell’s criminal actions and events in his childhood and early adulthood.
“The Cowell-Ives Relationship: A New Look at the Prison’s Years,” gives us a detailed account of this problematic relationship. Written in 2005 by Leta E. Miller and Rob Collins, the authors explore correspondence between Cowell, Ives, Ives’ wife Harmony, Cowell’s stepmother Olive and others, during Cowell’s prison years.
In his 2002 autobiography, Perfect Pitch, Nicolas Slonimsky includes a chapter on Cowell’s prison years. Titled “A Jailed Friend,” Slonimsky discusses Cowell’s incarceration from the standpoint of a supportive friend and empathetic artist in a conservative era.
Rita Mead’s book, Henry Cowell’s New Music, includes the details of what happened to New Music after Cowell’s arrest.
As with any period of Cowell’s compositional life, the Lichtenwanger is an excellent source for this period, giving detailed historical information on Cowell’s compositional activities while in prison.
Words by and about Cowell
Anyone interested in the classical music of the twentieth century should read Cowell’s book, New Musical Resources, first written in 1919 and revised and published in 1930. Many ideas explored by twentieth century composers can be found in New Musical Resources and composers such as John Cage, Lou Harrison and Conlon Nancarrow all reported to be directly influenced by it. The 1996 edition includes notes and an essay by David Nicholls.
Many of Cowell’s best articles can be found in the collection Essential Cowell: Selected Writings on Music by Henry Cowell compiled and edited by Dick Higgins and published in 2000. It includes Cowell’s entertaining account of his 1929 trip to Russia, individual articles about many colleagues and friends, thoughts on musics from all over the world and his time abroad with the Office of War Information during World War II.
Also worth reading is Cowell’s collection from 1933, American Composers on American Music. Cowell sought out colleagues to write articles for the book, many of which are reviews of other composers. Cowell penned nine of the thirty-one articles, but we also find “Ruth Crawford” by Charles Seeger, “Roger Sessions” by Nicolas Slonimsky, “An Afro-American Composer’s Point of View” by William Grant Still and “The Relation of Jazz to American Music” by George Gershwin.
In the book, The Whole World of Music: A Henry Cowell Symposium, published in conjunction with Cowell’s centennial celebration in 1997 and edited by David Nicholls, Kyle Gann provides in-depth analysis on many of Cowell’s written works including New Musical Resources, American Composers of American Music, Cowell’s unpublished manuscript “The Nature of Melody” written while in prison, and other various articles.
Martha Manion’s book, Writings about Henry Cowell, published in 1982, is an excellent source of all things Cowell during his career. This annotated bibliography includes 1,359 entries detailing articles, reviews, lectures and images.
Bruce Saylor’s book, The Writings of Henry Cowell: A Descriptive Bibliography, published in 1977, is an annotated source to the writings of Cowell. It includes 237 entries in three sections: “Books,” “Articles,” and “Prefaces to Scores and Notes to Recordings of Music by Cowell.”
The books by Manion, Saylor and Lichtenwanger are all available through the Institute for Studies in American Music at: http://depthome.brooklyn.cuny.edu/isam/.
The NYPL collection has twenty boxes of manuscripts and published works as well as numerous folders and boxes with notes, publication information and other material related to Cowell’s compositions.
The Library of Congress holds holograph copies of Cowell’s manuscripts, although they are not accessible to the general public without the written consent of Richard Teitelbaum, the current executor of the Cowell estate.
As mentioned above, the catalog compiled by William Lichtenwanger is an amazing resource, featuring information about Cowell’s almost one thousand compositions. Lichtenwanger also lists publishers of Cowell’s music, up-to-date as of 1981.
Many of the published piano works of Henry Cowell, including some of the compositions discussed on this website, are currently available from G. Schirmer Inc./Associated Music Publishers Inc., the Theodore Presser Company and Masters Music Publications, Inc.:
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