Young and Matured Henry Cowell with his music note.

Biography of Henry Cowell


others decades later. Because he considered the rhythms he composed to be unplayable by humans, he proposed the use of the player piano, and a passing comment to this effect in his book later inspired Nancarrow to begin his lifelong exploration of that instrument in the extraordinary Studies for Player Piano. Cowell also sought out the help of the Russian inventor, Leon Theremin (creator of the electronic instrument that bears his name) in New York to construct an instrument called the Rhythmicon to realize his complex rhythmic relationships. One of the two Theremin-built rhythmicons still resides in the Smithsonian Institution

Throughout his life, Cowell worked tirelessly on behalf of the music of other composers In 1925, he founded the New Music Society of California, which presented premieres of many American and European modernist works. It also published New Music, a quarterly edition of scores with a broad range of contemporary styles. In 1934, Cowell established New Music Quarterly Recordings, which issued some of the first recordings of major American experimentalists, including Ives, Varese, Ruth Crawford Seeger, Johanna Beyer, and others.

When Cowell arrived in New York in the 1920s he organized the Pan American Association of Composers, in collaboration with Edgard Varese, Carl Ruggles, Carlos Chavez and others, to promote performances of contemporary music from the Americas. The Pan-American Association produced the first performances of American orchestral music in Europe, conducted by Nicolas Slonimsky, Anton Webern, and others. Charles Ives, with whom Cowell had a close musical and personal relationship, supported these activities both artistically and financially (though the latter, discreetly). Cowell, along with his wife Sydney, later wrote a biography of Ives, the first such study of that major American composer. In 1933 Cowell published the book American Composers on American Music, for which he invited a number of composers to write on each other's music. It remains an invaluable document of an exciting period in American music.

Beginning in the 1920s, Cowell, an extraordinary pianist, toured the U.S. and then Europe to