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Music of Paul Bowles

4.8 out of 5 stars 5 customer reviews

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Audio CD, April 18, 2000
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Editorial Reviews

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Paul Bowles had two careers, one as a composer of music for films, dance theater, and Broadway; the other as a writer of extraordinary fiction of the Beat era. While Bowles's fiction has a roughness and an alienation characteristic of the American expatriate experience of the 1950s (he moved to Morocco in 1949 and was friends with William S. Burroughs), his music is anything but. The Pastorela (1947) and Suite for Small Orchestra (1932-33) rival anything Aaron Copland was writing at the same time without being derivative or otherwise influenced by Copland's folksy Americana. As typical of RCA, the recorded sound is excellent, but special kudos go to the Eos Orchestra who invest Bowles's music with grace, color, and charm. Don't pass this release up. --Paul Cook
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Product Details

  • Performer: Kurt Ollmann, Lucy Schaufer, Alan Feinberg, Leslie Stifelman, Carl Halvorson
  • Orchestra: EOS Ensemble
  • Conductor: Jonathan Sheffer
  • Composer: Paul Bowles
  • Audio CD (April 18, 2000)
  • Number of Discs: 1
  • Label: RCA Legacy
  • ASIN: B00004SUS7
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #274,347 in Music (See Top 100 in Music)

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Format: Audio CD
I have had a long-term interest in the missing generation of American composers -- that is, the generation of the '30s and '40s who tended to leftist views. Their most popular surviving members are Copland and Bernstein; but they also include Blitzstein, Bowles, Barber, Diamond, Foss, etc. I am quite grateful that they are slowly being rediscovered.
My interest in Paul Bowles began with a performance script of Tennessee Williams' "The Glass Menagerie," which specified that no music other than the music of Paul Bowles was to be used in productions of the play. "Who dat?"
Then I discovered "The Sheltering Sky," and a collection of his short stories, and an extremely exotic Morrocan autobiography called "A Life Full of Holes" that he translated. So, I thought, maybe he was really a writer who dabbled in music. But the recent biography of Copland said otherwise. Copland felt that he was very possibly the most talented of that generation. Then a door-stop sized biography of him came and went; more clues to his musical accomplishment but still, no music.
I was beginning to suspect that Mark Blitzstein was the more talented among the relatively unknown members of that generation. And I had recordings of a recital of his songs, "The Cradle Will Rock," "Regina," and "The Airborn Symphony" which supported it.
But this CD indicates a rush to judgment. I still adore Blitzstein, but Bowles is the better craftsman and far more ingenious in his creative approach to rhythm, form and instrumental color.
This CD is just too much fun. Thanks to their French training under Boulanger, they all got a thorough appreciation of the entire battery of Stravinsky's various rhythmic, harmonic, and melodic tricks, including his ongoing appreciation for folk songs and dances.
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It was a surprise to me to find music of the famous author Paul Bowles. I have read Sheltering Sky and I was impressed by it. The CD booklet mentions a dual career for Bowles. Listening to his music I think it is a shame Bowles did not pursue a career as composer. He is by no means a mature composer, but the sincerity and passion of his music are very refreshing. His music is American, with strong influence of Copland. His sound is jazzy and romantic with latin influences. I was very impressed by the two vocal works on the disc. One, a zarzuala based on Garcia Lorca is an exiting piece of music with a latin touch. The other is a suite of six songs, beautifully sung by Kurt Ollmann. Overall the performers do a great job. It is clear they like the music and especially the voices are a good match for this kind of music. I gave it a 5 star rating because of the rareness of the music, the quality of the performance. I bought the disc as a gift and I find it hard to part from it.
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I like minimalists. For whatever reason I like the music of Adams, Glass, some of Reich, and especially the work of one composer whose work I chanced across: Ingram Marshall.
On the other hand, I'd never heard of Paul Bowles. Then there was a concert at the Kennedy Center of various pieces for two (and three) pianos. The conductor preceded the performance of Bowles' Concerto for Two Pianos and Orchestra with the fact that Bowles is better known as an author than as a composer. I didn't know that, but I paid attention to the Bowles piece. It didn't have the melody or magic fingerwork of the pieces by Mozart, Mendelssohn, or even the piece by Poulenc. But I like it. It reminded me of the minimalists.
I confess that I notice that concerto more than the other pieces on the disk; having seen it performed, I can relate to it more intimately. The booklet along with the CD says that Bowles spent a great deal of time in Tangier apparently fleeing from something in the U.S., probably something considered seditious at the time. During that exile, he, according to the booklet, picked up the influence of French composers. The booklet mentions Satie, Milhaud, and Poulenc. While I listen closely, what I notice is a touch of Ravel. And, since I find Ravel's music outstanding, who am I to criticize Bowles'?
It's hard to describe any of the music. Much of it, again, is minimalist to me. It's dissonant, pops all over. Bowles himself said of one of his pieces, that "it's like a monkey jumping from one tree to another." Some of the six songs seem a bit somber, even funerary. (Maybe I'll have to listen to them more closely.) But it's all so soothing. Since Bowles was an author in addition to being a composer, there was a stream of creative juices flowing from and around him.
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Never heard of Bowles before, but what a find! His music sounds like a crossover between Aaron Copland and Alec Wilder. Fresh and exciting, I think most people will like it very much. Play a few of the sampler tracks, and see if you agree.
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Modernistic music, dissonant in places, but quite beautiful with a dream-like quality. The singing and instrumental work is at a very high level throughout, I really LOVE this record.
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