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Composers Datebook®

with host John Birge

Thursday, September 10

Cowell's "Hymn and Fuguing" tunes

Synopsis

The American composer Henry Cowell lived from 1897 to 1965 and wrote thousands of musical works in a wide variety of styles. As a young boy, Cowell lived near San Francisco’s Chinatown, so Asian influences are as likely to crop up in his music as European models. And among Cowell’s aggressively experimental works are piano pieces that employ what he called “tone clusters”—chords played with a fist or forearm. Those pieces piqued the interest of European composers like Bartók and Janáček, but in addition to avant-garde scores, Cowell wrote dozens of conventionally tonal works, often hauntingly beautiful.

In 1941, Cowell discovered a collection of evocative 19th century American hymns titled “Southern Harmony.” These reminded him of even earlier works by the 18th century American composer William Billings, who liked to write what he called “Fuguing Tunes.” Combining these two influences, Cowell came up with his own series of “Hymns AND Fuguing Tunes” for various combinations of instruments.

Cowell’s “Hymn and Fuguing Tune No. 10” for oboe and strings, for example, was premiered on today’s date in 1955, in Santa Barbara, California, by oboist Bert Gassman and the Pacific Coast Music Festival orchestra, conducted by Leopold Stokowski.

Music Played in Today's Program

Henry Cowell (1897 - 1965) Hymn and Fuguing Tune No. 10 Humbert Lucarelli, oboe; Manhattan Chamber Orchestra; Richard Auldon Clark, cond. Koch 7282

Additional Information

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