The Henry Cowell Papers document the composer’s life in great detail. They include scores, writings, correspondence, business and financial papers, promotional material, clippings and articles, concert programs, teaching material, photographs, awards and scrapbooks.
Biographical/historical: Henry Cowell (March 11, 1897 - Dec. 10, 1965) was an American composer, writer, pianist, educator, lecturer and publisher. He was born to a poor family in Menlo Park, California, near San Francisco; Menlo Park remained his home until 1936. Cowell was mainly schooled at home by his mother and began his music studies at age five on the violin; he switched to piano within a few years and began composing around the time he was 10. Lewis Terman, a psychologist at Stanford University, began studying Cowell as an example of a child genius and used him as a case study subject for the development of the Stanford-Binet IQ test. Another Stanford professor, Samuel Seward, arranged a fund to educate Cowell and to assist his family. Cowell began studying with Charles Seeger, among others, at the University of California at Berkeley in 1914. Another mentor Cowell met in his teens was the Irish Theosophist poet John Varian, whose texts Cowell set to music. Later in his life Cowell studied with musicians from non-western cultures to learn about their music.
Following a stint in the army in 1918-1919, Cowell concentrated on performing his own music. He began touring the United States and visited Europe for the first time in 1923, attracting publicity for his use of tone clusters and direct manipulation of piano strings; he drew more substantial interest from European composers such as Bela Bartók and Arnold Schoenberg.
In addition to his own musical activities, Cowell was a tireless advocate, publisher and presenter for other contemporary composers, most notably Charles Ives, but also for his friends John Becker, Carl Ruggles and Wallingford Riegger, among others. He formed the New Music Society of California, and was a major player in the Pan American Association of Composers, which helped publicize such composers as Carlos Chavez. Cowell also established the brand name New Music, a quarterly journal which also branched out into a record label and score publishing concern.
Cowell taught at many institutions during his life, most notably the New School for Social Research, but also at Columbia University, Eastman School of Music, Stanford University and the University of California. He wrote books, including New Musical Resources, an exploration of modern compositional methods, and Charles Ives And His Music, the first book about Ives (written with Sidney Robertson Cowell). Cowell also toured the world meeting other musicians and composers to facilitate intercultural exchange, at times under the sponsorship of the U.S. State Department and the Rockefeller Foundation
Cowell's music defined many of the major developments of twentieth-century music, and he was among the earliest composers to endorse the view that the musical materials of the whole world, not just Western Europe, should be available to composers and inform their musical and cultural outlook. In many ways his music and philosophy both exemplified and anticipated the musical aesthetics of the late-twentieth and early-twenty-first centuries.
Source: Nicholls, David. "Cowell, Henry (Dixon)", Grove Music Online ed. L. Macy (Accessed 12 September 2006), http://www.grovemusic.com
Content: The Henry Cowell Papers consist of over 82 linear feet of material covering every aspect of Cowell's life and career in extensive detail. They include correspondence, including letters to and from Cowell while he was incarcerated at San Quentin prison; scores and sketches, including notebooks from his early music studies with Charles Seeger; concert programs from throughout Cowell's career; photographs and scrapbooks depicting every stage of Cowell's life; iconography, including posters advertising Cowell's performances; publicity material; autobiographical and biographical manuscripts written by Sidney Cowell; an extensive set of news clippings and articles; financial records; lists of Cowell's compositions, recordings and performances; teaching material associated with the various schools at which Cowell taught and information about Cowell's students; information about Cowell's world tours for the U.S. State Department; books owned by Cowell; awards and honors Cowell received; and material documenting the history of the collection itself and the whereabouts of other portions of Cowell's archives. Major portions of the collection consist of notes, manuscripts, correspondence and other papers of Cowell's widow, Sidney Robertson Cowell; her notes are incorporated into all parts of the collection.
Content: The Henry Cowell papers originally were substantially processed in 1999-2000 as the Henry Cowell collection; when processing was completed in 2006, it was decided to change the name of the collection to the Henry Cowell papers