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Philip Cowlin (1920-2005)

Philip Cowlin was born in Stockport on 5th May 1920 into a musical family – both his parents were singers, pianists and performers. Philip developed a keen ear for music at a very young age - his family remember him copying his father’s singing of a song from Schubert’s Die Schöne Müllerin while he was still in his pram. Despite an early illness leaving him permanently deaf in one ear, Philip had perfect pitch. As a child he learned to play the violin, and started composing songs at the age of 16. Other songs followed, sung within the family circle. His father later recorded some of the songs.

Seriously considering a career in music, Philip attended an audition at Manchester University with Dr Walter Carroll (best remembered today as author of a number of piano tutors). Dr Carol was impressed by Philip’s ability as a violinist, but advised against a career in music because of its financial precariousness. Philip followed this advice, studying physics at University instead and keeping music as a hobby, teaching himself composition and orchestration. At Manchester, he did receive encouragement from the composer Humphrey Proctor-Gregg, who played the piano accompaniment in Philip’s Violin Sonata.

Without contacts in the musical profession, Philip’s works made relatively rare appearances, although he did win a Patron’s Fund Award from the Royal College of Music for his Serenade for small orchestra. In the 1970s Philip won a competition which resulted in his symphony being performed by the London Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Sir Charles Mackerras. Further works followed, such as the Scherzo for piano and Worcester Sauce, both of which were broadcast on the radio. A further professional performance in London, of his wind quintet, received favourable reviews. But, probably from a reluctance to promote his own work, few performances followed. In relative obscurity in Thanet, Philip remained active as both violinist and composer. A recording of his 2003 Concertino for recorder and string quartet (Cameo 2034), was followed by the 2004 premiere of Lament in Carlisle Cathedral, the performance being recorded, and released this year (Cameo 2040/41). In this journal, Roger Carpenter described the Concertino as "irresistibly conjuring up the spirit of Till Eulenspiegel" (BMS 106). It is currently hoped that a performing version can be made of Caprice, his last, uncompleted work, in time for its scheduled premiere by the Sittingbourne Music Society in February 2006. His music is published by Emerson Editions.

Following retirement, Philip took an increasing interest in creative writing – fiction and poetry. He was active in various creative writing groups and, despite his typical modesty, had some works published and won various awards. As a creative artist, Philip’s style remained strongly rooted in often unfashionable traditions: his music was tonal and lyrical, his prose used well-constructed narrative development, his poetry was largely written in traditional forms, rhyme and metre. But, whatever medium he chose, he always showed skill and care. Philip was also active in other local groups and events, and through all of this activity, he remained a caring husband and father to his family. Philip died on 9th August 2005. He is survived by his sister, the novelist Dorothy Cowlin, his wife Margot, their children and grandchildren.

Philip Woodrow


Some information for this obituary has kindly been given by Dorothy Whalley (nee Cowlin) and John McCabe (on behalf of the Sittingbourne Music Society)



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