Home » Uncategorized » George W. Chadwick and Symphonic Sketches

George W. Chadwick and Symphonic Sketches


George Whitefield Chadwick (November 13, 1854 – April 4, 1931) was an American composer, teacher, conductor, and organist, who, along with John Knowles Paine Horatio Parker, Amy Beach, Arthur Foote, and Edward MacDowell, a group of other composers collectively known as the Boston Six, was a representative composer of what can be called the New England School of American composers of the late nineteenth century, the generation before Charles Ives.   Born in a rural part of Lowell, MA, on November 13, 1854, Chadwick received some early musical training from organ lessons given by his older brother, Fitz Henry. He developed an independent, self-reliant character early in his life. By the time he was 15, Chadwick was already active as an organist.  Dropping out of high school in 1871, Chadwick assisted briefly as a clerk in his father’s insurance business. The experience enabled him to travel to Boston and other cities, where he attended concerts and cultural events that might have initiated his lifelong interest in the arts.  As a young man Chadwick heard the première of Paine’s First Symphony and was inspired with the idea that an American could compose symphonies.

Chadwick entered New England Conservatory (NEC) as a “special student” in 1872, where he could study with the faculty without satisfying the rigorous entrance or degree requirements. However, he approached his studies more seriously and took advantage of what NEC offered. Chadwick studied organ with George E. Whiting (1840–1923), piano with Carlyle Petersilea (1844–1903), and theory with Stephen A. Emery (1841–1891), each of whom was well respected in the Boston music scene.  He also pursued studies with Dudley Buck and Eugene Thayer.  In 1876, Chadwick accepted a faculty position within the music program at Olivet College in Michigan and was a valued instructor as well as administrator. While at Olivet, Chadwick founded the Music Teachers National Association. The first evidence of his interest in composing appeared during this time, from a performance of his Canon in E-flat dated November 6, 1876.

Realizing that his musical career in the U.S. would be limited without further studies in Europe, in 1877 Chadwick headed to Germany like many other composers of his generation. He studied in Leipzig at the Royal Conservatory of Music under Carl Reinecke (1824–1910) and Salomon Jadassohn (1830–1902). Chadwick’s most significant compositions as a student there include two string quartets (no. 1 1877-8, no. 2 premiered 1879) and the concert overture Rip Van Winkle, set around Washington Irving’s tale of the same name.  They helped confirm his position as a promising young American composer among his German contemporaries, from whom he received favorable critiques.  After his two-year stay in Leipzig, Chadwick traveled around Europe with a group of artists who called themselves the “Duveneck Boys.”  They were led by the young and charismatic Frank Duveneck, who was well known for his portrait works in the style of Velázquez. The group was based in Munich, then a major culture center second to Paris. Chadwick also stayed in France with the group, where he was taken with the French lifestyle and influenced by the emerging Impressionist movement.

Chadwick resumed his compositional studies with Josef Rheinberger (1839–1901) at the Hochschule für Musik in Munich. Rheinberger was known as a skilled musical craftsman who incorporated polyphony with creativity and clarity. Thus Chadwick benefited from Rheinberger’s extensive knowledge of the classics, both instrumental and choral.  Chadwick returned to Boston in March of 1880 and soon began establishing a career in the U.S. He opened a private teaching studio which included students such as Horatio Parker, Sidney Homer, and Arthur Whiting, and secured two performances of Rip Van Winkle. Chadwick also completed his Symphony No. 1 in C major, which although not particularly inspired was a significant early contribution by an American composer. The First Symphony, Symphony No. 2 in B-flat major, and Symphony in F (No. 3) all followed the four-movement outline, model after composers like Ludwig van Beethoven, Felix Mendelssohn, Robert Schumann, Johannes Brahms, and Antonín Dvořák. Nonetheless, the Second and Third Symphonies exhibit original aspects such as pentatonic scales, along with the Scots-Irish folk style in the Second Symphony.

During this time, Chadwick’s works were being frequently performed by notable Boston ensembles including the Boston Symphony Orchestra, the Handel and Haydn Society, and the Harvard Musical Association. Chadwick also frequently composed for local choral organizations. From 1883 to 1893, Chadwick also served as church organist at the South Congregational Church in Boston, of which Edward Everett Hale was the minister. In addition, from 1880 to 1899 he conducted the musical festivals at  Springfield, MA, and from 1897 to 1901 those at Worcester, MA.  In 1892, Chadwick was commissioned to compose an ode for the opening ceremonies of the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago. Two years later, Chadwick’s third symphony was awarded a prize by the National Conservatory of Music, during the directorship of Dvorák. In 1897 Yale University conferred on him the honorary degree of A.M.

Chadwick’s important early overtures are the comedy overture Thalia (1883), after the Muse of comedy, imitative of Mendelssohn’s light and lively style; Melpomene (1887), after the Muse of tragedy, a rich and lush work reminiscent of Wagner; and Euterpe (1903) after the Muse of music.  A choral/orchestral piece, The Lily Nymph, presents a mixture of techniques borrowed from Mendelssohn and Impressionism.  In addition to his compositional activities, Chadwick was also a performing organist and avid conductor. He served as the Music Director of the Springfield Festival from 1890 to 1899, and of the Worcester Music Festival from 1899 to 1901.  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” 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, 1895–1909, Chadwick asserted his own musical style more than previously, as in the concert overture Adonais. He further delved into the symphonic genre with his Symphonic Sketches, Sinfonietta, and Suite Symphonique. His Fourth String Quartet, composed around the same time as Antonín Dvořák’s String Quartet in F (op. 96, “American”), displays a more American folk style than his Fifth String Quartet, with catchy tunes and pentatonic third-movement fiddle melodies.  Chadwick composed more stage works, notably Judith, based on the tale from the Aprocrypha. The piece is melodic and exotic, much like Camille Saint-Saëns’s Samson et Delilah. In his Ecce jam noctis for chorus and orchestra composed for Yale University’s 1897 commencement ceremony, Chadwick weaved in rhythmic twists like triple-meter strings against the static and homophonical chorus. Lochinvar is another distinctive choral piece with a Celtic flavor, featuring a baritone voice with a violin solo just before the “Introduction of Strathspey” section.

In 1897, Chadwick was appointed Director of New England Conservatory, a position he held until 1930, and also published Harmony, a music theory text, in which he was the first theorist to combine the Roman-numeral analysis of Gottfried Weber with the old figured bass symbols, to create an “absolute” system which shows the chord root and the inversion in a single symbol.  Known in the Boston arts circle as talented, personable, and energetic, he was crucial in transforming NEC into a respectable school of music. Chadwick implemented features that resembled those of the German conservatories of his experience. He established a variety of performing ensembles, and students were required to take more music theory and history classes. He also invited members of the Boston Symphony Orchestra as private teachers to the students, along with being an inspiring teacher himself. His students described him as “demanding, though fair-minded and witty.”  Among his pupils were William Grant Still, Wallace Goodrich, Frederick S. Converse, and Henry K. Hadley.  Chadwick had some influence in the establishment of Phi Mu Alpha Sinfonia music fraternity, which was established at the conservatory in the fall of 1898, primarily through the recommendation of the name “Sinfonia” after a student organization to which he belonged in Leipzig. He was named an honorary member of the Alpha Chapter at the conservatory, and was later named a national honorary member of the Fraternity in 1909.

Beginning around 1910, Chadwick shifted from overtures and symphonies to a more dramatic and programmatic style. At this point, he was more interested in musical effects than in form and construction.  His two representative works are the tone poems Aphrodite and Tam O’Shanter, based on the tale by Robert Burns, both for large orchestra. Chadwick’s most important stage work from this period is The Padrone, based on the realistic plight of Italian immigrants in the North End of Boston.  It has a distinctive verismo style.  He wrote a number of patriotic songs during World War I, including These to the Front, The Fighting Men, and perhaps his best known, Land of Our Hearts, first performed in the Norfolk Festival in June 1918, featuring a fluid syllabic setting of a poem by John Hall Ingram.

By 1919, Chadwick was a highly regarded elder musician who was no longer writing as the energetically creative artist. During the last decade of his life, Chadwick’s compositional output declined, most likely due to periods of ill health.  The Anniversary Overture to celebrate his 25th anniversary as the director of New England Conservatory was considered “scholarly” but warm and congenial. His output significantly declined during these years, and he was more of a musical administrator and socialite among the elite Bostonians. He remained well respected until his death on April 4, 1931, at his home in Boston, after which his works became more obscure but nonetheless considered important contributions to the American music repertoire. Chadwick’s works, composed in almost every genre, are influenced by the Realist movement in the arts, characterized by a down-to-earth depiction of people’s lives. Many consider his music to portray a distinctively American style. His works included chamber music, several operas, three symphonies, five string quartets, tone poems, incidental music, songs, and choral anthems.  Chadwick was one of those responsible for the first significant body of concert music by composers from the United States.

My collection includes the following works by George W. Chadwick:
Angel of Death (1918).

Aphrodite (1911).

Euterpe, an overture (1903).

Melpomene, a prelude to an imaginary tragedy (1887).

Symphonic Sketches.

Thalia, an overture (1883).

—material selected, adapted, and edited from several different sources


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