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Henry Cowell: Giving us Permission
by Peter Garland

Peter Garland
Peter Garland at the Djerassi Resident Artists Program during OM 6
Photo © 2000 John Fago
Peter Garland writes: "When I think about what makes US composers different (some of us, that is) from our European colleagues (and most composers from non-European countries, where European musical values and ways of thinking still seem to dominate), all the various factors and issues boil down to a very simple answer: we had Henry Cowell. Of course, that is overly simplistic, but there is a core of truth there. The only comparable "alternative" figure that Europe has offered has been Erik Satie-but Satie was, and remains to this day, an eccentric outsider (I doubt he would be welcome at IRCAM or Darmstadt). In the 1920's and 1930's at least, Henry Cowell was at the very center of US musical life, and if he became marginalized later, in the shadows of Copland populism and academic serialism, he seems to be staging a comeback recently, at least since his centennial celebrations in 1997."

Garland discusses "self-taught composers," the inclusion of non-European influences that Cowell promoted, his influence on Cage, Harrison and others, and disputes the so-called schism in Cowell's output: Some pundits posit he was radical through the Thirties but after serving four years in San Quentin Prison came out a chastened and conservative tonal composer.

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