American Composers: Works In Large Instrumental Forms

American Music Still Young.—Musical composition in the United States is still too young in comparison with the work of European composers to have made marked impress on history. American composers owe their training largely to European teachers, the models upon which they have based their work come from European art, and the principles of construction were developed by the European masters. Hence the disposition to view American composition as still in a state of pupilage. Yet the record shows a number of men who have done worthy work, many of them winning far more than a local reputation, and not a few enjoying international fame. And this work, especially such as is cast in the large forms, for orchestra, chamber-music or chorus with orchestra, is the product of the years since the close of the Civil War, a very short period, indeed, when compared with the story of composition in most of the European countries. It speaks volumes for the native capacity and sturdy industry of American composers that they have, in less than a half-century, won a high place in the use of the materials of musical composition and that they have so readily assimilated the work and teachings of European masters.

Paine.—The earliest composer in large instrumental forms was John K. Paine, born, Portland, Me., 1834, died 1906. In 1858, he went to Germany to study and gave particular attention to the organ. He quickly gained rank as the chief American organist, on his return to the United States, several years later. In 1862, he became connected with Harvard University as an instructor in music, a full professorship being created in 1875. His first important works were choral, with orchestral accompaniment. His first symphony was brought out in 1876, his second, called “Spring,” in 1880. Other large works for orchestra are a symphonic fantasy based on Shakespeare’s “Tempest,” a symphonic poem “An Island Fantasy,” the inspiration of which came from several paintings of marine scenes, and an overture to Shakespeare’s “As You Like It.” Prof. Paine’s large choral works are : a Mass in D, an oratorio “St. Peter,” music to “OEdipus Tyrannus,” “Phoebus, Arise,” “Nativity,” drawn from Milton, “Song of Promise,” hymns for the Centennial and Columbus Exhibitions, music to Aristophanes’ “Birds,” an opera “Azara,” besides organ compositions, chamber-music, songs and part-songs.

Gilchrist. — A composer whose training was entirely American is William W. Gilchrist, born in Jersey City, in 1846, a resident of Philadelphia for many years, where his professional activity has included important work as teacher of singing, and chorus conducting. His musical education was received mainly from Dr. H. A. Clarke, of the University of Pennsylvania. His compositions include a symphony, a suite for orchestra and a great deal of chamber-music. He has written a number of works for chorus with orchestra, his most notable being a setting of the Forty-sixth Psalm, to which was awarded a $I000 prize, offered by the Cincinnati Festival Association. His other compositions include choral works in smaller forms, with string or other accompaniment suited to chamber-music, part-songs, church music, and a number of fine songs. He is especially happy in writing for women’s voices.

Chadwick.—A composer who has won appreciation in Europe is George W. Chadwick, born in Lowell, Mass., in 1854. His studies were carried on in the New England Conservatory, at Boston, which institution he entered in 1872. Five years later he went to Leipzig to study, giving special attention to composition. In 1879, he went to Dresden to study with Rheinberger. In 1880, he returned to the United States and settled in Boston. His professional activities included work as organist, conductor, and teacher at the New England Conservatory. In 1897, he was called to the directorship of the Conservatory. His compositions are written in all the various forms, his reputation as a composer of high rank being based upon his large orchestral works, which include three symphonies, four overtures, chamber-music, a comic opera, a sacred opera, “Judith,” two cantatas, popular with choral societies, “Phoenix Expirans” and the “Lily Nymph,” a ballad for chorus and orchestra, “Lovely Rosabelle, part-songs, church music, and a number of songs of high merit.

MacDowell.—An American composer in thorough accord with the modern musical tendencies in composition is Edward Alexander MacDowell, born in New York, in 1861 (died in 1908). His teacher was Mme. Teresa Carreno, the celebrated pianist. He became a pupil of the Paris Conservatoire, in 1876, and after three years under French masters and influences, went to Germany, where he studied under Ehlert, Heymann and Raff, the latter giving him a thorough grounding in the technic of composition. His musical education, therefore, included both French and German ideas. He remained in Germany as pianist, composer and teacher until 1888, when he returned to the United States and settled in Boston. In 1896, he accepted the position of professor of music in Columbia University, New York City, which he held until 1904, when he resigned to devote himself to composition exclusively. MacDowell was trained to a thorough understanding of form, yet his works show that he regards only the spirit of form, that he is its master and not its servant. He has plenty of force, vigor and originality of melody and rhythm and is resourceful in his command of modern harmony. Critics of high authority have unhesitatingly awarded him the highest rank among American-born composers. His compositions include works in the large forms, two concertos, two suites, four poems for orchestra, four piano sonatas of striking romantic content, a number of smaller works for the piano, studies, songs and part-songs, principally for male voices.

Horatio Parker.—It is significant of the advance in music over other sections of the United States that New England should have been the birthplace of a number of composers of reputation. Besides Paine and Chadwick, two others have achieved eminence in the large forms : Horatio Parker and Arthur Foote. Mr. Parker was born near Boston, in 1863 ; his father was an architect, his mother a woman of fine literary and musical culture. His first lessons in music, piano and organ, were received from his mother, and such was his interest that he made attempts at composition. At sixteen, he was appointed to a position as organist and was thus launched into musical life. He kept up his studies with Boston teachers, in composition with Chadwick, and after-wards with Rheinberger, in Germany, in which country he remained until 1885. His first appointment was director of music at Garden City Cathedral Schools, Long Island, afterwards filling organ positions in New York City, the most notable one being at the Church of the Holy Trinity. He also taught in the National Conservatory. In 1893, he went to Boston as organist and director of music at Trinity Church, and in 1894, to Yale University, as professor of music. In addition to the work in composition and history of music, Mr. Parker conducts a series of orchestral, concerts given by an orchestra supported by the University. Mr. Parker’s compositions in large form include a symphony, several overtures, a concerto for organ and orchestra, chamber-music, cantatas for chorus and orchestra, and in smaller forms, piano and organ pieces, songs and many part-songs. His cantata “Hora Novissima” is one of the best works in this style produced by an American composer, and has been given in England with success. The legend of “St. Christopher” furnished material for a work of a secular character that has been taken up by some important choral organizations.

Arthur Foote was born at Salem, Mass., in 1854. His musical education was wholly acquired in Boston, his leading teachers having been Stephen A. Emery and B. J. Lang. Mr. Foote is also a graduate of Harvard University. His home is in Boston, where his professional work is that of an organist, and teacher of piano and composition. His most important work in large form is a suite for orchestra, Op. 36; in addition to this he has written successfully in the domain of chamber-music, works for string orchestra, a quartet, a quintet, a trio and a sonata for piano and violin; he has also written excellent works for chorus with orchestra, “Wreck of the Hesperus,” piano and organ pieces, a number of fine songs and part-songs. He is perhaps at his best in writing for male voices, notable works being “The Skeleton in Armor” and “Farewell to Hiawatha.”.

Hadley.—A younger composer than those mentioned, whose work in the large forms has received commendation, is Henry K. Hadley, born at Somerville, Mass., in 1871. His father was a member of the musical profession, and first taught his son, who later went to Boston to study with Emery, Chadwick and Allen (violin). In 1894, he went to Vienna to study and wrote several works for orchestra while there. In 1896, he returned to the United States and taught in St. Paul’s School, at Garden City. He has written several symphonies, suites, an overture, a cantata and a number of songs ; two comic operas are also among his works. In 1910 in Seattle as conductor of Symphony Orchestra.

Frank van der Stucken, born in Fredericksburg, Texas, in 1858, of Belgian descent, was educated abroad, mainly under Benoit, at Antwerp, and entered professional life in Europe, yet he is classed with American composers, for he has spent a great part of his active musical life in this country. It was in 1884, that he came to New York City as conductor of a large German singing society, at the same time giving much attention to conducting orchestral works, in which branch he had had considerable experience in Europe. In 1895, he went to Cincinnati as conductor of the Symphony Orchestra of that city and two years later, was dean of the College of Music, from the active management of which he retired in 1903. Although he has written a number of orchestral pieces, his most important work, modern in form and scored for the full modern orchestra is “William Ratcliffe,” a symphonic prologue, which has a very dramatic program. He has also written songs that are in the extreme style of the most advanced composition.

Mrs. Beach.—Few women have won any success in composition in the large musical forms. A most notable exception is Mrs. H. H. A. Beach (Amy Marcy Cheney), who was born at Henniker, N. H., in 1867. She showed marked inclination for music while still a child and was given regular instruction when only six years old. Soon after this her parents moved to Boston and she continued her musical education there under Ernst Perabo and Carl Baermann. Her studies in composition were largely made with-out teachers, guided principally by the most thorough and extensive study of the scores of the masters. She was married in 1885 to a prominent Boston physician. Mrs. Beach’s most important works are her “Gaelic” symphony, a mass for chorus with organ and small orchestra, a sonata for violin and piano and a piano concerto. In addition to this she has written a number of piano pieces and songs.

Loefer.—An account of music in the United States would not be complete without reference to the work of Mr. Charles M. Loeffler, one of the most important figures in modern musical composition. Although he was born in Europe (1861) and educated there, he has spent his adult life in this country, having been for many years a violinist in the Boston Symphony Orchestra. His best-known work is the “Death of Tintagiles,” founded upon Maeterlinck. Rollinat and Verlaine have also furnished inspiration to him. A concerted work for violin and orchestra shows his skill both as composer and violinist. Of late years, Mr. Loeffler has turned his attention to song and chamber music.

Other Composers.—In a concise account of the work of American composers, short mention only can be given to a number of men who have worked earnestly in composition, a field in which appreciation seems to be granted freely to the foreigner but grudgingly to the compatriot. Conditions are not favorable to development along the lines of public performance of works in large forms, orchestras are under the control of foreign conductors, most of the players are foreigners, and the concert-going public gives but scant attention to works by an American. Therefore much credit is due to those who have worked quietly and with but little hope of hearing their works, doing their best to produce music in accord with the best canons of the art. Such men are Frederick Grant Gleason, born at Middletown, Conn., 1848 (died in Chicago, 1903), studied at home and abroad; Adolph M. Foerster, born in Pittsburgh, Pa., 1854, who was educated in Germany, and is now a resident of his native city; Ernest R. Kroeger, born at St. Louis, 1862, educated at home, and still a resident of the city of his birth; Henry Schoenefeld, born at Milwaukee, 1857, educated at home and abroad ; Henry Holden Huss, born in Newark, N. J., in 1862, studied in New York and at Munich, under Rheinberger, now a resident of New York City ; Arthur B. Whiting, born in Cambridge, Mass., 1861, educated in Boston and by Rheinberger, at Munich, a resident of Boston; Louis A. Coerne, professor of music at Smith College (1903-1907) ; educated in Boston and Munich (Rheinberger) ; and Harry Rowe Shelley, of New York City, who was born at New Haven, Conn., 1858, studied there and in New York (Buck and Dvorâk). These composers have by no means confined their work to compositions for orchestra, chamber-music, cantatas, etc., but have also written useful piano and organ pieces, and in a number of cases, songs that have become extremely popular.