Arthur William Foote (March 5, 1853–April 8, 1937) was an American classical composer, and a member of the Second New England School or the “Boston Six,” along with George Whitefield Chadwick, Amy Beach, Edward MacDowell, John Knowles Paine, and Horatio Parker. Foote was born in Salem, MA, on March 5, 1853. Foote’s mother, Mary Wilder Foote, a devout Unitarian, was a friend of the Emersons, Peabodys, Hoars, and Hawthornes. His father, Caleb Foote, was owner and editor of the Salem Gazette. Arthur had two older siblings, Henry Wilder Foote, Unitarian minister at King’s Chapel, and Mary Wilder Foote Tileston, editor of inspirational anthologies. After their mother died when he was four, Arthur was raised by his sister, then a teenager. From the age of thirteen, lecture series, Glee clubs, and even a chapter of the Mozart Society were regular features of his life. In 1867 Foote went to Boston to study harmony with Stephan Emery at the newly founded New England Conservatory of Music where he made his first attempts at composition. In 1870 Foote was accepted by Harvard University, where he continued his musical activities, becoming director of the Harvard Glee Club and in his senior year he began studies with the composer John Knowles Paine.
Following his graduation in 1874, Foote returned to Salem. During that summer he decided to take organ lessons from the local musician and educator Benjamin Johnson Lang, a concert promoter, choir director, and former student of Liszt. Until this time Foote had considered music a hobby, thinking that he would probably join his father on the Salem Gazette, but Lang encouraged Foote to pursue music as a full-time career. Foote returned to Harvard to continue his study with Paine, receiving the very first Master of Arts degree in Music awarded by an American university. In August 1875, upon completion of his studies at Harvard, Foote opened a studio for teaching the piano, which was to become his primary vocation for the next fifty years. The following year, he visited Bayreuth to hear a complete performance of Wagner’s Ring des Nibelungen. The experience was to have a lasting impact upon him, influencing many of his finest choral works including The Farewell of Hiawatha, for men’s voices and orchestra, and The Wreck of the Hesperus, a cantata for mixed voices and orchestra, both based upon poems by Longfellow. Largely supporting himself by taking students in piano and organ, he began to appear as a piano recitalist, often as a participant in chamber music ensembles in 1876. In addition to his work as a teacher, Foote began working as a church organist in 1876 at the Church of the Disciples in Boston, a “free church” founded by the prominent Unitarian minister, James Freeman Clarke and, finding that he enjoyed playing in church more than in the concert hall, then was appointed as organist and choirmaster of the First Unitarian Church in Boston in 1878, where he was to remain for 32 years until 1910.
A Founder of the American Guild of Organists, he was one of the examiners at the first Guild Fellowship examination. He helped organize the New England chapter of the AGO, and from 1909 to he served as National Honorary President, succeeding Horatio Parker in that position. He was one of the editors of Hymns of the Church Universal, a Unitarian hymnal published in 1890. During the 1880s, Foote’s music began to receive wider recognition, finding a regular showcase with the Boston Symphony Orchestra. The tone poem, In the Mountains (1886) was so popular with both the orchestra and conductor Wihelm Gericke, that it was featured when the orchestra performed at the Paris Exposition in 1889. Throughout the remainder of his life, he was active as a teacher and concert promoter in addition to writing several texts on the subject of harmony and piano technique, including Modern Harmony in Its Theory and Practice (1905), written with Walter R. Spalding, Some Practical Things in Piano-Playing (1909), and Modulation and Related Harmonic Questions (1919). From 1909 to 1912 he was president of the American Guild of Organists, and served as president for the Cecilia Society of Boston. He received honorary doctorates in music from Trinity College in Hartford, CT, and Dartmouth College in Hanover, NH. In 1913, he was elected to the National Institute of Arts and Letters. On 8th April 1937, Arthur Foote passed away quietly in Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, MA, as a result of acute pneumonia.
Foote found his musical vocabulary early in his career and stayed his course through out the 1890s into the twentieth century. Though he enjoyed the admiration of Boston’s concert-going public into the 1930s, he was deeply suspicious of jazz and the new musical ideas that were beginning to appear. He was considered the “Dean of American Composers” during the first two decades of the twentieth century The modern tendency is to view Foote’s music as “Romantic” and “European” in light of the later generation of American composers such as Aaron Copland, Roy Harris and William Schuman, all of whom helped to develop a recognizably American sound in classical music. A Harvard graduate and the first noted American classical composer to be trained entirely in the U.S., in some sense he is to music what American poets were to literature before Walt Whitman. Foote was an early advocate of Brahms and Wagner. A good part of Foote’s compositions consists of chamber music and these works are generally among his best.
My collection contains the following works by Foote:
Four Character Pieces after the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam, op. 48 (1900).
Francesca da Rimini, Symphonic Prologue, op. 24 (1890).
Serenade, op. 25: Air and Gavotte.
Suite in EM for string orchestra, op. 63.