Henry Cowell, Bohemian
Awards and Recognition:
Winner of the ASCAP Deems Taylor Award in the classical music category, 2003.
In this first full-length study of Henry Cowell, Michael Hicks shows how the maverick composer, writer, teacher, and performer built his career on the intellectual and aesthetic foundations of his parents, community, and teachers—-and exemplified the essence of bohemian California. Author of the highly influential New Musical Resources and a teacher of John Cage, Lou Harrison, and Burt Bacharach, Cowell is regarded as an innovator, a rebel, and a genius. One of the first American composers to be celebrated for the novelty of his techniques, Cowell popularized a series of experimental piano-playing techniques that included pounding his fists and forearms on the keys and plucking the piano strings directly to achieve the exotic, dissonant sounds he desired.
Henry Cowell, Bohemian traces the venerated experimentalist's radical ideas back to his teachers, including Charles Seeger, Samuel Seward, and E. G. Stricklen, the tightknit artistic communities in the San Francisco Bay area where he grew up and first started composing, and the immeasurable influence of his parents. Mining the published and unpublished writings of his mother, a politically motivated novelist from the Midwest who carefully monitored the pulse of her son's creativity from birth, Hicks provides insight into the composer's heritage, artistic inclinations, and childhood.
Focusing on Cowell's formative and most prolific years, from his birth in 1897 through his incarceration on a morals conviction in the 1930s, Hicks examines the philosophical fervor that fueled his whirlwind compositions, and the ways his irrepressible bohemian spirit helped foster an appreciation in the United States and Europe for a new brand of American music.
"The author of many important and fascinating musicological works about this radical 20th-century American composer, Hicks now offers a volume that manages to depict the free artistic atmosphere of northern California in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the lives of Cowell's parents, Cowell's own experiences until the late 1930s, and the ideas and materials of Cowell's music--and to do so much more succinctly than one might think possible. . . . Thoroughly documented and buttressed with quotations and musical examples, this excellent study deserves to be widely read." -- Choice
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