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Mona Seghatoleslami
West Virginia Public Broadcasting, December 2009

Beautiful, lush programmatic orchestral music. My favorite discovery on this recording is Four Character Pieces after the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam.

Christopher Purdy
Classical 101 FM, December 2009

Gerard Schwarz conducts the Seattle Symphony. Arthur Foote (1853–1937) was part of a Boston based group of composers active from the late 19th into the early 20th centuries that came to be known as “The Second New England School.” They are played little and studied less, but Gerard Schwarz makes a good case for the power and beauty of Foote’s music…

Jerry Dubins
Fanfare, November 2009

Arthur Foote (1853–1937) first captured my attention and then my heart some 10 years ago on another Naxos recording (8.559039) containing his two piano trios. The Adagio molto of the Trio No. 1 in C Minor is of such throbbing pathos it still takes my breath away every time I hear it. Foote, a member of the so-called “Boston Six,” which also included Amy Beach, [George Whitefield] Chadwick, [Edward] MacDowell, John Knowles Paine, and Horatio Parker, was among the generation of American composers who were either themselves European trained under the likes of Joachim Raff, Josef Rheinberger, and Max Bruch or they were protégés of those who were. Foote was one of the latter, a student of Paine at Harvard. Unabashed in their Romantic persuasions, most of these Americans championed Brahms, Wagner, and other late-19th-and early-20th-century German composers. The slightly later Charles Ives (1874–1954), a Parker student at Yale, was similarly indoctrinated—anyone familiar with his Dvořák-genuflecting Symphony No. 1 can hear the evidence for himself—but the Connecticut Yankee was too much of a maverick and an iconoclast to stay the course. He followed his bliss in a direction that would lay the foundations for the uniquely American music of Copland, Roy Harris, and William Schuman.

Much of Foote’s output consists of chamber works—quartets, quintets, trios, and duo sonatas, genres in which he excelled. But his large ensemble works—especially his 1907 E-Major Suite, premiered by the Boston Symphony, and his 1900 Four Character Pieces after “Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyam”reveal the sure hand of a master orchestral composer at work.

Tchaikovsky was not the only composer whose febrile imagination was fired by Dante’s tale of lust and illicit love between Paolo and Francesca who, doubtless to appease medieval morals, were dished their just desserts when they were condemned to spend eternity tossed by the winds of Hell…Foote’s Francesca da Rimini is drop-dead gorgeous music, no question about it, but its theme is as it might have been construed by Brahms, whose kindness and compassion in the end would have forgiven the two lovers and reunited them in happiness everlasting.

And so it goes with every piece on this disc. The Air from the 1889 Serenade throbs with the heartbeat of Tchaikovsky and the pulse of Grieg. Listen closely, and you will even hear a distant echo of the famous Air from Bach’s Suite No. 3 in D Major. The Four Character Pieces after “Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyam” are orchestral arrangements by the composer of some of his piano pieces. More colorfully orchestrated than Francesca da Rimini, the Persian sketches are painted with harp, percussion, and pizzicato effects, but again, you can expect more of an outpouring of beautiful music than the exoticisms of Bantock and Hovhaness.

Little wonder that Foote’s 1907 E-Major Suite brought the composer much recognition in his lifetime. As with the Serenade, we are reminded yet again of the string serenades and suites by Tchaikovsky, Grieg, and Stenhammar. Two minutes and 18 seconds into the second movement there comes a tearful melody that would have made Mantovani green with envy. The Suite’s concluding fugue, however, anticipates by nearly 40 years the fugue on a theme by Henry Purcell in Britten’s Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra. The subject and its rigorous working out are evidence of Foote’s solid academic grounding…If you’re not already acquainted with the works of Arthur Foote, this disc is an excellent place to start. It contains an hour’s worth of exceptionally beautiful music in a late-19th-early-20th-century style that’s impossible to resist by anyone who loves to luxuriate in the just-barely-past-ripe Romantic garden. Gerard Schwarz and his Seattle players fit Foote like a comfortable pair of shoes.

Urgently recommended, but please explore further. Naxos has recorded a good deal of Foote’s chamber music, which was his real forte, and I cannot urge you too strongly to discover it.

Glyn Pursglove
MusicWeb International, September 2009

The orchestral works on this disc are accomplished and eminently listenable…The Four Character Pieces after the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam are more individual and more attractive. Each of the pieces is explicitly inked to one or more quatrains from Edward Fitzgerald’s Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam. The first responds to the quatrain beginning ‘Iram indeed is gone with all his Rose, / And Jamshid’s Sev’n-ring’d Cup where no one knows’ and in its limpid clarinet-led andante it has a fitting sense of the mutable and the evanescent; the second piece is in two sections, marked allegro deciso and più moderato, and articulates a musical interpretation, initially, of the quatrain beginning ‘They Say the Lion and the Lizard keep…’, with some apt orchestral power reinforcing the quatrain’s later phrase which tells of Bahrám the hunter and how ‘the wild Ass / Stamps o’er his head’; the second section returns to the mood of glories lost and the passing of time, some of the writing for strings being particularly attractive here, before the first section is reprised. The third piece has as its motto the famous (and much parodied) quatrain beginning ‘A Book of Verses underneath the Bough’ and creates an atmosphere of tranquillity which is meditative and comforting (again the string writing is impressive). The last piece has a three part structure, organised in response to two quatrains, with the opening and closing sections related to Fitzgerald’s quatrain which begins ‘Yon rising Moon that looks for us again’, the central section being built on the quatrain which opens ‘Waste not your Hour, nor in the vain pursuit’. There’s an attractive sense of abundant space and time (though not, of course, for the individual human life) in Foote’s music here, the central section graced by an elegant solo for oboe. These are effective and interesting pieces…

Scott Cantrell
The Dallas Morning News, August 2009

American concertgoers—indeed, conductors—are largely unaware of American music before Ives, Gershwin and Copland. But composers including Horatio Parker, Amy Beach, Charles Martin Loeffler, Charles Tomlinson Griffes and John Alden Carpenter penned music that bears comparison with that of late 19th and early 20th-century Europeans.

Most of these Americans were trained at least partly in Europe. But Arthur Foote (1853–1937), a Bostonian most of his life, was entirely homegrown. Still, his early tone poem Francesca da Rimini sounds like an attractive amalgam of Mendelssohn, Schumann and Brahms. The four Rubáiyát pieces suggest more up-to-date influences from Dvořák and Tchaikovsky; the Suite, for strings, could almost pass for Elgar.

Dating from around the turn of the 20th century, these are beautifully crafted and unfailingly appealing pieces…this is a CD well worth hearing.

William Kreindler
MusicWeb International, August 2009

While it has been pointed out innumerable times that the members of the New England School of the late 19th century were conservative and Brahmsian, it should not be forgotten that they all had distinctive musical personalities and that many of their European contemporaries were equally Brahmsian. Foote himself stood out from his colleagues in a number of ways. He was the first American composer of note to receive his entire musical education in America. Unlike his confrères he was, for most of his career, not an academic, but made his living by teaching, playing the organ and performing in chamber music recitals. Much of his music contains neo-classical and even impressionistic elements—rarities in the America of his time. Most important his music has a serenity and quiet strength that would be unique anywhere.

Although he produced copious amounts of vocal, choral, chamber and keyboard music, Foote only wrote seven orchestral works which met his standards. Besides the works on this disk there are an early overture, a cello concerto and a suite for full orchestra (none recorded). In the 1880s Foote produced two separate suites for strings, but was not satisfied with either of them. After many revisions he collected a few of the individual pieces into the Serenade Op. 25, from which we have the Air and Gavotte here. The Air is stately and quite Bachian, full of the composer’s restrained emotionalism. As it develops it becomes more emotional and betrays a certain American tinge at the same time. The reprise is very affecting, with interesting counterpoint and masterly handling of tonality. In contrast, the Gavotte dates from the composer’s teens, at least in its original version. It is somewhat more adventurous harmonically, with a charming middle section reminiscent of Grieg. Again, there is some interesting counterpoint before the return to the opening material.

A year after the Serenade was published Foote produced his second work for full orchestra, the Symphonic Prologue Francesca da Rimini. The work shows an excellent handling of both structure and orchestration, although the latter does betray the influence of Brahms. The repeated main theme emphasizes the sadness of the tale of Paolo and Francesca rather than some of the more stormy elements familiar from Tchaikovsky’s version of the story. The work is compact and to the point, with wide-ranging tonal shifts somewhat reminiscent of Elgar. A wonderful second subject stays in the memory once heard. The middle of the piece relies heavily on the strings, which reach higher and higher until a restatement of the second subject. This is followed by a crescendo leading to a summation of the whole piece, portraying Dante’s image of the two lovers floating in the air, but not being able to touch. Foote accomplishes this in masterful fashion.

The Four Character Pieces after the Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám is probably Foote’s masterwork. In it are combined all the structural and emotional elements described above, but with the addition of the composer’s own brand of “eastern” exoticism, one that is not at all sentimental or fake. Each movement is prefaced in the score by a passage from the Rubáiyát. The Andante evokes the world of the Rubáiyát almost instantaneously and shows a command of the orchestra one would never have predicted from Francecsca da Rimini. One can hear the gardens and the cup of wine described in the attached quotation. The second movement is a complete contrast, describing the great royal courts of the East and is one of Foote’s most forceful passages. The gentler middle section is actually based on the same rhythm as the opening. The slow movement describes the most famous passage “A jug of wine, a Loaf of Bread…” This is done with a very slow progress to a semi-crescendo, followed by a lovely pastoral. The final Andante begins with Omar’s invocation to the Moon though a set of rhythmical variations matched at every step by the orchestration. This leads to an allegro evoking the words “Waste not your hour…” with grandiose references to the opening of the whole work and then to other movements, as if to drive the point home before the movement dies away.

The Suite in E has been an American classic since its premiere in 1907, especially given the many reissues of Koussevitsky’s wonderful recording. This is a piece that requires exact control of tempi to be a success and it cannot be said that Schwarz totally masters this aspect. In the first movement his handling of the noble opening theme is first rate, as is the development. The second movement starts with a Pizzicato that Schwarz takes pretty well, followed by an Adagietto that is one of Foote’s most memorable utterances-Schwarz also does well here. But in the exciting final Fugue the tension slackens noticeably and doesn’t provide the comprehensive conclusion that Foote intended.

Although recorded at different times and in different venues, the playing on this disc is quite consistent and is yet another example of how well the Seattle Symphony does with American music. The woodwinds are strong throughout, especially in their all-important role in the Four Character Pieces. The strings are also very good in the Air and the Suite. The real yeoman work here is by Gerard Schwarz. He puts genuine love and attention into every one of these pieces and this disc will rank high amongst his American music recordings as well, even if his work in the Suite is a little uneven. Since the last recording of the Four Character Pieces was in the 1960s and that of Francesca about ten years later, there is no question of competition in this area, although the sound quality in Francesca and the Gavotte could be a little less coarse. This disk brings several essential American works back to modern recording standards and it is only to be hoped that we may someday have recordings of Foote’s other three orchestral works.

Bob McQuiston
Classical Lost and Found, July 2009


Finally a modern day recording of some little known romantic orchestral music by an American composer who deserves much wider recognition! Arthur Foote (1853–1937) was born in Salem, Massachusetts and, except for a few lessons in France, was American trained. He studied at Harvard, where in 1875 he received the first MA degree in music ever awarded by an American university. His teacher was John Knowles Paine (1839–1906), who could also count such other budding American composers as John Alden Carpenter (1876–1951, see the newsletter of 30 April 2008), Louis Coerne, Frederick Converse (1871–1940), Edward Burlingame Hill (1872–1960, see the newsletter of 18 April 2006) and Daniel Gregory Mason (1873–1953) among his students.

Except for some guest lecturing at the University of California in 1911, Foote spent most of his life in Boston at a time when other notable American composers, including Amy Beach (1867–1944), George Whitefield Chadwick (1854–1931), Edward MacDowell (1860–1908) and Horatio Parker (1863–1919) were also active there. Unlike the music of Parker’s rebellious student Charles Ives (1874–1954), Foote’s is firmly based on romantic European traditions in keeping with Brahms (1833–1897) and Dvořák (1841–1904).

The disc begins with his symphonic prologue Francesca da Rimini (1890), which owes more of a debt to Brahms than Tchaikovsky’s (1840–1893) similarly named tone poem of twenty-four years earlier. Some consider this one of Foote’s finest orchestral achievements.

We hear next the second and fifth movements from his Serenade for Strings (not currently available), which is a collection of earlier works. An air (1889) and a gavotte (1866) respectively, the former takes its cue from the corresponding movement in J.S. Bach’s third orchestral suite. The latter is more harmonically adventurous, and may bring to mind Dvořák’s Slavonic Dances (1878–86).

But the pièce de résistance for us Footephiles on this release is the Four Character Pieces after the Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám (1900). Drawn from an earlier set of piano pieces, the opening number is a melodic gem with a mellifluous clarinet solo. This is followed by a selection with fast outer sections, again recalling the Slavonic Dances, that surround a lovely moderato inner one. The penultimate piece is a gorgeous lyrical outpouring which any of Europe’s finest romantic composers would have been proud to have written. The finale begins with strummed harp passages à la Vysehrad from Smetana’s (1824–1884) Má vlast (1872–79). It provides a magical ending to this neglected masterpiece where the composer engages in a little Franckian cyclicity by making a big tune reference to the work’s opening theme. When it comes to romantic American music, it would be hard to top this!

The disc closes with one of the composer’s best known pieces, the Suite in E major for Strings (1907). While it’s cast in the same mold as the string serenades of Dvořák, Elgar and Tchaikovsky written several years earlier, there’s an element of rambunctiousness which seems all-American.

Once again we have conductor Gerard Schwarz and the Seattle Symphony to thank for rescuing some more exceptional American music from relative obscurity. Not only that, but they give what will probably be definitive performances of everything here for some time to come.

These recordings were made over a ten year period beginning in 1997, and everything sounds pretty good with only a slight hint of digital grain in the strings. The air, gavotte and suite were taped at a different location than the pieces for full orchestra, which probably explains why the soundstage seems a bit shallower for these string selections.

Zach Carstensen
The Gathering Note, June 2009

Bernard Jacobsen, in his liner notes for this CD, points out American classical music didn’t begin with Aaron Copland. Composers like Arthur Foote paved the way long before Aaron Copland came along. Nevertheless, Foote’s music generally sounds more Germanic than American, an unavoidable consequence of composers, orchestras, and classical music boosters in America hewing to the Franco-Germanic tradition. This album is attractive, conservative, and uneventful. Not a bad thing because it makes for a CD that is easy to enjoy.

Foote’s “Francesca” lacks the fire of Tchaikovsky’s more famous depiction of the same material. Tchaikovsky wrote his version two decades earlier than Foote. You wouldn’t know it by listening to this album. All of the pieces highlight Foote’s ability to write well for strings, this talent is in abundance during the Suite in E major and Air and Gavotte. The best piece on the album is Four Character Pieces after Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam. Foote had loosened up a little by the time this piece was written in 1900. The music and playing by the SSO is expressive, atmospheric, and of course still conservative.

David Denton
David's Review Corner, June 2009

Arthur Foote was the first totally indigenous composer produced by the United States. Born in 1853, he was a gifted young pianist who went to University to study law, and returned to music when, by chance, he met his piano teacher in a summer vocation. Though only together for those few weeks it decided him to make a career as a musician, firstly as a teacher of piano and organ. He was twenty-nine before having a piece published, by which time a visit to the Bayreuth Festival had placed him under the spell of everything German. In total he composed only eighty pieces, but his influence on future generations came with a teaching post at the New England Conservatoire. His works were indebted to Brahms, and that was a double-edged sword as it left his music already outdated by the time of his death in 1937. Francesca da Rimini dates from 1890 and was more restrained than the lurid view of the story that took place elsewhere, the score lyric and dark hued. Maybe that theme was not conducive to his own character, the sensuous score for the Four Character Pieces after the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam, as beautiful as anything an American composer has created.That came from 1900, and I would also much commend to you to the Suite for Strings from 1907. You will find both Elgar and Tchaikovsky here, but it is still a most ravishing score, the changing moods of the central movement among the finest things ever written for strings, If the finale does tax the Seattle musicians, they elsewhere play admirably. The Air and Gavotte is used to fill a disc of very good sound quality. Most strongly recommended.

David Hurwitz, June 2009

Arthur Foote’s music is pleasant, conservative, and often attractive. The best piece here is the 4 Character Pieces after the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam, where gentle Eastern inflections and piquant splashes of color consistently captivate the ear…the performances are typically adept, as we have come to expect from Gerard Schwarz and his Seattle players, and the sonics are equally so. A pleasing bit of Americana…

Uncle Dave Lewis, June 2009

Depending on whom you read, American composer Arthur Foote is either “traditional,” “conservative,” “a classicist,” or “individual” and “original.” Opinions about Foote’s work may be widely divergent, but a few things are established: Foote did not travel to Europe to gain his musical education—as did Horatio Parker and George Chadwick—but was satisfied to study at Harvard with John Knowles Paine, taking the first master’s degree in music conferred on anyone by an American university. Foote has been lumped in with a number of late nineteenth century American composers known as the “Boston School,” including Paine, Chadwick, Parker, Amy Beach, and some others. Being identified with the Boston School is like the kiss of death in terms of posterior reputation, and although Beach is gradually finding a way out from the grave, others remain forgotten, unheralded, and under-recognized.

In the case of Foote’s orchestral music, the vast majority of his production in that genre belongs to the first 25 years of his active career. In the 15 or so years he continued to compose after that, Foote concentrated solely on chamber music of outstanding quality. The chamber music is generally adjudged to be his most important contribution, even as it remains seldom played or recorded. During his lifetime, however, his orchestral and string orchestra music carried Foote’s name onto concert programs more often than anything else he did. On Naxos’ Arthur Foote: Francesca da Rimini, Gerard Schwarz realizes a long held dream of leading the Seattle Symphony through a whole disc of Foote.

This disc contains roughly half of Foote’s small orchestral output, and each of these pieces were recorded at whatever session Schwarz could get them into; the “symphonic prologue” Francesca da Rimini, Op. 24 (1890), and the Four Character Pieces after the Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám, Op. 48 (1900), were recorded at the Seattle Center Opera House in 1997, even before Seattle’s Benaroya Hall was constructed. The others were all made at Benaroya; the Suite in E major, Op. 63 (1970), was recorded in 2005, with the Air and Gavotte (1886–1866) following in 2007. These last two pieces belong to Foote’s Serenade for Strings, Op. 25, though the score indicates that these two movements can be played separately. The Air is especially lovely, being modeled after Johann Sebastian Bach’s so-called “Air on a G String” much in the manner that Brahms modeled after Bach, with an important difference in that Foote’s use of counterpoint is comparatively restrained; the piece is very direct and unfussy. Francesca da Rimini is full-bodied, memorable, and captivating; the Character Pieces are suitably exotic but not over the top and once popular with American symphony audiences; the Suite in E is likewise engrossing, well-realized, and dare we say, original?

The difference between the Benaroya Hall recordings and those from the Seattle Center Opera House is small, but those from Benaroya are warmer, more intimate, and a little less reverberant. Maestro Schwarz turns in loving, attentive performances of these little heard pieces and ought to be congratulated for sticking with his Foote project for so long; Naxos’ previous Foote offerings consist of three discs of chamber music once offered in the Marco Polo product line that have since moved to the main label. Another Naxos recording of the Air and Gavotte pair was coupled with music of Samuel Barber. This was not an inappropriate combination; Foote’s clarity of vision and restraint are typically American in comparison to the German composers who influenced him, and in a stylistic sense he stands halfway between Brahms and Barber. Certainly a composer working in the 1880s and 1890s that can be likened to Brahms is not a true “conservative,” and “individual” seems to be the most distinct tag that applies to Foote, based on these fine interpretations by Schwarz and Seattle. No matter what would tend to stop you from checking out this CD—whether it’s the Boston School thing, or the fact that his name sounds like a body part—if you like Brahms, you’ll like Arthur Foote, and this might hold true if you like Samuel Barber, as well.

Rob Barnett
MusicWeb International, May 2009

Arthur Foote was very much the Bostonian. He was a pupil of John Knowles Paine so in terms of how we now relate to the 19th century American music scene he might be said to be of the East Coast second generation. He is soundly Brahmsian in his language with diversions to Schumann and possibly Tchaikovsky from time to time.

The “Symphonic Prologue” Francesca da Rimini was founded on the story of Francesca and Paolo from the fifth Canto of Dante’s The Inferno. It is Foote’s second published orchestra work. He was an eloquent craftsman and as much is evident from his turbulent Francesca which you might think of as a step along the same path as Brahms’ Tragic Overture and Schumann’s Overture, Scherzo and Finale. His romantic delicacy of expression at 11:43 and at 13:50 to the contented end make a more personal and deeply satisfying effect.

The Air and Gavotte for strings are big band expressions and romantic developments of Bach’s orchestral suites. They form the second and fifth movements of his Serenade, Op. 25.

When we think of the Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám in the context of music we may recall Bantock’s grand choral-orchestral epic or perhaps the Lehmann song-cycles. A little more recently there was Hovhaness’s piece for orchestra…Foote developed his more romantic invention in the compact Four Character Pieces. In the first he forswears Brahmsian gloom and embraces with great eloquence the sort of silvery language one finds in Grieg’s music for Peer Gynt and this quasi-impressionism returns for the noble third movement. The subject matter is reflected in the oriental hues, twists and sway—especially of the outer movements. This is very much a case of applying a tint rather than sousing the score in the middle east equivalent of chinoiserie. It is a most magical score straddling the line between Brahms and impressionism. Each of the four movements is prefaced in this atmospheric score by verses from Fitzgerald’s free translation.

The solid Suite in E major for string orchestra looks to the worlds of the Dvořák and Tchaikovsky Serenades and Grieg’s Holberg. It has a delightful central pizzicato section that is indebted to the equivalent movement in Tchaikovsky’s Fourth. The short final fugue returns to Brahmsian gravity.

The helpful liner notes are by Bernard Jacobson.

Quite apart from its very compelling intrinsic merits this disc has great value. It has no competition…this inexpensive Naxos CD is the only complete Foote anthology. It’s well worth tracking down if you have a taste for the music I have given as reference points.

Naxos Records, a member of the Naxos Music Group