New book on author Paul Bowles is co-edited by UCSC lecturer who inherited famed writer's musical estate

Paul Bowles is perhaps best known as the author of The Sheltering Sky, the popular novel that was later turned into a feature film in 1990 starring John Malkovich and Debra Winger. But few people realize that the prolific writer thought of himself primarily as a composer of music.

A new book co-edited by UC Santa Cruz lecturer Irene Herrmann, Paul Bowles on Music, spotlights the intersection of his two great passions--writing and music. The volume is a collection of music criticism by Bowles, written between 1935 and 1946, that has never before been compiled in book form.

It contains reviews Bowles penned as the music critic for the New York Herald Tribune, as well as complete reprints of essays on music that he contributed to Modern Music magazine, a renowned periodical of the '30s and '40s that distinguished itself through the highly literate composers--such as Aaron Copland and Virgil Thomson--who wrote about music in its pages,

The incisive and often humorous pieces cover classical, film, popular, and ethnic music, including important premieres of works by Copland, Cage, Shostakovich, and Stravinsky. They range from reviews of top jazz concerts of the day in Harlem, to debut recitals by emigre virtuosos, to performances by Frank Sinatra, in a compilation that highlights an extraordinary era of American musical history.

"We had over 450 reviews and we distilled it down to about 200," Herrmann said. "We had to decide what genres to include-we ended up putting in all of the pieces on jazz. We also wanted to put in some negative reviews, because they're always the most entertaining."

"They read well today," Herrmann added. "It's fascinating to learn what people thought of that music at its first hearing."

A staff accompanist for the UC Santa Cruz Music Department for more than two decades, Herrmann recorded her own solo piano and chamber music CD of Bowles's music on the Koch record label in 1995. She also happens to be the inheritor of Bowles's musical estate, which contains several previously unrecorded works by the composer. Herrmann met Bowles in 1992 when she began to research his music.

"I'm interested in American music, and I was looking for repertoire for concerts," Herrmann recalled. "I think Paul enjoyed my company, and enjoyed listening to music with me. On my first visit, I brought and played some piano music for him from some manuscripts that I had found in a Bowles archive housed at the University of Texas Special Collections in Austin. It was his own music that he hadn't heard in 40 years."

After that first encounter, Herrmann regularly traveled to visit Bowles at his apartment in Tangier, Morocco, every summer until his death in 1999. Bowles designated Herrmann as the inheritor of his musical estate in 1996.

"I think he realized that I knew more about his music--where it was, what was available--than anyone else," Herrmann said. "I had done a lot of work already organizing that information. And by great luck, I had found some of his long-lost manuscripts from the '30s--about 10 or 12 pieces."

Throughout his lifetime, Bowles composed a variety of musical scores, four novels, 60 short stories, various travel pieces, and dozens of translations of Moroccan stories. In the 1930s, he was also the premier theater composer of live incidental music, collaborating with such luminaries as John Houseman, Orson Welles, William Saroyan, and Lillian Hellman.

Bowles's original music accompanied numerous Broadway productions, including major plays by Tennessee Williams, beginning with the Glass Menagerie in 1944. The Museum of Modern Art in New York also presented a performance of Bowles's zarzuela, The Wind Remains, conducted by Leonard Bernstein and choreographed by Merce Cunningham.

Co-edited by southern California classical music critic Timothy Mangan, Paul Bowles on Music additionally includes the last recorded interview with Bowles. It was conducted by Herrmann in Tangier, shortly before his death in 1999.

"Paul didn't like to talk about his writing, but he liked to talk about his music," Herrmann recalled. "Toward the end of his life, he was really fragile, so rather than converse, we spent lots of time listening to music together. He liked to listen to Lou Harrison, French composers like Germaine Tailleferre and Satie, and his favorite--Stravinsky."

Hermann ultimately inherited the music of Bowles's estate, including all of his sound recordings. With the help of UC Santa Cruz library bibliographer Paul Machlis, she arranged to have them categorized and transferred onto CD.

"He had seemingly endless piles of cassettes with performances of his music that others had sent him-things like live radio broadcasts from France. They were found in disarray in his apartment," Herrmann said. "So Special Collections at UC Santa Cruz now has the most complete archive on Bowles's non-commercial music available--on about 25 CDS," she noted.


More information about Paul Bowles can be found on his official web site: