Irving Lowens (1916-1983) was a music critic, musicologist, librarian, and educator based in the Washington, D.C. area. He is notable for his role as Chief Music Critic of the Washington Star newspaper (1960-1978), his tenure as Assistant Head of the Music Division at the Library of Congress (1961-1966), his tenure as Dean of the Peabody Institute at Johns Hopkins University (1978-1981), and his authorship of numerous songsters and bibliographies on early American music.
Born in New York City, Lowens completed high school at age thirteen. After traveling in Europe and acquiring foreign-language skills, he returned to the United States and studied music education, music criticism, and composition at the College of the City of New York and at Teachers College, Columbia University, earning a B.S. in Music and Music Education from Teachers College in 1939. In 1957, Lowens earned his M.A. in American Civilization from the University of Maryland, focusing his research on early American music. Soon after, he began doctoral studies in musicology at the University, passing his qualifying exams but never finishing the degree.
After completing his undergraduate education in New York, Lowens worked for the publisher G. Schirmer, providing editorial, research, and production assistance on the journal Musical Quarterly. He went on to serve as reviewer for the journal Musicology. During World War II he served domestically as an air traffic controller in the Civil Aeronautics Administration, and continued in this position at the National Airport after moving to Washington, D.C. in 1947. In 1953, Lowens began to write music reviews for the Washington Star newspaper. In the mid-1950s, he resigned from the CAA to pursue a full-time career in music criticism and research.
In 1959, Lowens joined the Music Division at the Library of Congress, where he was appointed the library's first Sound Recordings Reference Librarian. In 1961, he was promoted to Assistant Head of the Music Division's Reference Section, a position he held until 1966. Meanwhile, he continued to write for the Star, and he became its Chief Music Critic in 1960. He left the Library of Congress in 1966 to join the staff of the Star full-time, and remained its Chief Music Critic until 1978. Lowens was highly regarded as a critic and as a champion of classical music. In 1972 and again in 1977, he was awarded the Deems Taylor Award by the American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers (ASCAP) in recognition of his work.
Lowens had a long-standing interest in academia and held several educational appointments throughout his career. He held visiting teaching positions at Dunbarton College, University of Southern California (as part of a Music Critics Exchange Program), Berkshire Music Center, Aspen School of Music, University of Maryland, and CUNY's Brooklyn College (1975-1976). He joined the faculty of the Peabody Conservatory in Baltimore in 1977, and in 1978 became its Dean. He retired from Peabody with Emeritus status in 1981.
Lowens was also active in numerous professional and scholarly organizations. He was President of the Music Library Association (1965-1966), served on the Executive Board of the American Musicological Society (1964-1965), and was Vice President of the Inter-American Association of Music Critics (1973-1983). He was a founding member of the Music Critics Association in 1956, served as the Association's President (1971-1975), and was Chairmain of the Board of the American Musical Digest, a short-lived scholarly journal published by the MCA (1969-1971). Lowens was the founder and first President of the American Sonneck Society (later the Society for American Music) from 1975-1981, and he helped launch the Society's first official journal, American Music, in 1983. Lowens also served on several awards committees, including the Pulitizer Prize Committee and the Kennedy Center's Friedheim Awards Committee.
While pursuing his career as a critic and a teacher, Lowens was also completing research on American tunebooks, of which he had an extensive personal collection. His scholarly publications include Music and Musicians in Early America (1964), A Bibliography of American Songsters Published Before 1821 (1976), Kentucky Harmony (1976), Music in America and American Music (1978), and Haydn in America (1979). For many years, he collaborated on bibliographical research with Allen P. Britton and Richard Crawford. Lowens also authored numerous journal articles and gave many scholarly presentations throughout his life.
Irving Lowens died in Baltimore on November 14, 1983, and is survived by his wife, the musicologist Margery Morgan Lowens. Irving Lowens's work is commemorated thorugh the Society for American Music's Irving Lowens Awards, presented yearly to the authors of the best book and the best article on American music.