George W. Chadwick this weekend. Continuing with more selections from the landmark American Music For Orchestra set of 78 rpm discs (M-608) for RCA-Victor, featuring The Eastman-Rochester Symphony conducted by Howard Hanson from 1939. This one is Chadwick’s Jubilee.
George Whitefield Chadwick (November 13, 1854 – April 4, 1931) was an American composer. Along with John Knowles Paine, Horatio Parker, Amy Beach, Arthur Foote, and Edward MacDowell, he was a representative composer of what is called the Second New England School of American composers of the late 19th century—the generation before Charles Ives. Chadwick’s works are influenced by the Realist movement in the arts, characterized by a down-to-earth depiction of people’s lives.
His works included several operas, three symphonies, five string quartets, tone poems, incidental music, songs and choral anthems. Along with a group of other composers collectively known as the Boston Six, Chadwick was one of those responsible for the first significant body of concert music by composers from the United States.
Chadwick composed in almost every genre, including opera, chamber music, choral works, and songs, though he had a particular affinity for orchestral music. His music can be categorized into four style periods: (1) The Formative Period, 1879–1894; (2) The Americanism/Modernism Period, 1895–1909; (3) The Dramatic Period, 1910–1918; and (4) The Reflective Years, 1919-1931.
During his formative period, Chadwick utilized his training as a student in Leipzig, favoring sonata form, diatonic harmony, and regular phrasing and rhythms. The Symphony No. 1 in C major, Symphony No. 2 in B-flat major, and Symphony in F (No. 3) followed the four-movement outline, model after composers like Ludwig van Beethoven, Felix Mendelssohn, Robert Schumann, and Johannes Brahms. Nonetheless, the Second and Third Symphonies exhibit original aspects such as pentatonic scales, along with the Scots-Irish folk style in the Second Symphony.
His important early overtures are Rip Van Winkle, Melpomene, and Thalia. Set around Washington Irving’s tale of the same name, Rip Van Winkle was his first orchestral work that established his claim to fame in Europe and America. Melpomene is a rich and lush work reminiscent of Wagner, and the comedy overture Thalia is imitative of Mendelssohn’s light and lively style. A choral/orchestral piece, The Lily Nymph, presents a mixture of techniques borrowed from Mendelssohn and Impressionism.
Among his chamber works, the First String Quartet and Second String Quartet demonstrate a solid knowledge of developmental procedures as well as inventiveness, while the Third String Quartet (1882?-1886) displays more mastery in instrumentation. The Quintet for Piano and Strings is a lyrical work that show a melodic gift despite some awkward moments.
Chadwick’s first work for the theatre was The Peer and the Pauper, an imitation of Gilbert and Sullivan operas which were then popular in the U.S. His Burlesque Opera of Tabasco was an outlet for his own wry wit, featuring a humorous plot, comically named characters, and popular-style music. It opened in New York in 1894 and toured the United States for a year.
During his Americanism/Modernism Period, Chadwick was asserting his own musical style more than previously, as in the concert overture Adonais. It included multiple sections, muted strings, and harps to generate an ethereal quality, unconventional rhythms, and occasional chromaticism. The critic William Foster Apthorp stated,
“It is the most modern in spirit of anything I know from his pen… He has outgrown the classic idea… The very character of the thematic material in Adonais is modern, in sharp contrast to the classic reserve shown in the Melpomene overture; the expression is more outspoken, more purely emotional and dramatic.”
Chadwick further delved into the symphonic genre with his Symphonic Sketches, Sinfonietta, and Suite Symphonique. All have the conventional four-movement pattern, but he created a gossamer atmosphere with humorous themes, programmaticism, modality (pentatonic melodies), and Impressionism.The orchestration contains unexpected elements such as bass clarinet cadenzas, saxophone solos, extended brass solos, and large percussion batteries.
Chadwick was much in demand as a conductor, appearing frequently with U.S. orchestras. He also directed music festivals in Springfield (1897-1901) and Worcester (1889-1899). Even with all this activity, he still managed to compose; among his most popular works are the four Symphonic Sketches (1895-1904) and the Tam O’Shanter Overture (1915). He eventually produced five operas, three symphonies, five string quartets, and a variety of other orchestral and chamber works. The conservatism of his music, however, led to its falling out of favor as the musical world changed dramatically in the early twentieth century. The Metropolitan Opera even refused to produce his tragic opera The Padrone (1912).
Chadwick was much honored during his lifetime. As early as 1897 he received an honorary degree from Yale University; eight years later he received another from Tufts College. In 1928, he was presented a gold medal by the Academy of Arts and Letters. And in 1930 a pair of music festivals (at the New England Conservatory and the Eastman School) marked the fiftieth anniversary of his return to the United States from his European studies. He died the following year.
Now that you’re familiar with George W. Chadwick (if you weren’t already). Hit the play button and enjoy.