About this Recording
8.225117 - FOOTE: Piano Trios Nos. 1 and 2 / Melody / Ballade

Arthur Foote (1853 - 1937)

Arthur Foote (1853 - 1937)

Chamber Music, Vol. 3


Arthur William Foote was born in Salem, Massachusetts on 5th March 1853. From the age of thirteen, lecture series, Glee clubs and even a chapter of the Mozart Society were regular features of his life. A profound influence on Foote's early musical thinking was to come in the form of Dwight's Journal of Music. Published in Boston by the music critic, John Sullivan Dwight, the journal represented the most conservative musical tastes. The works of Berlioz, Liszt and naturally Wagner were dismissed for their harmonic complexity, chromaticism, and exaggerated expression. 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 to 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. Paine was thoroughly trained in the German tradition and was to become the teacher of Edward Burlingame Hill, Daniel Gregory Mason, Frederick Converse and John Alden Carpenter.

Following his graduation in 1874, Foote returned to Salem. During that summer he decided to take a few organ lessons from the local musician and educator Benjamin Johnson Lang, a concert promoter, choir director, and former student of Liszt. Lang was the first to introduce many new compositions to Boston audiences, including Berlioz's Damnation of Faust, Brahms's German Requiem, and Wagner's Parsifal. Lang was also an ardent supporter of American music, presenting the premieres of music by Dudley Buck, George Whiting and George Chadwick, and he encouraged Foote to pursue music as a full-time career. Foote returned to Harvard to continue 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 Long fellow. In addition to his work as a teacher, Foote was appointed as organist and choirmaster of the First Unitarian Church in Boston, where he was to remain until 1910.


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 Symphony performed at the Paris Exposition in 1889. During the 1890s Foote composed the Piano Quartet, Op. 23 (1890) (Marco Polo 8.223893), String Quartet No.2, Op. 32 (1893) (8.223875) and the Piano Quintet, Op. 38 (1897) (8.223875). Throughout the remainder of his life, he was active as a teacher and concert promoter in addition to writing several texts on the subjects of harmony and piano technique. 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, Hartford, Conn. and Dartmouth College in Hanover, N.H. In 1913, he was elected to the National Institute of Arts and Letters.


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 music-going public into the 1930s, he was deeply suspicious of jazz and the new musical ideas that were beginning to appear. On 8th April 1937, Arthur Foote passed away quietly in Massachusetts General Hospital as a result of acute pneumonia.


By 1882, Foote was ready to tackle an extended essay in the chamber music medium. The result was the Trio in C Minor for Piano, Violin and Cello, Op. 5. Using similar works by Mendelssohn and Schumann as his point of departure, he determined to make his Piano Trio the work that would establish his artistic reputation. Composed swiftly and first performed on 8th April 1882, the piece was withdrawn by the composer for further revision. While on vacation in France in 1883, the Trio was overhauled, simplifying many of the piano textures and was published in its final version in 1884.


Twenty-five years separate Foote's Trio No.2 in B-flat Major, Op. 65 from its predecessor. Whereas the earlier work was presented at the beginning of the composer's career, the later work reveals the refinement of a mature artist. While unmistakably in the romantic idiom, Foote expanded his harmonic language, freed up the rhythmic structure of his melodic lines and displays an increased subtlety of instrumental colour. Foote scholar, Nicholas Tawa, finds a theme in the opening movement Native American in tone, a feature enhanced by the open sonorities.


The Melody for violin and piano, Op. 44, composed in the last year of the nineteenth century, is as the title suggests, a straightforward song. Beginning with a piano introduction derived in equal parts from hymn-tunes and parlour songs, the violin spins a lovely melody, with just a hint of Schumann's Ich grolle nicht suggested. A brief episode based on a rising motif provides contrast before an expanded return to the opening material. A couple of magical modulations and a wisp of violin melody bring the song to its conclusion.


Foote thought highly of his more compact works for violin and piano, considering the Ballade in F minor, Op. 69 the best. The influence of Dvorak can be heard in the modal inflections of the melody, but it is Foote's characteristic reserve and distinctive piano writing that dominates. The work is in simple A-B-A form, opening with a song-inspired melody, leading to a more agitated middle section before returning to the opening material, ending with a brief coda based on the violin's triplet figure.


Joshua Cheek




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