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<<  -- 2 --  Gordon Rumson    ESSENTIAL COWELL


A section of comments on contemporaries follows and the understanding and consideration that Cowell lavished upon these other composers is immense. Not always satisfying though, such as his rather dismissive essay on Ferruccio Busoni. Rather Cowell was clearly a partisan of the new and advanced and composers such as Joseph Schillinger (a very minor one) receive compliments far in excess of their actual achievements. Harry Partch's marvelous book The Genesis of Music, which has proven hugely influential, is given a quite negative critique. But the acumen exhibited is first-rate.

Cowell was above all committed to the music of the rest of the world, not just Europe and America. He was without question a thoroughly informed ethnomusicologist. He had great respect for the traditions of other nations, such as Java, India, Persia, and studied their music in great depth. That he frequently refers to 'primitive music' is more a failing of the era than of his thinking, for he hardly considered Persian music, for example, primitive.

Cowell was a superb analyst of music and musical craft having both a firm grounding in the methods as a real composer (not an academic one) and a sure feeling for expressing these matters in prose. Thus, for all young composers and for people who want to understand a bit more of the process of this art Cowell is a must read. I was most struck by his descriptions of his own process and inner experience of composing. It is not mine, and probably not quite the same as any other composer's, but it is still very suggestive.

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Copyright © 23 May 2002 Gordon Rumson, Calgary, Alberta, Canada





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