Young and Matured Henry Cowell with his music note.
 
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Henry Cowell: Mind over Music

Henry Cowell is a figure unique in American music. Both his life and his works are marked by elements that are downright bizarre, yet they also contain much that is homely and endearing. No work by Cowell has achieved the status of an American classic comparable to Copland's Lincoln Portrait or Barber's Adagio for Strings. No one is likely to claim Cowell as America's greatest composer or declare him the dean of a school of composers. Some of his peers, indeed, have claimed that he was not a composer of music but an inventor of sounds. (Who but Henry Cowell would have thought to compare noise with sex as a staple of human existence, necessary but not nice to mention!)

It is paradox rather than perfection, a genius broad rather than profound, that make Cowell uniquely appealing among musicians. He was not a superlative pianist ex- cept in the application of his own special techniques. He had no formal schooling of consequence, either in music or in the three Rs; yet he was not only a successful autodidact but a natural pedagogue. Along with composing and performing he spent a considerable part of his life in teaching: first his recital audiences, then conser- vatory classes, school groups of many different kinds and ages, special students from time to time (George Gershwin, Burt Bacharach, John Cage, Lou Harrison, Michael Kassler). The schools of many kinds where Henry Cowell taught for a time as ad- junct professor or in some other role range from the New School for Social Research to Columbia University, from Eastman at Rochester to Peabody at Baltimore, from The Temple of the People at Halcyon to the University at Berkeley (both in California and both before he was twenty-one).

Again, despite his lack of formal schooling, by reading and drawing on his lively wit Cowell managed to become a cogent and sensitive writer and an effective speaker (an art that does not always go with teaching). Reviewers of his piano recitals in the earlier days sometimes applauded his spoken program notes more warmly than the pieces he played. Moreover, unlike many speakers and writers about the art of music, Cowell had a superb knack for what some regarded as gadgetry and others saw as science and invention. His differing ways of producing sounds with a piano he once numbered at 165-with the more common ways left uncounted. The
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Henry Cowell: Mind over Music