Ethelbert Nevin


Born: November 25, 1862; Edgeworth, PA   Died: February 17, 1901; New Haven, CT  
A composer of mostly vocal music and piano works in a lyrical, at times introspective, sentimental, or amorous style, Nevin began studying piano and the basics of music with local musicians, and became accomplished enough to publish his first composition at age 12. In 1878, he attended Western University (now University of Pittsburgh) for one year, and then studied piano with B.J. Lang and composition with Stephen A. Emery in Boston between 1882 Read more - 1883. Between 1884 - 1886 he went to Berlin to study piano with Karl Klindworth and theory with Otto Tiersch. Upon his return, he made his professional debut in a piano recital in December 1886 which was an unqualified success.

During this time he composed his Sketchbook, Op. 2 (1888, containing seven songs, one chorus and five piano works), the song Twas April!, Op. 5, No. 3 (1889), to a text by James Freeman Clark ("...I took your little white hand in mine/'Twas April, 'twas Sunday; 'twas warm sunshine...Have you forgot?"), his Three Duets for Piano, Op. 6 (1890), and in 1891 his Water Scenes, Op. 13 (Dragon Fly, Ophelia, Water Nymph, Narcissus, Barcarolle) for piano, and the song Narcissus with a text by P.C. Warren ("...lost in dreams/breath of the rose/breath of the lilac..."). In 1892 he applied for composition lessons from Richard Strauss, but was turned down.

He continued to lecture, teach, and concertize in Boston (1893 - 1895), Paris, Berlin, Florence, and Venice, and then, in 1897, he finally returned to the States because of ill health.

During this time, Nevin composed A Book of Songs, Op. 20 (1893, containing ten songs with texts by various authors), the Nocturne, Op. 20, No. 7, (1893) with a text ("Up to Her Chamber Window") by Thomas Bailey Aldrich set by 14 other composers of the time including Chadwick and Foote (" her scarlet lips she holds him...Ah me! 'twas he that won her/because he dared to climb").

Nevin also produced Maggio in Toscana, Op. 21 for piano (1896, containing "Arlecchino," "Notturno," "Barchetta," "Misericordia," "Il rusignuolo," "La pastorella"). He supplied the music for a pantomime entitled Floriane's Dream (1898) for a company of which the then-unknown Isadora Duncan was a member. For many years afterward, Duncan included Nevin's Water Scenes in her basic dance repertoire.

In Boston, in 1898, Nevin penned what was to become his most popular song, The Rosary with a text by R.C. Rogers, of which 287,000 copies were purchased by 1913. However, the song is not most representative of the composer's style, being a somewhat exaggeratedly sentimental ballad. The same year Nevin composed the cycle Un Giorno in Venezia (A Day in Venice) for piano, with the tone poem-like movements "Alba," "Gondolieri," "Canzone amoroso," and "Buona notte."

In Cincinnati in 1899, he composed the song cycle Captive Memories and in 1901 another popular song Mighty Lak' A Rose. His last work, a cantata called The Quest, had its orchestration completed by Horatio Parker. Read less

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