Composers Datebook®

Ruggles and Cowell anniversaries

Composer's Datebook - Mar. 11, 2023


Today's date marks the birth anniversaries of two major 20th century American composers: Carl Ruggles was born in East Marion, Massachusetts on today's date in 1876, and Henry Cowell, in Menlo Park, California in 1897.

Ruggles was a tough old bird, who wrote a small handful of tough, uncompromising musical works. He was the conductor of a symphony orchestra in Winona, Minnesota from 1908-1912, a teacher at the University of Miami from 1937-1943, and a talented painter to boot. His first music to be performed in public was entitled A Voice Crying in the Wilderness, an apt description of Ruggles himself, a crusty loner who once claimed the only man he ever met who could out-swear him was his friend and colleague Charles Ives. He eventually retired to an old schoolhouse in Arlington, Vermont.

Ruggles's striking orchestral works, with titles like Sun-Treader and Men and Mountains, are occasionally revived, but he remains just a name for most 21st century concert-goers.

Henry Cowell was a much more genial, out-going sort: a composer, performer and teacher who wrote a great deal of music, ranging from the dissonant and experimental to the beguilingly lyrical. Cowell was an early apostle of what we now call "world music," and in 1956 undertook a world tour, sponsored by the Rockefeller Foundation and the US State Department, which included lengthy stays in Iran, India and Japan, and resulted in Cowell writing a number of musical works incorporating ideas and musical instruments from those countries.

Music Played in Today's Program

Carl Ruggles (1897 - 1971) Sun-Treader Cleveland Orchestra; Christoph von Dohnanyi, conductor. Cleveland Orchestra 75th Anniversary CD Edition 093-75

Henry Cowell (1897 - 1965) Homage to Iran Leopold Avakian, violin; Mitchell Andrews, piano; Basil Bahar, Persian drum CRI 836

On This Day


  • 1876 - American composer Carl Ruggles, in Marion, Mass.;

  • 1897 - American composer Henry Cowell, in Menlo Park, Calif.;


  • 1791 - Haydn: Symphony No. 92, conducted by the composer, at the first of his London concerts; Haydn had composed this symphony at the request of a French count in 1788-89, and presumably its first performance took place in Paris around that time; The symphony's nickname, "Oxford," derives from a July 7, 1791, performance conducted by Haydn at the Sheldonian Theater at Oxford University, where Haydn was awarded an honorary degree;

  • 1830 - Bellini: opera "I Capuleti e I Montecchi" (The Capulets and Montagues), in Venice at the Teatro la Fenice;

  • 1851 - Verdi: opera "Rigoletto," in Venice at the Teatro La Fenice;

  • 1867 - Verdi: opera "Don Carlos" (1st French-language version in 5 acts) at the Paris Opéra;

  • 1886 - Tchaikovsky: "Manfred" Symphony (after Byron), in Moscow (Gregorian date: Mar. 23);

  • 1888 - Dvorak: Symphony No. 2 in Bb, in Prague; This symphony was composed in 1865;

  • 1915 - Ravel: ballet "Ma Mère l'Oye" (Mother Goose), at the Paris Opéra; This orchestral score is based on an earlier Ravel work of the same name for two pianos;

  • 1917 - Respighi: tone-poem "The Fountains of Rome," in Rome;

  • 1929 - Colin McPhee: Concerto for Piano with Wind Octet, in Boston;

  • 1999 - Corigliano: "A Dylan Thomas Trilogy," at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., with soloists and the National Symphony, Leonard Slatkin conducting;


  • 1829 - Mendelssohn conducts a revival performance of J.S. Bach's "St. Matthew Passion" in Berlin.

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About Composers Datebook®

Host John Birge presents a daily snapshot of composers past and present, with timely information, intriguing musical events and appropriate, accessible music related to each.

He has been hosting, producing and performing classical music for more than 25 years. Since 1997, he has been hosting on Minnesota Public Radio's Classical Music Service. He played French horn for the Cincinnati Symphony and Pops Orchestra and performed with them on their centennial tour of Europe in 1995. He was trained at the Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music, Eastman School of Music and Interlochen Arts Academy.

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