Edward Cowie: Composer

‘One of the most distinctive musical minds of our time.’ Observer

Edward Cowie is an extraordinary composer and artist, with a catalogue of works spanning a 50-year career. He is available for the commission of new works, and for collaboration on performances and recordings of his extensive existing works. His work is deeply connected with and inspired by the natural world.

His undergraduate studies in Physics and practical studies in Painting have been integrated into a ‘fusion-world’ of ideas where science, the visual arts and music coalesce in a creative continuum.

Examples of work

Reviews and responses


‘One of the most distinctive and original musical voices in our time’ – David Cairns – The Observer (on Cowie’s Concerto for Orchestra)


‘This is the best musical portrait of the sea in action since Debussy’s La Mer’ – Max Loppert – The Musical Times (on Cowie’s BBC Prom premiere of Leviathan)

‘Immaculate Attention to detail – this left a deep and powerful impression.’ – Hilary Finch – The Times (on Earth Music 1 at the 2013 BBC Proms)


‘Astonishing originality! Breathtaking sonorities…’ – Gerald Larner – The Guardian (on Clarinet Concerto No.1)


‘Edward Cowie is a true original. These extraordinary watercolours are reminiscent of mediaeval manuscripts and also of the finest in antique Japanese art. The fusion between abstraction and reality and especially the use of musical notation sets him apart from the ordinary. What an incredible challenge for the mind and senses!’ – Merete Baites – The Guardian. (Cowie one man show at Park Square Gallery Leeds)


‘Once you see these sumptuous oil paintings and have also heard his astounding music, you can only reflect on being in the presence of something incredible – a renaissance man in our own time!’ – Carol Medhurst – Adelaide Advertiser (Adelaide Festival one man show in The Kensington Gallery)


‘I’m so glad you accepted our invitation to Conference. I’m sure you realise that being begged to go on entertaining for more than an hour longer than scheduled was indication of how stunned and transformed we all were. Conference buzzed with your ideas and inspiration for the remainder of the conference!’ – David Chandler. CEO Australian Mutual Provident Society – (after a two day residency as part of their international conference in Christchurch, New Zealand)


‘Thank you Thank you!

How on earth you managed to pull off a staggering two and a half hours of utter joy and revelation to a huge audience like this I’ll never know. You are obviously a born communicator as well as entertainer. I think what thrilled us most was that you made even the most complicated things seem simple and that you left us with no choice but to think again about our senses and what to do with them. We want you back!’ – Caroline McGrath. President The International Conference of the Inner Wheel. (The Sir John Clancy Auditorium at the University of New South Wales in Sydney)


Edward Cowie was born in Birmingham, England in 1943, but spent the bulk of his student-years living in wild and remote regions of Suffolk and then the Cotswolds. These deep connections with natural habitats were to form the core of formal and dynamic inspirations for the development of both his musical and his visual practices. Although he studied first as a physicist (ultimately taking a Ph D with substantial elements of both physics and mathematics as well as music and fine art), he also continued studies in both the violin and piano and began serious compositional activities in his late teens. Whilst at University in London, he also studied fine art as an external student at The Slade in London.

These parallel (and he believes integral and interconnected) activities were to form the fulcrum for an evolving practice as a creative artist with an equal concern for the balanced and fusion-relationships between the arts and sciences. Cowie acknowledges the huge influence on him of Leonardo, Goethe, Ruskin, Klee and particularly Kandinsky. He began serious compositional studies with Peter Racine Fricker at Morley College and then as a private pupil with Alexander Goehr. Edward acknowledges Goehr as a seminal influence on the vivid and diverse intellectual and inspirational domains essential to feed acts of creation. They remain close friends to this day. But Cowie also came under the influence and spell of Michael Tippett, who became a close friend and mentor during Edward’s critical formative period.

1975 saw the premiere of a major BBC Proms Commission, Leviathan, which not only won many critical plaudits but established him immediately as ‘a new and vital voice in the music of our time’ and ‘a true sonic poet of nature’. From that time onwards, he received major commissions and performances from and in festivals in Britain and all over the world. He was awarded a Gulbenkian Fellowship to work at the Royal Ballet in 1971, which led to a commission for a ballet score for Rambert in 1972. He was also awarded a Chopin Fellowship in 1971 to study with Lutoslawski in Poland. In 1973 Cowie won a Radcliffe International Composer Prize.

Within a period of 10 years, Cowie became a successful and sought-after conductor too, having been made the first Granada Composer/Conductor with the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra for the three years between 1983-86. But it was also in the early 70s that he began to exhibit work as a painter in galleries throughout the UK including Tryon Gallery in London and The Royal Academy. He has had more than 40 one-person shows in galleries in 7 countries worldwide and his work is in private and public collections in 23 countries.

He moved to Australia in 1983 to take a foundation Chair in Creative Arts at The University of Wollongong in NSW. He designed new ‘breeds’ of undergraduate and postgraduate degrees in integrated arts practices that transformed academic arts degrees in Australia but also formats that influenced new approaches to higher degree research practices in the UK.

Whilst in Australia, Cowie continued to work as a conductor, concentrating especially on 20th century music and new music of the time. He was principal conductor of The Australia Ensemble for 4 years and also conducted concerts and recordings by ABC Symphony Orchestras in Sydney, Brisbane, Adelaide and Hobart.

The holder of two doctorates, one in science/arts research and one in musical composition, Cowie has held visiting professorships in Germany and the USA as well as senior professorships in Australia and the United Kingdom.

He has given major public lectures including the Ruskin Lecture at Oxford and the Gertrude Langer Memorial Lectures in Australia. He is internationally recognised as a brilliant public speaker and entertainer and has given key-note speeches in areas as diverse as the Annual Conference of The Royal Australian College of Surgeons; The Annual Conference of Australian Mutual Provident Insurance; The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds and the International Conference of the Inner Wheel (with an audience of 2000!). This crusading and evangelical enthusiasm was also to manifest in major commissioned radio programmes for ABCFM and BBC Radios 3 and 4. He has also made 4 large-scale TV films including his much-acclaimed BBCTV commission for Leonardo.

He was the founder and Director of Earth Music Bristol in 2011. All the concerts were broadcast on BBC Radio 3 and 4 with substantial financial support from Radio 3.

In 2003, Cowie was appointed as the first Composer in Association with the BBC Singers; a relationship that has continued with many major new choral commissions and recordings for almost 45 years! In that same year, he was also appointed the first Artist in Residence with the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) also for a period of 3 years.

Having returned to the UK to live in 1995, Cowie has re-established himself as an artist of extraordinary breadth and depth. He is hugely in demand by soloists and chamber musicians worldwide and an ever enlarging (and sometimes overdue) series of CDs. Commissions continue to flourish and diversify and in Cowie’s own words ‘I feel stronger – more focussed – and more in love with making things than ever!’ So diverse is Cowie’s unique panoply of talents and interests that it might be easy to assume that he holds an impossible cluster of demands in his grasp. But a recent review of one of his ABC Radio National series, The Singing Planet would seem to more than allay such a view!

‘Edward Cowie is truly amazing! He has opened my mind to entirely new ways of perceiving the world around me and how my senses work together to make the world a more astonishing place. He’s one of those visionaries that can transform even the most familiar as well as the unfamiliar into marvels and revelations beyond words!’