George Whitefield Chadwick: The Life and Music of the Pride of New England.
Over the course of the twentieth century, scholars, critics, and musicians effectively denied the Boston composers of the late nineteenth century any claims to an American style in music history. Deemed academicians, mere imitators of Schumann and Brahms, they became a footnote to the composers of the 1920s, when ultramodernism, jazz, and other populist tendencies became a new starting point for Americanism in cultivated music traditions. David C. Paul has described how Henry Cowell advanced the notion that Charles Ives was the first composer to espouse a genuinely American music through his use of borrowed "folk" melodies, and Paul has similarly shown that well known figures such as Paul Rosenfeld and Aaron Copland saw no "usable past" in the model of the Boston classicists. (1)
In the last decade, scholars such as Marianne Betz, Charles Freeman, Joseph Horowitz, and Hon-Lun Yang have brought the music and life of George Whitefield Chadwick, one of the most popular American composers of his day and a major figure in the Boston musical scene, into sharper focus. (2) Yet for many years the only biography of Chadwick had been the pioneering monograph Chadwick, Yankee Composer, by Victor Fell Yellin. (3) Although it served as a necessary introduction to this important figure in both Bostonian and American musical life, it was in need of an upgrade. The "Life and Works" structure, in which personal biography and musical analysis are separated, feels antiquated and creates a fractured flow in the narrative. Yellin focuses on most of the major compositions of Chadwick's career yet curiously omits many of the most often-performed pieces during his lifetime, such as the vocal and orchestral works Phoenix expirans and Lochinvar. Additionally, while some of Yellin's book examines Chadwick's life against the cultural context of his time, such as the section on Boston in the 1880s, Yellin presents much of the personal biography as a series of connected yet somewhat autonomous events. The focus remains on the highly productive years prior to Chadwick taking the helm at New England Conservatory in 1897; less than ten pages are devoted to Chadwick's life after 1899.
Chadwick scholars, as well as anyone interested in nineteenth-century American music, now have a more comprehensive biography of this important composer in Bill F. Faucett's George Whitefield Chadwick: The Life and Music of the Pride of New England. (4) Faucett's name is already well known to Chadwick scholars, as he authored two important reference works on the composer in the 1990s: a survey of his symphonic output that includes both compositional history, analysis, and reception history, and a bio-bibliography. (5) This new biography builds on and expands on the work of those earlier volumes, as well as Yellin's initial foray into chronicling the life of this essential figure.
Faucett's most significant improvement over Yellin is the discovery and incorporation of Chadwick's own autobiographical writing in the form of extensive memoirs and diaries now housed in the archives of the New England Conservatory. As Faucett makes clear in the preface, this material helped shape the content of the book, and "enables the study of facets of Chadwick's life and work that were previously unknowable" (xi).
Certainly, Faucett maintains his authorial voice throughout the book; he is not Chadwick's ghostwriter nor do the memoirs dominate the text. Yet Chadwick's own words notably enhance the prose, offering not only a sense of immersion in his world, but also an intimate level of detail regarding his thoughts, opinions, and recollections. Perhaps most striking is the section towards the end in which Faucett describes Chadwick's attitude towards so-called modernisms and younger composers. Chadwick thought that Debussy's Pelleas et Melisande was "distinctly incompetent" and contained an "intrinsic general ugliness" (309), while of Sibelius's Fourth Symphony, he felt that "the harmony is brutally and apparently gratuitously discordant, even to actual cacophony at times" (311). He was especially offended by Schoenberg, Stravinsky, and Ornstein, going so far as to declare "I prefer to be put on the academic shelf and remain behind times" (314). With that stance, it is no wonder that the following generation forgot Chadwick, a point that Faucett brings into painful focus with Chadwick's remarks.
The book proceeds chronologically, although chapters are often organized around an event or specific types of works. For instance, chapters 6 through 8 all examine Chadwick's life and output in the 1890s, but chapter 6 is devoted to his vocal music and its sustaining institutions, chapter 8 examines his instrumental music, while chapter 7 neatly breaks up the musical focus by chronicling Chadwick's rise to director of the New England Conservatory. Faucett understands the genre of biography well and has written a book that not only provides an excellent historical account and musical analysis, but also does so in a highly readable manner, making for an engaging and natural narrative arc. He weaves together personal history, discussion of musical works, primary sources, and tangential discussions of people, places, institutions, and topics germane to Chadwick's life into an integrated story.
For example, as a precursor to a discussion of Chadwick's First Symphony (1882) and following the introduction to Chadwick's early career in Boston, Faucett offers a digression on "John Knowles Paine and the American Symphony" (83-86). Here, the author provides an essential context for understanding Chadwick's initial efforts in the symphonic genre by introducing Chadwick's immediate predecessor in the form of Paine's Symphony No. 2 ("Spring"), and also by placing both Paine and Chadwick at the end of a lineage that includes Anthony Phillip Heinrich, William Henry Fry, George Frederick Bristow, and Louis Moreau Gottschalk. In doing so, the reader understands the particular reasons for Paine's tremendous success, why Chadwick was so inspired by the senior Bostonian, and also some of the motivation for composing symphonies in a traditional style that privileged formal coherence. From Chadwick's recollections of Paine's Symphony No. 1 in his memoirs, the reader gleans something of Bostonian taste in the early 1880s: "The simple and benighted music lovers of those days had not been taught by...critics that the sonata form was a worn out fetish, that noble and simple melody was a relic of the dark ages, and that unresolved dissonance was the chief merit of a composition" (85). Faucett then cites reviews that note how the main theme was developed "with genuine symphonic respect," echoing the rhetoric of organic development that Boston critics lionized in Beethoven (90).
Cast in the immediate shadow of this discussion, Chadwick's First Symphony (which Yellin did not include in his examination of the composer's symphonies) appears as an important litmus test for his abilities as a composer of this serious form. However, it is also a product of its time and place, shaped by public and critical taste of that era. Furthermore, by framing the First Symphony as part of a larger genre discourse, Faucett creates an even starker line between the earlier piece and Chadwick's later symphonies, which exhibit more traits of the composer's mature style using gapped or pentatonic scales, dance rhythms, colorful orchestration, and a progressive but adherent approach to traditional forms.
Almost every musical work is given its own subheading within each chapter, allowing the reader to quickly locate anywhere from two to eight pages of text devoted to the compositional history, performance history, and analysis of an individual piece. The same organizational scheme is given to watershed moments in Chadwick's life, such as Gilmore's Peace Jubilees, the construction of Jordan Hall, or the Panama-Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco. A notable improvement over the
Yellin biography is that Faucett delivers the same level of historical acuity to the years after Chadwick assumed the directorship of the New England Conservatory. Although Yellin does focus on a number of Chadwick's twentieth-century pieces such as The Padrone, Tam O'Shanter, and Aphrodite, Faucett's ability to contextualize these works within the activities of Chadwick's life and the musical life of the U.S. and Europe adds a deeper dimension to understanding the forces behind their composition and reception.
Although the book is overwhelmingly a success, Faucett chose to omit musical examples "in an effort to make it more accessible for readers who are not musicians, music students, or musicologists" (xii). Perhaps because of this the book will find a greater readership, thereby introducing a general public to this neglected artist. However, Faucett uses specialized formal and harmonic terminology throughout, such as in his analysis of Tam O'Shanter when he argues that the piece follows a loose sonata form rather than an episodic, programmatic organization. He identifies the key areas of each theme, going so far as to spell out the pitches of the German augmented sixth chord that precedes the secondary theme (290). This level of detail demands a printed musical example, as it is difficult to imagine a reader who could follow his discussion yet who could not read music. Generally speaking, scholars will likely have to wait for future acute studies of specific works by Chadwick for any kind of detailed theoretical and stylistic analysis. Additionally, Faucett did not include any of Chadwick's many art songs, a point that he acknowledges is lamentable but necessary due to space considerations.
Still, Faucett's meticulous combing of primary source documents and articles, cross-referenced with Chadwick's own memories and descriptions, provides the bedrock for the next round of Chadwick scholars. In particular, this volume will be an excellent resource for critical examinations of specific works or specialized related topics. Noble as their nativist cause must have seemed at the time, the earlier twentieth century writers did a disservice to American music historiography when they dismissed the music of Chadwick and his milieu. Faucett's work is therefore a crucial step in reinstating Chadwick's place in American music history.
(1) David C. Paul, Charles Ives in the Mirror: American Histories of an Iconic Composer (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2013), 48, 60.
(2) Examples of this these authors' works include Marianne Betz, ed., String Quartets Nos. 4-5 by George Whitefield Chadwick, Recent Researches in American Music, Vol. 60 (Middleton, WI: A-R Editions, 2007); Charles Freeman, "Progressive Ideals for the Opera Stage? George W. Chadwick's The Padrone and Frederick S. Converse's The Immigrants," in Jeffrey H. Jackson and Stanley C. Pelkey, eds., Music and History: Bridging the Disciplines (Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2005), 115-40; Joseph Horowitz, "Reclaiming the Past: Musical Boston Reconsidered," American Music 19/1 (Spring 2001): 18-38; Hon-Lun Yang, "Nationality Versus Universality: The Identity of George W. Chadwick's Symphonic Poems," American Music 21/1 (Spring 2003): 1-44.
(3) Victor Fell Yellin, Chadwick, Yankee Composer (Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1990).
(4) There is, in fact, another new forthcoming biography on Chadwick by Marianne Betz which, unfortunately, was not available to the author at the time of this writing.
(5) Bill F. Faucett, George Whitefield Chadwick: His Symphonic Works (Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Press, 1996; Bill F. Faucett, George Whitefield Chadwick: A Bio-Bibliography (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1998).
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|Author:||Cohen, Jacob A.|
|Publication:||Society for American Music Bulletin|
|Article Type:||Book review|
|Date:||Mar 22, 2015|
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