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Classiscsonline Home » Composers » C » Cowell, Henry



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Henry Cowell (3/11/1897 - 12/10/1965)

American composer Henry Cowell’s life was action-packed. Born in 1897 to  “philosophical anarchists” who settled in California, after his parents’ divorce he grew up largely in Menlo Park and San Francisco and also spent some of his youth in the mid-west and New York  with his mother who home-schooled him. As a teenager struggling in menial jobs to while she was dying of cancer, he was discovered by a Stanford professor stunned by his enormous vocabulary and large portfolio of short piano pieces and lack of formal education. Ultimately his Stanford supporters arranged for him to study music with Charles Seeger and others in the San Francisco area.

Following military service during World War I, he became an international touring pianist and within a few years gained international notoriety by using hands, fists, and forearms to play his “tone clusters” or strumming and plucking directly upon the piano strings. He also founded and almost singlehandedly ran the journal New Music Quarterly and the label New Music Recordings, urgently-needed outlets for American composers lacking commercial publishers; its main sponsor was Charles Ives.

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Discography


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