Mead, Rita H. Henry Cowell's New Music, 1925-1936, Copyright 1981, 1978, Rita Mead, Produced and distributed by UMI Research Press, Ann Arbor Michigan 48106. A revision of the author's thesis, City University of New York, 1978. Copyright, 1981, 1978, Rita Mead. Typed by Barbara Golden, November 1994. 656w


Sometime in the early 1920s, the American pianist and composer Henry Cowell, back in California after a tour of Europe and frustrated by America's unwillingness to publish and perform contemporary music, decided to start a society to sponsor concerts of music by the most advanced composers of the day. His idea, called simply New Music, eventually developed into an entire group of enterprises. First was the New Music Society, which gave concerts in Los Angeles in 1925 and 1926 and, in San Francisco, from 1927 until 1936. There followed two publication series: the New Music Quarterly began publishing music in 1927, and the Orchestra Series started in 1932. Other parts of Cowell's organization were the New Music Workshops (started in 1933) and the New Music Quarterly Recordings (begun in 1934). p.xv

As founder, director, and editor of New Music, Cowell took personal charge of all its activities during the early years. It was a significant accomplishment. Appreciation of the magnitude of his undertaking becomes even greater when one realizes that he was only twenty-eight when New Music began and during the succeeding years concurrently carried on a successful career as composer, performer, teacher, and lecturer. From 1925 until 1936, when Cowell was forced to withdraw from active leadership, the Society gave twenty-eight concerts, the Quarterly published thirty-five issues representing fifty-eight works and forty composers, the Orchestra Series issued seventeen volumes of music by eighteen composers, and the Recordings project released twelve recordings of twenty works by sixteen composers.

Cowell's energy and enthusiasm attracted many musicians to New Music who were looking for new creative techniques. Encouraged by his spirit of innovation, they experimented with their art and, thanks to Cowell, were able to hear it performed and see it in print for the first time. Together they assaulted the staid San Francisco cultural community with their "ultra-modern" music, dented the conservative commercial publishing field with their colorful iconoclastic scores, and provided unique leadership for a fledgling industry in the recording of contemporary American music.

The men and women involved in New Music were a close-knit family: most were professional performers or composers, but all, inspired by Cowell's example, gave freely of their time and effort to the cause. Inexperienced in business affairs, their methods were sometimes haphazard, but they were conscientious and, among their other virtues, they habitually saved everything from unused theater tickets to official contracts. As a result the papers and correspondence of the Society, now deposited in the Americana Collection of the Music Division of the New York Public Library, record their activities in such detail that it is possible, by studying them, to acquire an understanding of what they thought and how they worked.

Memberships in the Society and subscriptions to the editions and the recordings seldom covered expenses. In the beginning, a few patrons in Los Angeles and San Francisco sponsored society concerts. Financial support of the editions and the recordings, however, came largely from one source -- the American composer Charles Ives, who, for years, contributed regularly to New Music. Ives, like Cowell, was an independent thinker who went his own way regardless of fashion and, in so doing, created works (many published by Cowell) which are now considered some of American's most original music. He saw in New Music a unique opportunity for composers like himself who were ignored by the musical establishment, and he shared with Cowell the belief in publishing music which commercial publishers considered too experimental, too modern, or too advanced to publish. Cowell and Ives had a warm relationship and, as friends as well as business associates, corresponded regularly between 1927 and 1936. pp.xvi, xvii