Friday, November 13, 2009

George W. Chadwick

Composer George Whitefield Chadwick was born today in 1854 in Lowell, Massachusetts. Though he dropped out of high school in 1871, the following year he was admitted to the New England Conservatory of Music as a special student. He was successful in his musical studies, and taught music at Olivet College in Michigan after graduation. While there, he became one of the founders of the Music Teachers National Association, and also published some of his first compositions.

He then traveled to Leipzig and Munich for two more years of musical studies; at the time European study was considered a necessity for an American composer. After returning to the US, he went back to the New England Conservatory as a teacher, and eventually becoming its director in 1897, serving for 33 years. He was also the organist at Boston's
South Congregational Church and conducted annual choral festivals at Springfield and Worcester.

Chadwick composed in many different forms, including choral music, symphonies and chamber music, and opera. His works were popular in his own time both in this country and abroad; he was thought to be one of the best American composers of the day. He became known as one of the Second New England School of composers, with
Amy Beach, Horatio Parker, John Knowles Paine, and others. Each of these composed some hymn tunes, and Chadwick added another handful (a few more than you can hear at the Cyber Hymnal site).

I sought thee, Lord, and afterward I knew
Thou mov'dst my soul to seek thee, seeking me.
It was not I that found, O Savior true;
No, I was found of thee.

Thou didst reach forth thy hand and mine enfold;
I walked and sank not on the storm vexed sea.
’Twas not so much that I on thee took hold,
As Thou, dear Lord, on me.

I find, I walk, I love, but oh, the whole
Of love is but my answer, Lord, to thee!
For thou were long beforehand with my soul,
Always thou lovedst me.

Author unknown, c. 1880; alt.
George W. Chadwick, 1890

This anonymous hymn text may have first appeared in a collection published in Boston titled Holy Songs, Carols, and Sacred Ballads (1880). One subsequent source attributed it to the British poet Jean Ingelow, but apparently there is no consensus on her authorship. Chadwick is said to have written the tune specifically for this text, though other sources say that the text did not appear in an American hymnal until 1903. Of course, it still could have been sung earlier by Chadwick's Boston congregation. The hymn later appeared in several twentieth century hymnals, but nearly always with a different tune. Chadwick's other hymn tunes fared equally badly; I don't believe any of them appear in current collections.

From my own bookshelf, A Book of Choruses for High Schools and Choral Societies (1923) states of Chadwick (admittedly, one of its editors):

Probably no American composer has had a larger influence on the development of music in this country. Mr. Chadwick's works have won a permanent place in the repertoires of orchestras, choruses, choirs, and singers the world over...

Not so permanent, as it turned out. Some of his orchestral and chamber works have been recorded, but almost none of his choral or vocal music.

I've always thought it would be interesting to attend a New England Classical Christmas concert, with choral excerpts from Chadwick's oratorio Noel (1908), Parker's cantata The Holy Child (1893), Paine's cantata The Nativity (1883) and Amy Beach's Christmas pieces Bethlehem (1893) and Constant Christmas (1922). But I've also come to realize that if I ever want to hear it I will probably have to start the choral group myself.

1 comment:

Dorothy said...

Its amazing to me how much music is lost or forgotten over time. That seems so sad. I would think that a lot of it was really good music...better than some that is popular today.