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Colin McPhee

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Biography

Colin McPhee (March 15, 1900, in Montreal – January 7, 1964, in Los Angeles) was a Canadian composer and musicologist. He is primarily known for being the first Western composer to make an ethnomusicological study of Bali, and for the quality of that work. He also composed music influenced by that of Bali and Java decades before such world music–based compositions became widespread.

Chronology

McPhee studied with the avant-garde composer Edgard Varèse before marrying Jane Belo, a disciple of Margaret Mead, in 1931. He was involved in the circle of experimental composers known as the “ultra-modernists” and was among those—along with the group’s leader, Henry Cowell, John Becker, and Cowell protégé Lou Harrison—particularly interested in what would later become known as “world music.” McPhee is said to have first encountered Balinese music while listening to a record in New York City.[1] He and his wife moved to Bali together for Belo’s anthropological work. Once there McPhee became so interested in the music that he studied, built, and wrote extensively about the gamelans. McPhee, who was gay,[2] divorced Belo in 1939. In the early 1940s he lived in a large brownstone in Brooklyn, which he shared with Leonard Bernstein and Benjamin Britten, among others.

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