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Paul Bowles

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Paul Frederic Bowles was a composer of note and a leader among the young American artists in Paris in the 1930s.
He is best-known, however, as a novelist; he is of considerably more importance in the field of American literature than in music. He became fascinated with literature as a youth and traveled to Paris to be part of the active American literary scene there. This first trip was not especially successful: The closest he got to writing was working as a switchboard operator at the Paris edition of the New York Herald Tribune. He returned to the U.S., worked as a bookstore clerk, and took an interest in composing. Some of his early songs impressed Aaron Copland, who gave him informal lessons at his home in Saratoga, NY. Bowles' biographies often assert that he was a "student" of Copland, as well as of Nadia Boulanger and Virgil Thomson. Copland has insisted that he never had any students, in a formal sense, and Thomson said that Bowles did not readily accept the role of pupil and was essentially self-taught. Predictably, Bowles' one brush with higher education, attending the University of Virginia, was brief and of little importance. Copland took Bowles along with him on a trip to Morocco and Paris. Bowles remained in Paris, where he took one of his few successful courses, with Boulanger in counterpoint. A large portion of Bowles' musical compositions date from these years. They include a cantata Par le Détroit; a vocal work called Scènes d'Anabase; and, after he returned to the U.S. in 1936, a ballet, Yankee Clipper. He began to specialize in incidental music for plays, especially those by his friend Tennessee Williams. In 1938, he married Jane Sydney Auer, who published incisively written fiction of her own as Jane Bowles.
Soon after the war ended and travel became possible, he was drawn back to North Africa, settling in Tangier Morocco. He shifted his main orientation to writing, producing a classic novel, The Sheltering Sky, in 1949. From then on, most of his efforts were in the literary field, although he continued to compose. Although based in North Africa, his penchant for exotic places led him to travel widely. He died of a heart attack in Tangier.

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