In honor of its currently running exhibition (Oct. 13–Jan. 12) of the works of the American photographer John Divola, the Santa Barbara Museum of Art will host a concert by the award-winning American String Quartet (Peter Winograd and Laurie Carney, violins; Daniel Avshalomov, viola; and Wolfram Koessel, cello) at 7:30 p.m. Monday in the Mary Craig Auditorium at the museum, 1130 State St.
The American String Quartet's program includes three works — two, praise be, by American composers! We will hear Henry Cowell's String Quartet No. 4 "United Quartet" (1936-1937); Charles Ives' String Quartet No. 2 (1913); and Maurice Ravel's String Quartet in F-Major (1902–1903). On Jan. 26, 1937, Cowell (1897-1965) wrote to a friend that "the string quartet finished in Redwood in the Summer."
The "quartet" was his "United Quartet." The "Redwood" was the Redwood County Jail, where he was awaiting trial for, basically, being a homosexual. Although he always denied he was homosexual, Cowell was subsequently convicted and served four years in San Quentin State Prison before American musicians finally managed to mount a successful campaign to have him pardoned and released.
Most of his friends (John Cage, Virgil Thompson, etc.) kept in touch while he was in prison, obviously, though Ives broke off all contact until long after Cowell was released. Cowell's friends report that he was a radically changed man after prison, timid and fearful where he had been brash and aggressive, and his compositions became more conservative, where he had been a brash and confident leader of the avant garde.
At the same time, while in San Quentin, Cowell produced something like 60 new works, organized inmate musical ensembles, and taught classes on composition and musicology. Cowell is virtually unknown to most American music lovers, while several generations of American composers feel as if they owe him everything.
Thompson summed up his achievement in 1951: "Henry Cowell's music covers a wider range in both expression and technique than that of any other living composer. His experiments begun three decades ago in rhythm, in harmony, and in instrumental sonorities were considered then by many to be wild. Today they are the Bible of the young and still, to the conservatives, 'advanced.' ... No other composer of our time has produced a body of works so radical and so normal, so penetrating and so comprehensive. Add to this massive production his long and influential career as a pedagogue, and Henry Cowell's achievement becomes impressive indeed. There is no other quite like it. To be both fecund and right is given to few."
Tickets to the American String Quartet are $15 for museum members, $19 for nonmembers, and they may be purchased at the Museum Visitor Services desk or by telephone at 805.963.4364, or click here to purchase tickets online.