John Knowles Paine – Overture to Oedipus Tyrannus – Eastman-Rochester Symphony conducted by Howard Hanson – from the album American Music For Orchestra – RCA Victor -M-608 – Recorded circa 1938 – Gordon Skene Sound Collection –
Taking a small side-step from our usual broadcasts this Sunday, this one comes via a 78 rpm set for RCA Victor (M-608), and issued sometime in 1938. The set was called American Music For Orchestra and it featured the Eastman-Rochester Symphony, conducted by Howard Hanson playing music of George W. Chadwick, Edward MacDowll, Kent Kennan and of course John Knowles Paine.
John Knowles Paine (January 9, 1839 – April 25, 1906) was the first American-born composer to achieve fame for large-scale orchestral music. The senior member of a group of composers collectively known as the Boston Six, Paine was one of those responsible for the first significant body of concert music by composers from the United States. The Boston Six’s other five members were Amy Beach, Arthur Foote, Edward MacDowell, George Chadwick, and Horatio Parker.
Paine’s well received 1867 Berlin premiere of Mass in D would give Paine a reputation that helped him to shape the musical infrastructure of the United States. His pioneering courses in music appreciation and music theory made the curriculum of Department of Music at Harvard a model for American Departments of Music. His service as a director of The New England Conservatory of Music (and the lectures he gave there) establish his place at the root of an instruction chain that leads (through Eugene Thayer) from George Chadwick to Horatio Parker to Charles Ives. He was the first guest conductor of the Boston Symphony Orchestra in the final concerts of its first season, and his works were audience favorites. Paine is noted for beginning American’s symphonic tradition. He is also known for writing America’s first oratorio (St. Peter), the Centennial Hymn that (with orchestra) opened the 1876 Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia, was a founder of American Guild of Organists, and co-editor of “Famous Composers and their Works”.
In 1889, Paine made one of the first musical recordings on wax cylinder with Theo Wangemann, who was experimenting with sound recording on the newly invented phonograph.
John Knowles Paine was among the initial class of inductees into the American Classical Music Hall of Fame in 1998.
Although probably not as well known as his European counterparts, the music of John Knowles Paine, as well as many of his contemporaries as well as American Classical music going all the way to mid-century is getting something of a boost in popularity of late. Small labels, and in some cases much larger labels, have been spending more time exploring this rich vein of music that has gone largely overlooked for several decades – and 20th Century American Music has come back to concert halls in recent years.
Whatever your feelings are regarding this period of our musical heritage, ignoring it or passing it off as “derivative” did no one any favors – and as much as one is tempted to paint this aspect of American culture with a broad brush, there are gems to be had and highly evocative and elegant music waiting for rediscovery. If you haven’t heard it before then it’s new to you – and if you’re just coming to different aspects and genres of Music, this one stands out and bears rediscovery. You don’t have to drop your ideas and reject everything else – but including it in your discoveries only adds to the experience. You don’t have to love it either – just know that it’s there and has a place in the grand scheme of things and you have access to it.
The benefits of an open mind.