|Elizabeth Cowling, Early 1940s|
Elizabeth Cowling (1910-1997) accepted the position of assistant professor in the School of Music in August of 1945 with a salary of $2500 for nine months of instruction. She came to the Women’s College after earning a Master’s degree in Economics from Columbia University as well as a Master’s degree in Cello Performance at Northwestern University (she received her PhD in Music History and Literature from Northwestern in 1960). As a faculty member, Cowling earned a reputation as a demanding instructor, challenging her students with lessons described as “bone-chillingly frightening.” As one of Cowling’s former students remembers her,
“She simply demanded our best… always…and all us little Southern girls, in starched cotton dresses, had never met anyone quite like her. We all agree now that she was the one who made is aware of our minds…and forced us to use them.”
The intimidating standard of industry Elizabeth Cowling expected from her students applied to her own efforts. The course load Cowling maintained as a professor required the hiring of three full time professors in Music History within four years of her retirement.
As was required of Woman’s College School of Music faculty, Cowling regularly performed in concerts locally, though her legacy is as a researcher and author of music history. Her passion of music history, specifically the history of the cello, led her to Luigi Silva, the acclaimed cellist and musicologist whose collection is the foundation of the UNCG Cello Music Collections. Her correspondence with Silva began in 1946, and the support of Silva as a mentor (and later, a colleague), combined with Cowling’s exhaustive research, would lead to the publishing of The Cello, the most comprehensive biography of the instrument to have ever been written in English at that time. The acclaimed work is still standard reading for music history and has, since its publication in 1975, been revised and published in Japanese.
|Dedication of the Luigi Silva Library, 1964 |
(from left to right: Janos Scholz,
Mrs. Brett Armfield,
Elizabeth Cowling, and Charles M. Adams)
The School of Music and the University Library collaborated in a Luigi Silva tribute event in 1964, publicizing the acquisition of the collection. Immediately, the Library received letters inquiring about research access and the content of the collection, questions that were generally forwarded to Elizabeth Cowling. The Silva Library remained the only cello music collection until 1977, when Cowling donated her personal score collection to the Library. With the combined cello music collections of Silva and Cowling, the Library could claim an archive of nearly 2450 scores, predominantly featuring the cello.
Elizabeth Cowling’s influence does not end with the donation of her collection in 1977. Her professional acquaintances and friendships with cellists around the world, combined with the prestige of sharing an archive with Luigi Silva, encouraged established cellists to donate their collections with the result that the Rudolf Matz Cello Music Collection was donated in 1986. By the time of Elizabeth Cowling’s death, Special Collections and University Archives housed the collections of Luigi Silva (1963), Elizabeth Cowling (1977), Rudolf Matz (1986), Maurice Eisenberg (1989), and Janos Scholz (1994).
Elizabeth Cowling died February 18, 1997, leaving a $190,000 gift to the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, $20,000 of which was dedicated to the Library for the processing and cataloging of the collections into the OCLC online database, making the Cello Music Collections more accessible to cellists and music researchers worldwide.
|Luigi Silva Collection Cataloging Project Completion |
Celebration, 2001 (Left: Sarah Dorsey, Music Librarian;
Right: Joan Staples, Cello Music Cataloger)
Although Elizabeth Cowling’s impact on the University of North Carolina at Greensboro and music research is substantial, perhaps one of her former students articulated her legacy best when they wrote, “this woman exudes the mystique of music from her very being. Its joy and beauty permeate her soul, and are reflected back to those around. She is a pied piper for music students, luring them into the adventure of musicianship.”