Born: November 20, 1873; Brookline, MA
Died: December 4, 1953; Greenwich, CT
Born into a noted lineage of American musicians and composers, this composer, musicologist, and educator, who initiated the study now called music appreciation, was a self-described "musical humanist" and one of the ardently conservative school generally referred to as the "Boston classicists." He often defended the "common man's" point of view and taste in music; for example, in his article "Life As a Composer," he championed Tchaikovsky as aRead more writer of extraordinary melodies and emotionality over critics who regarded his works as easy and hopelessly eclectic.
His Birthday Waltzes for piano, Op. 1, was composed while he was studying at Harvard (1891 - 1895). Afterward, he carried on his composition studies with Chadwick and Percy Goetschius. Mason's first book, entitled From Grieg to Brahms, was published in New York in 1902. In 1905, he became a lecturer in music at Columbia University and was promoted to assistant professor in 1910. During that period, he authored five more books: Beethoven and His Forerunners (1904), The Romantic Composers (1906), The Appreciation of Music (1907, with T.W. Surette), The Orchestral Instruments (1908), and A Guide to Music (1909). He also composed several piano pieces (Op. 2 and Op. 3), Four Songs for low voice, Op. 4 (1906), and a Sonata for violin and piano, Op. 5 (1907 - 1908). These works show Mason's primary influence from Brahms.
Mason studied in Paris in 1913 with Vincent d'Indy, who became another strong influence. This can be heard in Mason's Symphony No. 1 in C Minor, Op. 11 (1913 - 1914), the Prelude and Fugue for piano and orchestra, Op. 12 (1914), and the Intermezzo for string quartet, Op. 17 (1916). One of Mason's most widely played works was the celebratory festival overture Chanticleer for orchestra (1926), a work that shows a cheerful contrast to Mason's usually moody -- and in composer Randall Thompson's words, "sinister and foreboding" and "pessimistic" -- tendencies.
In 1929, Mason was named MacDowell Professor and served as head of the music department at Columbia University until 1940. Mason's published books up to this time include A Neglected Sense in Piano Playing (1912), Great Modern Composers (1916, with M.L. Mason), Contemporary Composers (1918), Short Studies of Great Masterpieces (1918), Music As a Humanity (1920), From Song to Symphony (1924), and Artistic Ideals (1925).
Despite his classicism that rejected programmatic music (along with the Impressionists) and his criticism of many American composers as "polyglot parrots" (in The Dilemma of American Music and Other Essays from 1928), Mason incorporated some folk material and subjects in such pieces as Songs of the Countryside for chorus and orchestra, Op. 23 (1923), Three Nautical Songs, Op. 38 (1941), the String Quartet on Negro Themes, Op. 19 (1918 -1919), Fanny Blair, a folksong fantasy for string quartet, Op. 28 (1927), Yankee Doodle for piano, Op. 6 (circa 1911), and especially with the popular 1860s tune Quaboug Quickstep which occurs in A Lincoln Symphony, Op. 35 (1935 - 1936) in four movements: The Candidate From Springfield, Massa Linkum, Old Abe's Yarns, and 1865 -- Marcia funebre. Read less
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