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Henry Cowell Quotes


Henry Cowell
  • Mini Bio
  • Name: Henry Dixon Cowell
  • Born: 11th March 1897, Menlo Park, California, U.S.
  • Died: 10th December 1965, Shady, New York
  • Alma mater: University of California, Berkeley
  • Occupation: Pianist and composer
  • Influenced: The composers Burt Bacharach, George Gershwin, John Cage and Lou Harrison were all influenced by Cowell
  • Notable works: The Tides of Manaunaun (1912), Vestiges (1920) Aeolian Harp (1923) and The Banshee (1925)
  • Trivia: In 1930 Cowell invented the Rhythmicon which was a keyboard instrument capable of playing patterns of notes to form a rhythm
  • Scroll down for full bio and many great quotes

"Rhythm is a conception, not a physical reality"

Henry Cowell

"I have gotten in the score of his [Charles Ives] Washington's Birthday Symphonic movement, and have been demonstrating it to a class of advanced students. They were mystified, but highly interested"

Henry Cowell

"I asked them to please not form judgment until after I had had a chance to tell them of the matter myself. It is very unlike him [Charles Ives] to suddenly cut me off from all communication"

Henry Cowell

"I want to live in the whole world of music"

Henry Cowell

"To be realized in music, rhythm must be marked by some sort of sound, but this sound is not itself the rhythm"

Henry Cowell

"Music is my weapon. I believe in music, in its spirituality, its exaltation, its ecstatic nobility, its humour, its power to penetrate to the basic fineness of every human being"

Henry Cowell

"As far as music is concerned, I'm through-can't see it, can't hear it well, and can't play it"

Henry Cowell

"Both quartets are polyphonic, and each melodic strand has its own rhythm"

Henry Cowell

"A composer had to be someone with a definite point of view, preferably an individual one"

Henry Cowell

"Rhythm must be marked by some sort of sound, but this sound is not itself the rhythm"

Henry Cowell

"If a composer today really admires the old masters he will not imitate their style"

Henry Cowell

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Henry Cowell Biography

Henry Cowell was an avant garde musical composer who used innovation to create new musical techniques that he incorporated into his lifetimes body of work.

Cowell was a child prodigy who picked up the violin at the age of five and learned the intricacies of the piano during his early teenage years. Cowell started composing while still a teenager and on the strength of his self taught musical abilities he was enrolled to the University of California, Berkeley, under the tutelage of Charles Seeger.



He was always an innovator and he developed tone clusters whereby the pianist would hold down several keys at various intervals to produce more elaborate sounds.

He experimented with innovative ways of extracting different sounds from instruments such as climbing inside a piano and plucking its strings directly as opposed to playing the keys, he used this method on many of his recordings with The Banshee being the best known.

In a controversial event which was shameful for the authorities Cowell was jailed for four years in San Quentin from 1936 until 1940 for homosexual activities, he was eventually granted a full pardon in 1942

Apart from his long list of solo piano compositions Cowell also created 20 completed symphonies and was working on his 21st in 1965 which remained incomplete due to his death in December of the same year. From innovative composers comes great quotes so here is my list of 11 of the best Henry Cowell quotes.

Quotes About Henry Cowell

The critic Virgil Thomson was impressed: "Henry Cowell's music covers a wider range in both expression and technique than that of any other living composer.... No other composer of our time has produced a body of works so radical and so normal, so penetrating and so comprehensive"

The composer Conlon Nancarrow was inspired to say: "Cowells new book New Musical Resources is probably the most influence of anything I've ever read in music"

The conductor Bennie Hermann said enthusiastically: "The concert of the New Chamber Orchestra was a great success in all respects - the hall was jammed and about 30 people standing.... The audience I understand was interested keenly in the prospectus for your series next season, and we had many conservatives at the concert. I believe we made many new disciples"

The composer John Milton Cage recognised his contribution to American music: "Henry Cowell was for many years the open sesame for new music in America"


Henry Cowell  image quote