George W. Chadwick

Biography

Born: November 13, 1854 in Lowell, MA   Died: April 4, 1931 in Boston, MA   Country: USA   Period: 19th/20th Centuries
As an instructor, and eventually director, at the New England Conservatory of Music, George Whitefield Chadwick played an important role in the development of a uniquely American musical style. He was also one of the most significant of the Boston, or New England, school of composers. His music, although conservative in approach, is brilliantly orchestrated and reflects a subtle charm and sense of humor.

Chadwick grew up in a
Read more musical home. Both his parents were amateur musicians, and Chadwick got his first musical instruction in piano and harmony from his brother. More formal studies continued at the New England Conservatory in 1872. However, he didn't have enough money to complete his degree, so he worked in his father's insurance business for about three years. At age 21 he decided to pursue a career as a music educator and composer; he taught at Olivet College in 1876 and 1877. Then in the fall of 1877, Chadwick traveled to Germany, entering the Leipzig Conservatory where he studied with Carl Reinecke. He also received some organ lessons from Josef Rheinberger in Munich. His graduation piece from the Leipzig Conservatory was the Rip Van Winkle Overture (1879), which was premiered at the Conservatory and later became his first composition performed in America.

Returning to the United States in 1880, Chadwick set up a private teaching studio in Boston. Two years later he took a post as instructor in harmony and composition at the New England Conservatory. He also became the organist at Boston's South Congregational Church, a post he held for 17 years. In his spare time he composed works like the Symphony No. 3 (1886), which won him a prize from the National Conservatory in New York.

In his years at the New England Conservatory, Chadwick instructed many of the most important of the next generation of American composers, such as Horatio Parker, William Grant Still, Henry Hadley, E. B. Hill, Daniel Gregory Mason, and Frederick Converse. After becoming Director of the Conservatory in 1897 -- a post he held for the rest of his life -- Chadwick instituted some noteworthy changes, reforming the curriculum and organizing an opera workshop and a student orchestra. He also wrote influential textbooks such as Harmony, A Course of Study (1897, rev. 1922).

Chadwick was much in demand as a conductor, appearing frequently with U.S. orchestras. He also directed music festivals in Springfield (1897-1901) and Worcester (1889-1899). Even with all this activity, he still managed to compose; among his most popular works are the four Symphonic Sketches (1895-1904) and the Tam O'Shanter Overture (1915). He eventually produced five operas, three symphonies, five string quartets, and a variety of other orchestral and chamber works. The conservatism of his music, however, led to its falling out of favor as the musical world changed dramatically in the early twentieth century. The Metropolitan Opera even refused to produce his tragic opera The Padrone (1912).

Chadwick was much honored during his lifetime. As early as 1897 he received an honorary degree from Yale University; eight years later he received another from Tufts College. In 1928, he was presented a gold medal by the Academy of Arts and Letters. And in 1930 a pair of music festivals (at the New England Conservatory and the Eastman School) marked the fiftieth anniversary of his return to the United States from his European studies. He died the following year.

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