Cowell, one of the archetypal 'bad boys' of music was fantastically prolific.
There are more than 1000 works and they are not all 'of a piece' stylistically.
For sure there are some audaciously modernistic works in which tone clusters
are evident but his modernism seems to have been moderated by his contact
in the 1940s with what we now call 'world music'. From thenceforward he leaned
towards a more accessible style without losing his tangy and rangy spirit
He wrote a large number of symphonies. After the Third The Gaelic (1942)
there were 17 more before his death.
I cannot better the notes' description of the first movement of Symphony
No. 16: 'sweetly dissonant'. This is succeeded by a muscular wide open fugue
in which the recording of the strings suffer the audio famine associated
with a 35 year old tape. The third movement has something in common with
Ravel's Pavane and the next movement adopts an antique pastiche style similar
to E J Moeran's orchestral Serenade. The finale continues the atmosphere
of antique dances, with carefree strings. The archaism reminded me of Alan
Hovhaness in his grand baroque moments. The symphony ends very broadly with
recollections of the earlier movements.
The Seventh Symphony is in four movements: I in which a Back-Stokowski 'kolossal'
fugue meets a Finzian string paean and village folk violin. II resounds with
a gamelan ostinato over which a very attractive velour string theme rings
out. III evokes Irish jigs and reels, uillean pipes, hoofbeats and Western
Americana. The finale flows with vitality - a high and wide maestoso.
Synchrony runs counter to the more conservative trend. String anthems, jerky
flute themes, skittering strings, strange loose snared drum noises, jazzy
xylophone rushes, oriental twists, cool pastorals and a soaring solo violin
jostle and interact.
The CRI American Masters series (reissued from LP) is handsomely packaged
and the notes are always good. In this case they are provided by H Wiley
Hitchcock. Recommended listening for those wishing to explore Cowell - a
composer of many facets and, I strongly suspect, with surprises yet in store