Classical Music Home

Welcome to Naxos Records

Keyword Search
  Classical Music Home > Music News

The Boston Pops (and one Mom)

January 9, 2015

John Knowles Paine
Source: Wikimedia Commons

The Boston Tea Party, the Boston Symphony Orchestra, the Boston Red Sox—all are well known internationally. It’s likely, however, that for many outside the United States, talk of the Boston Six will raise a puzzled look. They were pioneering composers, five men and one woman, mostly trained in Europe, who fostered the unprecedented musical growth in the US during the last quarter of the nineteenth century. Among their number were Arthur Foote, George Chadwick, Amy Beach, Edward MacDowell and Horatio Parker. The most senior figure in the group was John Knowles Paine (1839–1906), the anniversary of whose birth falls today, 9 January.

John Knowles Paine Concert Hall

Alumni of Harvard University will be particularly familiar with Paine’s name. An outstanding organist, he travelled to Germany for a period of formal music study from 1858 to 1861. During that time, he attracted the attention of Clara Schumann who asked the young American to play some of his compositions for her. On his return to the States, he began teaching organ at Harvard, a significant placement, since it was from here that Paine began to develop what would become the first university music curriculum in his country. He went against the tide of thinking of many people at the time when he postulated that all musicians, performers and composers alike, should be well grounded in music history and theory.

Harvard continues to honour Paine’s legacy with its 437-seat John Knowles Paine Concert Hall, built eight years after his death and renovated in 2011. Naxos is in the process of delivering its own tribute with a 2-volume set of recordings comprising all Paine’s published orchestral works. His Second Symphony was the composer’s own favourite, but that comes on Volume 2, scheduled for release in March, so we’ll have to wait a while for that. His First Symphony (8.559747), premièred in 1876 in Boston, was well received, with one critic recording that each movement was followed “by applause lasting several minutes…culminating at the end of the work in a storm of bravos.”

The work was aired again in New York 10 days later, when a critic reported: “Whatever anxiety or lack of entire faith one may have felt beforehand must have been removed by the very first phrase, which with its rushing bass and powerful stroke of chords (as if with some restless hammer of Thor) proclaims at once the technical skill and boldness of design that belong only to masters of symphonic writing.”

Here’s an extract from the work’s opening stretch, performed by JoAnn Falletta and the Ulster Orchestra.

It’s said that it would be hard to imagine a Copland, an Ives—or even a Gershwin—without the pioneering work of the Boston Six, so it’s worth dipping a toe into the sounds that came from the pens of Paine’s five compatriots.

Arthur Foote
Source: Wikimedia Commons

Like Paine, Arthur Foote (1853–1937) was an organist; he was also a student of Paine’s at Harvard. The master’s Germanic style clearly influenced the younger musician, whose Piano Quintet in A minor, Op. 38 (8.223875) was completed in 1897 and is representative of the composer’s wealth of melodic invention and idiomatic keyboard writing.Listen here to the opening of that work’s first movement.

George Whitefield Chadwick
Source: Wikimedia Commons

George Whitefield Chadwick (1854–1931), another organist—also a teacher, conductor and composer—had an enormous impact on American music. He taught many of the composers of the following generation and demonstrated the possibilities of a distinctive American style, comparable in quality to that in Europe. Here’s the skittish end of AVagrom Ballad, the last of his four Symphonic Sketches for orchestra (8.559213).

Amy Beach
Source: Wikimedia Commons

Amy Beach (1867–1944) was the first American woman musician to receive all her training in the United States. She’s known in particular for her 117 art songs that demonstrate skilful craftsmanship and profound understanding of the texts. As an example, here’s part of Ecstasy (8.559191) which proved so popular that the royalties enabled Beach to buy a lot on Cape Cod for a summer home.

Edward MacDowell
Source: Wikimedia Commons

Edward MacDowell (1860–1908) began piano studies when he was very young. One of his first teachers was Teresa Carreño, who at one time was celebrated as the greatest woman pianist in the world. She obviously laid good foundations for the young Edward,witness Bluette from his 12 Virtuoso Studies, Op. 46 (8.223633).

Horatio Parker
Source: Wikimedia Commons

And so to Horatio Parker (1863–1919), another organist and a student of George Whitefield Chadwick. Included in his output are two operas, one of which, Mona, won first prize in a competition organised by New York’s Metropolitan Opera in 1911, earning the composer US$10,000. From an archive recording, here’s the Interlude from that work (9.80118–19).

Finally, we return to John Knowles Paine and a tribute to him that appeared in the Harvard Graduates’ Magazine shortly after his death in 1906, acknowledging the opportunities that he opened up for all American musicians, right to this day:

“He lived for composing, and so he was a vital stimulus to his pupils. But, single-minded in his creative work, he was quick to kindle the spirit of his students. He had the kindly sense that sees the possibility rather than the reality.”

View more posts on the Naxos Blog


Naxos Records, a member of the Naxos Music Group