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3 . Dynamt"cs . 81
4 . Form 84
5 . Metre and Tt"me Combt"natt"ons . 8S
6 . Tempo 90
7 . Scales of Rhythm 9
I . Buildt"ng Chords from Different Intervals HI
2 . Tone-clusters. II7
In 1917, Henry Cowell was twenty years ,old: com
poser, according to his own records, of one hundred
and ninety-nine works for nearly all conventional com
binations and many unconventional ones. He was a fine
pianist, at least when he played his own pieces, and he
had absorbed a fair grounding in musical theory. Al
though his formal education had ended in Kansas with
a third-grade certificate, he had enjoyed the benefits,
as well as the hazards, of having cultured but eccentric
parents. He had been a gardener, a collector of wild
plants, and a swineherd. He was now working as a
school ja11litor, and traveling from his horne in Menlo
Park to Berkeley every morning and to Stanford every
afternoon for lessons in music ;from Charles Seeger and
in English from Samuel Seward. And he had begun
writing t:l1is !)ook.
Among the hundred and ninety-nine works were
many tI1at made 1!lse of tone-clusters (the first such,
Adventures in H armonYJ dates from his fourteenth
year); other works composed with a preponderance
of dissonance over consonance, and two compositions
evert more remarkable than the others, the Romantic
and Euphometric quartets, composed according to a

system of Cowell's own invention that sought to inte
grate rhythm and pitch.
Cowell was encouraged by his teachers to pour this
superabundance of original ideas into a formal mold.
One can imagine Seeger hoping that this would
straighten Cowell out musically, and Seward hoping
that to the matters nearest his heart would
teach him to write proper English. (Neither hope, of
course, was fulfilled, but this was their concern, not
ours.) For three years, then, Cowell worked sporadically
on what was to become New Musical Resources, much
assistedl in expression, though not in substance, by his
mentors. By 1919 the book was completed in what
was virtually its present form.
It seems to have rested in manuscript for nearly ten
years, until in about 1928 Cowell decided to attempt to
find a publisher. The book was typed out, reproduced
in mauve ink on a spirit duplicator, and sent the rounds
of likely publishers. A letteF from the publishing house
of Alfred A. Knopf, dated January 29th, 1929, survives,
with its cautious invitation:
If you can get a subsidy for 500 copies and will exempt the
first thousand ... from royalty, we could do the book on that
Cowell immediately contacted all his friends and ac
quaintances, asking them to buy as many copies as they
lIAmy Seward recalled (1962) that 1919 was the year of her
engagemenl to Samuel Seward, and that she was in constant
competition with "that Book."
could dispose of. A scribbled list, in Cowell's hand, of
actual and potential subscribers, dating from this frantic
period, records 229 copies so far "sent out andl sold," of
which a hundred were taken by his lifelong friend! and
patron Blanche Wahon. A letter to her from the Conser
vatorium of New South Wales, acknowledging the gift
of a copy in 1930, suggests she was a first-rate publicity
The names of those "asked to pledge" on this Est in
clude Ruggles, Harris, Dent, Boulanger, Haba, Schoen
berg, Webern and Stuckenschmidt; but there is no
record of their responses. Since Cowell kept most of his
letters, it must be assumed that tlhese gJieat men of music
ignored him and stuck to their own resources. But the
book was indeed published, and it was not rong before
the initial thousand were sold and a second print
ing brought out.
The subsequent history of New Musical Resources is
brief: on September 1st, 1935, it was remaindered at a
dollar, and on October 2nd, 1942, we findl Knopf writ
ing to Cowell: "We have ... instructed the plates to be
melted." The plates, no doubt, obeyed, and the phoenix
returned for a time to her ashes.
Cowell once said that Seeger had taught him two
things: the necessity to systematize his use of musical
resources, and the necessity for the innovator to create
a repertoire using his innovations (since either nobody
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else will, or it will iDe done badly). The writing of this
book fulfilled the first of these necessities; the second
was never completely sat,isfied, for Cowell's actual use
of the resources described was a[ways limited by his
urge toward further discovery. It can be said that he
had lost interest in all but the tone-duster and"dissonant
counterpoint" by the time the book was published-ten
years, indeed, after the birth of the ideas, a long period
in Cowell's mercurial development. Only the two early
quartets remain as examples of the integration of param
eters so minutely described in the book, and only the
Piano Concerto uses to any great extent the polyhar
mony he so carefully justifies.
Some parts of the book are naive and shallow, but
those of us who know Henry Cowell will forgive this
as the natural consequence of an imagination that
ranged far beyond its actual knowledge. Other parts are
prophetic, displaying an intuitiveness that has been justi
fied by ample fulfillment in more recent years. But
throughout the work one is amazed at the doggedly
independent way in which Cowell works his ideas
through to their 'logical (or illogical) conclusions, irre
spective of the distance he is traveling from conservative
opinion, or even from the realms of probability. It is
this trait that marks his compositions, too, and that,
perhaps more than any other, symbolizes his "Ameri
canism," a quality so easily perceived, yet so hard to
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Apart from offering valuable insights into Cowell's
own life and work, New Musical Resources is an in
dispensable document in the history of American music.
It is probably the earliest comprehensive statement of
intent by a "modernistic" American composer, and in
its intransigence and adolescent self-confidence it speaks
for aU those who, better or worse equipped man Cowell
to plot the course of musical history, nevertheless at
tempt to do so.
lt may not be safe to pl'edict-but then Cowell cared
little for safety-that if the course of music should be
changed in this century it will be the work of that body
of American pioneers (eccentrics, if you will) to whom
Cowell had the privilege of being the musical father
figure. We all owe him gratitude, both as a musician
and as an individual. This extraordinary book may help
explain why.