Doc: In Search of Henry Cowell

A 2-part radio documentary by Guy Livingston 

executive producer: Cathy Peters
sound design: Erik Hense
editing and production consulting: Aletta Becker
commissioned by: Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s Radio National show, “Into the Music”

Henry Cowell was a pianist, composer, inventor, and connector. He was good-humored, relaxed but hard-working. Friendly but also shy, he was nonetheless an excellent storyteller. An eccentric bohemian in his younger days, he became one of America’s most respected and famous composers. But Henry Cowell is also a bit of a mystery.  Four years in prison and travels around the world, composer for the Iranian Shah and amateur flutists…he was full of paradoxes. Join pianist Guy Livingston as he goes In Search of Henry Cowell, on Radio National, Australia.

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In Search of Henry Cowell
for Into the Music, ABC, 2015







Cowell playing the shakuhachi for Edgard Varèse ca. 1948.
Henry Cowell had often said that he wanted to live in the “whole world of music.” When he was a child he had been inculcated with a musical world view that was simple and unassuming.  It fostered a belief that all music was of equal value and that a composer could and should integrate components of any of these world musics into his or her own compositions.
Photographer unknown. Caption by George Boziwick.


Henry Cowell lecturing and demonstrating various instruments “during a night visit to the Brooklyn Museum, which occasionally allowed [Cowell] to bring his Music of the World’s Peoples class to examine and even to play some of the duplicate instruments from Africa, Polynesia, Central America and the Orient after regular museum hours.”
Photos by Mia Brest. Caption by Sidney Robertson Cowell


Conductor Thomas Scherman and Henry Cowell with the five tablas presented for the first U.S. performance of Cowell’s Symphony no. 13, Madras, 1958.
Photo and caption by Sidney Robertson Cowell





Henry Cowell with Maro (piano) and Ahahid (violin) Ajemian, trying out percussion part for Set of Five, commissioned by the Ajemian sisters in 1952.


Production Team: Guy Livingston, Aletta Becker, and Erik Hense.
Advisors: Lisa Ball, Marilyn Smith.
Interviewees: Chris Brown (Mills College), Sarah Cahill (pianist), Paul Doornbosch (Associate Dean at the Australian College of the Arts), Ned McGowan (composer), Leta Miller (UC Santa Cruz), Dr. Suzanne Robinson (Melbourne Conservatorium of Music), Joel Sachs (Juilliard School), Margaret Schedel (SUNY Stonybrook), Andrey Smirnov (Theremin Centre, Moscow).
Financial Support: The David and Sylvia Teitlebaum Fund, Inc., and Radio National’s “Into the Music”.
Mixed and edited at WOTH Studios, in the Netherlands
Voiceovers: Guy Livingston’s voice was recorded on a CDC E100S microphone by Abdel Mouzoune (Studio Henry Miller).

Music and words of Henry Cowell: courtesy of The David and Sylvia Teitelbaum Fund, Inc. as successors to the Estate of Henry and Sidney Cowell.
About the Estate: “Henry Cowell is one of the founding fathers of American Music, though his work is not as well known as we feel it should be. The Estate includes almost one thousand compositions, two books, many published articles, recordings of his pieces and music of the world’s people’s, and copious correspondence. Our mission is to make this work better known by encouraging performances of his music and that of other experimental composers in which he would be interested.”

Charles Amirkhanian, Meryl Axtens, Peter Berlin , George Boziwick, Frank Brickle, Composers Guild of New Jersey, Peter Garland, Ev Grimes, Eelco Grimm, Paul Herzman, Jonathan Hiam, Michael Hicks, Philip Gregory Kent, Phlyssa Koshland, Laura Kuhn, Sherre DeLys, the McGoldrick Family, Nora Mulder, Frank J. Oteri, Cathy Peters, Hiroko Sakurazawa, Evan Schwartzman, Camille Serchuk, Maria Sperling, Remy Taghavi, Paul Tai, Robert Taibbi, Richard Teitelbaum, John Paul Young.

Marcos Pujol: voice of Virgil Thomson and the American Critics
Istvan B’Racz: voice of the Russian Critic

Archival Audio:
Rhythmicon samples courtesy of the NYPL, the Library of Congress, and the Theremin Centre, Moscow;
John Cage interviews (1972) by permission of the John Cage Trust and the David and Sylvia Teitlebaum Fund, Inc.;
Sidney Robertson Cowell tapes (1972) by permission of the David and Sylvia Teitlebaum Fund, Inc.;
Live performance of the Madras Symphony recorded by the Juilliard School Orchestra on January 25, 2010 in The Peter Jay Sharp Theater at the Juilliard School, conducted by Joel Sachs, with Ray Speigel on tabla.
used with kind permission of The Juilliard School;
Voice of Henry Cowell (“A Musical Autobiography”) used by permission of Other Minds, with thanks to Charles Amirkhanian and Adrienne Cardwell.

Jonathan Manton at The Stanford Archive of Recorded Sound;
Libby Van Cleve (Director) , Anne Rhodes, and Vivian Perlis at OHAM (Oral History of American Music, Yale University Library);
National Public Radio;
George Boziwick and Jonathan Hiams at the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts (NYPL), Music Division;
Frank J. Oteri at the American Music Center.

Letters and Quotations:
Thanks to the NYPL, the Cowell Estate, and Oxford University Press for permission to quote from Cowell’s letters and from Man Made of Music, the extraordinary new book by Joel Sachs.
Additionally, we could not have reconstructed Cowell’s musical interests without the help of Leta Miller’s brilliant series of articles on Cowell, Harrison, and Cage.

Photographs on website:
Reproduced by permission of The David and Sylvia Teitelbaum Fund, Inc.
Captions by George Boziwick and Sidney Robertson Cowell.





Joel Sachs, A Man Made of Music

David Nicholls, ed., The Whole World of Music: A Henry Cowell Symposium



Rhythmikon – the one that Theremin built in the 1960s in Moscow

Demo of artificial rhythmicon synthesis




A Man Made of Music, Joel Sachs. Oxford University Press 2012.

Henry Cowell, Bohemian. Michael Hicks.

Margaret Schedel, Joel Sachs, Andrey Smirnov, Ned McGowan, Ned McGowan, Suzanne Robinson, Sarah Cahill, Chris Brown, Leta Miller, George Boziwick, Frank J. Oteri.

Original Documents
Manuscript papers in the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts, Music Division, and at Yale University.

The Imprisonment of Henry Cowell
Michael Hicks Journal of the American Musicological Society, Vol. 44, No. 1 (Spring, 1991), pp. 92-119

Henry Cowell, John Varian, and Halcyon
Steven Johnson
American Music, Vol. 11, No. 1 (Spring, 1993), pp. 1-27

The Amazing Mr. Cowell
Rita H. Mead
American Music, Vol. 1, No. 4, Music Publishing in America (Winter, 1983), pp. 63-89

Henry Cowell and Modern Dance: the Genesis of Elastic Form
Leta E. Miller
American Music, Vol. 20, No. 1 (Spring, 2002), pp. 1-24

Henry Cowell and John Cage: Intersections and Influences, 1933–1941
Leta E. Miller
Journal of the American Musicological Society, Vol. 59, No. 1 (Spring 2006), pp. 47-112

Cowell’s Clusters
Michael Hicks
The Musical Quarterly, Vol. 77, No. 3 (Autumn, 1993), pp. 428-458

The Cowell-Ives Relationship: A New Look at Cowell’s Prison Years
Leta E. Miller, Rob Collins
American Music, Vol. 23, No. 4 (Winter, 2005), pp. 473-492

Henry Cowell’s “Ostinato Pianissimo”
H. Wiley Hitchcock
The Musical Quarterly, Vol. 70, No. 1 (Winter, 1984), pp. 23-44

Material for Biography
Clarissa Dixon Cowell
American Music, Vol. 27, No. 1 (Spring, 2009), pp. 1-59

Anticipating interactivity: Henry Cowell and the Rhythmicon.
Margaret Schedel.
The Musical Quarterly.




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