Saturday, January 9, 2010

John Knowles Paine

John Knowles Paine, born today in 1839, was the first American composer to be recognized and appreciated by the Europeans (which was important in those times). He was also the first American to write a symphony and the first professor of music at any American university.

He was born in Portland, Maine, where his father operated a music store. He played piano and organ from an early age and after his father's death in 1856, he played a series of recitals to raise the money to travel to Berlin for his musical education. After nearly four years, he returned and was hired as organist at the
West Church in Boston. Only six months later he took the position of organist and choirmaster at Harvard University.

His first major choral work, Domine salvum fac, was written for the installation of a new Harvard president in 1863. His organ variations on the Star-Spangled Banner were very popular during the Civil War, and in 1866 his Mass in D had its premiere performance in Berlin. Harvard was impressed; Paine was awarded an honorary degree in 1869 which then made it possible for them to appoint him as an instructor in music. In 1875 he was made a full professor, the first in this country.

Paine continued to compose orchestral, organ, and choral works; he was the first of the Second New England School of composers which included
George W. Chadwick, Horatio Parker, and Amy Beach among others. Unlike those colleagues, his major choral works have been recorded, both the Mass in D and his oratorio St. Peter (1872). His other long-lasting composition (at Harvard, at least) is the tune for the Harvard Hymn, which I believe is still sung at commencement ceremonies, and is still in the most recent Harvard University Hymn Book (2007).

Paine also wrote a handful of other hymn tunes which I have come across in recent years, though none that anyone still sings today, and none that are documented at any of the usual hymn websites. However, in the aforementioned St. Peter, he reharmonized three familiar German chorales. This Epiphany hymn by
Philipp Nicolai appears in many different hymnals, but you probably have not heard or sung it to this arrangement by John Knowles Paine.

How lovely shines the Morning Star!
The nations see and hail afar
The light in Judah shining.
Thou art my heart’s most beauteous Flower,
And thy blest Gospel’s saving power
For thee my heart is pining.
Thou mine, I thine;

Sing hosanna!
Heav’nly manna

Tasting, eating,
Whilst thy love in songs repeating.

Lift up the voice and strike the string,
Let all glad sounds of music ring
In God’s high praises blended.
Christ will be with me all the way,
Today, tomorrow, every day,
Till traveling days be ended.
Sing out, ring out,

Triumph glorious,
O victorious,

Chosen nation;
Praise the God of thy salvation.

Oh, joy to know that thou, my Friend,
Art Love, beginning without end,
The First and Last, eternal!
And thou at length —- O glorious grace!
Wilt take me to that holy place,
The home of joys supernal.
Amen, Amen!

Come and meet me!
Quickly greet me!

With deep yearning,
Christ, I look for thy returning.

Philipp Nicolai, 1597
translation composite
Philipp Nicolai, 1599
harm. John Knowles Paine, 1872

The major work of Paine's later life was an opera, Azara, which was scheduled to be performed at the Metropolitan Opera in 1906. However, the performers, at that time used to singing only in Italian (regardless of the original language of any work) refused to learn a piece in English and the premiere never took place. It was performed in concert at Harvard and elsewhere, but has never been presented in a fully staged production.

P.S. The portrait of Paine above (undated) is by Caroline Amelia Cranch (1853-1931), donated to Harvard Universaity by Paine's daighter-in-law in 1920.

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