Charles Wakefield Cadman

Charles Wakefield Cadman - Americana amid the ballyhoo in 1940

A Cadman World Premier – L.A. Philharmonic With Albert Coates – 1940 – Past Daily Weekend Gramophone

Charles Wakefield Cadman
Charles Wakefield Cadman – Americana amid the ballyhoo in 1940

Charles Wakefield Cadman – Symphony No.1 -World Premier – L.A. Philharmonic – Albert Coates, cond. March 7, 1940 – Gordon Skene Sound Collection –

Charles Wakefield Cadman; a name which may not ring many bells, but who at the time was a shining example of Modern American Classical music. So enthusiastic about this premier, it was carried coast-to-coast via NBC Radio, featured a short talk by the composer himself and the Los Angeles Philharmonic, under its then-Music Director Albert Coates provided the musical forces behind the effort.

Bear in mind, this was 1940 – Europe was engulfed in another War and America was flexing its patriotic muscles – so a celebration of its talents was of primary importance in building morale ahead of the dark days about to arrive.

Wikipedia has some interesting notes on Charles Wakefield Cadman:

Cadman’s musical education, unlike that of most of his American contemporaries, was completely American. Born in Johnstown, Pennsylvania, he began piano lessons at 13. Eventually, he went to nearby Pittsburgh where he studied harmony, theory, and orchestration with Luigi von Kunits and Emil Paur, then concertmaster and conductor, respectively, of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra. This was the sum of his formal training.

By the age of eighteen, he was working as a clerk in a railroad office in Homestead. On the side, he continued writing music. In 1902 he met a neighbor, Nelle Richmond Eberhart, and learned that she was interested in music. She wrote the text and he the music for their first work together, a hymn for which they were paid one and a half dollars. Their collaboration began, and it continued for 40 years.

In 1908 Cadman was appointed as the music editor and critic of the Pittsburgh Dispatch. He was greatly influenced by American Indian music, which he had been studying, especially through the work of ethnologists Alice Fletcher and Francis La Flesche. They had studied the Omaha and recorded their music and stories.

Having published several articles on American Indian music, Cadman became regarded as one of the foremost experts on the subject. In 1908 he began touring to present lectures known as the “Indian Talk”, or “Indian Music Tour”, accompanied by the performance of Native American music and his own compositions. Tsianina Redfeather (Muscogee/Cherokee), billed as “Princess Redfeather”, performed as a singer on some of his tours. Her signature song was Cadman’s “From the Land of the Sky-Blue Water”. Another such song was “At Dawning”, which became widely known in the 1920s. Cadman toured both the US and Europe for 25 years to present this lecture.

Cadman drew from Omaha and Iroquois songs for his Four American Indian Songs, Op. 45, which became his first commercial success in 1909. This was aided by performances of these songs by noted soprano Lillian Nordica, who was on a concert tour. In the summer of 1909 he went to Nebraska to study the music and traditional instruments of the Omaha and Winnebago tribes. He lived with the people on their reservations, learning to play their instruments.

During his trip to the West, he met Francis La Flesche, an Omaha ethnologist who was working with the Smithsonian Institution on studies of the Omaha and Osage. Cadman assisted him in making recordings on wax cylinders of traditional songs.These works are now held by the Library of Congress, and some 60 songs are available online. Cadman drew from La Flesche’s recordings and he was interested in his stories collected from these peoples.

They began work that year on an opera; Cadman had already started to pull melodies from three printed collections of Omaha and Pawnee music published by ethnologist Alice Cunningham Fletcher: . The songs were transcribed or harmonized by others.

Cadman and Eberhart worked closely with La Flesche by mail, and he continued to provide Cadman with Omaha melodies for the opera. They were not permitted to use melodies which La Flesche had collected for an as yet unpublished report for the Smithsonian. Together with librettist Nelle Richmond Eberhart, Cadman and La Flesche worked together for about three more years to create an opera based on Omaha stories and music. Cadman made occasional Indian Music Tours to raise money. He moved to Denver in 1911.

Cadman completed the music for Da O Ma (1912) and sought a venue for it, but it was never produced or published. It was rejected by the Boston Opera Company, the White-Smith Music Publishing Company, which had published numerous songs by Cadman; and the Metropolitan Opera. In the course of their work, the team had changed the opera from an Omaha to Sioux setting.Cadman did gain some distribution for this music: selections from the opera were published by White-Smith in 1917 as a piano suite, and by Boosey in 1920 as an orchestral suite.

In 1915 Cadman was named a national honorary member of Phi Mu Alpha Sinfonia music fraternity.

Cadman and Eberhart began another project with La Flesche, but he withdrew because of differences. They collaborated with Tsianina Redfeather Blackstone, a Muscogee/Cherokee singer who had performed with Cadman on tour. She provided much of the plot for the libretto, based on contemporary Native American issues, for The Robin Woman (Shanewis). The opera was produced by the Metropolitan Opera of New York in 1918, and, unusually, was performed for two concurrent seasons. It was very popular in the 1920s, performed also in Denver and Los Angeles. Redfeather made her opera debut in the lead role in a 1924 performance in Denver, and also sang it in Los Angeles in 1926.

Some scholars believe that Cadman’s involvement with the so-called Indianist movement in American music resulted in some critics failing to judge his works on their own merits. While his and similar works were popular in the early 20th century, they have since fallen out of favor.

So now that you have some information on the composer himself, click on the play button and have a listen to that world premier, as well as the short talk by the composer and a historic first performance by the Los Angeles Philharmonic under the legendary Albert Coates.

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