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