Cowen, Frederick Hymen


English composer of note, who was born in Kingston, Jamaica. At the age of four he accompanied his father to London, where the elder Cowen became treasurer of Her Majesty's Theatre, and later, about 1867, took up a similar position under Mapleson and Gye at Drury Lane. Cowen the younger, was surrounded by musicians, brought up in a musical atmosphere, and encouraged in every way to pursue his studies in the art. One of his childhood friends was Giuglili, who created, in English, the part of Faust in Gounod's opera of that name. Cowen showed his talents early in life. At the age of six years he published the Minna waltz; when only eight he composed an operetta, called Garibaldi, with the libretto written by his sister, aged seventeen, and it was performed privately. When quite young he set to music a song entitled Mother's Love, and also composed two sets of quadrilles. Young Cowen was a pupil of Benedict and Goss from 1860 to 1865, having been placed under their instruction by the Earl of Dudley, to whom his father was private secretary and who recognized the boy's great gifts. Later he was a student at the Conservatory of Leipsic, under Hauptmann, Reinecke and Moscheles. He also was a violin pupil of Carrodus and studied awhile at Berlin under Professor Stern, and was instructed in counterpoint at the Stern Conservatory by Frederick Kiel, a distinguished master in counterpoint and fugue. Returning to England in 1868 he soon became known in the musical world, and gave his first concert in June of that year at Dudley House, introducing his Piano Trio in A minor. Shortly afterward he went on a tour, and appeared at various English and German cities as conductor of his own compositions. Cowen was appointed conductor of the London Philharmonic Society upon the retirement of Sir Arthur Sullivan, and held the post from 1888 until 1892, resigning it to accept the direction of the music at the Centennial Exhibition at Melbourne, Australia, from August, 1888, until February, 1889. He next visited Vienna, Budapest and Stuttgart.

Dr. Cowen's first composition, a trio for piano, violin and violoncello, was performed by Joachim, Pezze and himself at a concert at Dudley House, London. While still a student he had composed a setting for the 130th Psalm, written for contralto and chorus; a fantasia for piano; and a trio for piano and strings. His first symphony and a concerto for piano and orchestra was performed at the St. James Hall in 1869. His first attempt at a large choral work was the cantata, The Rose Maiden, which still retains its popularity, the bridal chorus of which is one of the most beautiful compositions of its kind ever written. This was followed by an overture and incidental music to Schiller's Maid of Orleans, written for the Brighton Festival in 1871. That same year Cowen was appointed pianist and accompanist for the Italian Opera by Mr. Mapleson and traveled with him for several years. He wrote during this time a symphony for the Liverpool Philharmonic Society, and an overture for the Norwich Festival committee. In 1876 he composed a cantata on Byron's Corsair for the Birmingham Festival, and his first opera, Pauline, after Lord Lytton's Lady of Lyons, was produced that year at the Lyceum Theatre, London, by the Carl Rosa Company.

Two years later Dr. Cowen visited the United States, and on his return wrote his famous Scandinavian Symphony, which is generally considered one of the greatest English orchestral works written in recent years, and which immediately placed him in the front rank of English composers. It was first performed at a concert in 1880, at St. James Hall, when Dr. Cowen inaugurated a series of Saturday Orchestral concerts. The next year the sacred cantata, St. Ursula, written for the Norwich Festival, and the overture, Niagara, were produced. Dr. Cowen's latest works are the overture, The Butterflies' Ball, composed in 1900; second rhapsody for orchestra, and the cantata John Gilpin In 1903 and a set of old English dances for orchestra, published in 1905. His other works are the operas, Thorgrim, founded on an Icelandic saga; and Harold, and Signa. He has written much chamber-music, many symphonies and songs, but is perhaps better known for his choral and orchestral works. Among the former, beside those already mentioned, are The Deluge; A Song of Thanksgiving; and The Transfiguration. Among his cantatas, Rose of Life, and A Daughter of the Sea are worthy of mention. Among the best known and most popular of his three hundred songs are The Better Land; It Was a Dream; and The Promise of Life. Dr. Cowen was re-appointed conductor of the London Philharmonic Society in 1900 and still holds the post, and while occupying the office of conductor has done some of his best work, beside raising the society to a higher plane than it has ever occupied since the death of Sir Michael Costa. He has held many important positions as conductor in various parts of England. In 1896 he went to Manchester as successor to Sir Charles Halle, holding the post for three seasons, was made conductor of the Scottish Orchestra in 1900, of the Cardiff Festival in 1902 and of the Handel Festival in 1903. In 1900 the University of Cambridge conferred upon him the degree of Doctor of Music, for his attainments and activity in his chosen field of labor. He has traveled a great deal, and is especially fond of mountain climbing, having a knowledge of nearly all the European heights. He is likewise an ardent lover of all forms of outdoor sport.