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New Musical Resources

by Henry Cowell
Bhannavichaya V.
ID : 5737061

Henry Cowell (11/3/1897-5/10/1965) was an American
composer, music theorist, pianist, music teacher, publisher and
impresario. Born in Menlo Park, CA. He studied music at
University of CA, Berkeley. He studied music theory under
Charles Seeger and Edward Griffith, and counterpoint with
Wallace Arthur Sabin.
The New Musical Resources was started written in 1919.
However, it would finally be published after extensive revision
in 1930. This book is focused on innovative rhythmic and
harmonic ideas used in his composition. This book affects the
American musical avant-garde for many decades after. Conlon
Nancarrow mentioned this book the most influence of
everything I have ever read in music.
Cowell wrote this book under the help of Samuel Seward,
who is his friend and also his teacher. He started written when
he was at Camp Crane, which is an army camp in Pennsylvania.
By 1922, He gave this book named The Unexplored Resources

in Musical Effects. Then, the name The New Musical

Resources was titled in 1928. The book was published by
Alfred A. Knopf Inc. in 1930 as mentioned. The details in the
book are as follows

Introduction, this introduction is quite different from other
books because the details are personal introduction- why
writing The New Musical Resources? Actually, Cowell wanted
to make a proof on these new theories because some of the
new idea were not grouped or set into theory at that time. He
hope that the composers could have references after he wrote
this book.
Part 1, mentions about tone combinations. The details are
as follows
1. The influence of Overtones in Music, this title was name
The Law of Overtones in Past Musical History in 1919
version. Cowell wanted to use and look at overtone
series from his point of view, which will be mentioned
throughout the book, means he will use overtone series
to describe and find the relationships between them
and numbers to present his new idea. This part could be
considered as introduction through details of this book.
2. Polyharmony, Cowell said polyharmony are derived
from the original fundamental tone. The use of

polyharmony, is of value as a simplification, from single

harmony continue add up more and more tones until
they become complex. However, if these many tones
are simplified by grouping harmony into some form we
familiar such as triad or tertian chord, it may possible to
retrain almost simple and clear in the use of various
different tones together. Also, in the real piece, Cowell
mentioned the type of using polyharmony could be in 3
types, which are 1.plain, 2.embellished and 3.mixed
between plain and embellished.

3. Tone-quality, this title was newly written in 1930, which

did not appear on 1919 version. Cowell suggested that
the harmonic tone-qualities could be named by the
chord names of the combinations of overtone forming.
For example, a quality produced by prominence of the
fifth, sixth and seventh of the overtone series might be
called diminished triad tone quality.

4. Dissonant Counterpoint, Cowell has an idea that

contemporary counterpoint could change the intervals
foundation rather than using as traditional counterpoint
Part 2, is talking about rhythm. The details are as follows
1. Time, Cowell try to use the relations of vibration ratio to
set a time per measure. For example, P5 interval has a
vibration ratio 2:3, M3 has a ratio of 4:3, m3 has a ratio
of 6:5. Also, if combine melodies into 2, 3, 4 or 5 beats,
they may occurred 3 parallel time-systems
corresponding to vibration speeds of a simple
consonant harmony.

The second method is to divide and subdivide notes of

any time-value, in order to have variety note time-value
rather than note value divided by 2, 3 or 4. Some
possible note values are as follows

The possible using of note-values in a real piece may be

as follows

2. Meter, Cowell had presented 2 methods of how to use
new method for meter. The first is to find the
relationship of vibration and the meter based on 2/4,
which results are as follows (C has 16 vibrations to the
second), so it could be based metrical system on a
simple base

Also, sometimes the metrical could be change as


polymeter could be used as follows

3. Dynamics, Cowell has questioned how exactly each
dynamics are? For example, how exactly is forte loud?
Also, Cowell suggested that the upper pitch should

perform louder than the lower pitch because mostly

higher pitches are brighter than lower pitches. The title
about dynamics did not appear in 1919 version. It was
newly written in 1929 while Cowell visit to Russia and
published in 1930.
4. Form, Cowell said that the good form should make a
perfection of outline. This title was newly written in 1930.
5. Meter and Time Combinations, Cowell suggested to
have some different time signature grouping by other
numbers such as 3/3, 4/6 or 6/9. The example is as

6. Tempo, the example of using different tempo at the same

time is as follows

7. Scales of Rhythm, Cowell suggest idea of finding ratios
between each note and tonic (middle C) and set the
note value, which the results are as follows

Also, Cowell has suggested of how to fit the note-value

in unusual time-signature, such as 3/12.

The last part in the book is chord-formation. The first
Cowell would mention is he thought that chords could be built

from other intervals rather than triad, such as chords built from
P4, or P5. About tone-clusters, Cowell has an idea that the
clusters could be grouped in form-liked chords, such as cluster
built on second interval, major or minor thirds. Some example
could be seen as follows

Sometimes, clusters could be used as counterpoint as

At the end of the chapter, Cowell also mention about using
clusters in melodic line, which some example is shown below


Henry Cowells New Musical Resources has presented lots
of contemporary ideas, which later affect next generations
composer, such as Edgard Varese, George Antheli. However,
some ideas would be very difficult for performers, such as in
example Some of his ideas might be suited well to the
computer or machine to perform them.

Cowell died in Shady, New York after his seriously illness.