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Biography George W. Chadwick (1854-1931)

Image: George Whitefield Chadwick
George Whitefield Chadwick. Halftone. Illustrated in American Composers: A Study of the Music of this Country, and of its Future... by Rupert Hughes and Arthur Elson. Boston: The Page Company, 1914, facing page 210. Music Division, Library of Congress. LC call number: ML390.H89 1914 Copy 3

George Whitefield Chadwick was born in Lowell, Massachusetts on November 13, 1854. His mother died shortly after his birth. His father remarried and George quickly learned to become self-reliant. As a youngster, he received brief musical instruction from his brother. Both his father and brother participated in the great 1869 Peace Jubilee in Boston, as members of the 10,000-member chorus. That massive concert had a strong impact on the 15-year-old Chadwick. In 1871, he dropped out of high school in order to devote more time to the study of music. To pay for music lessons, he became a clerk in his father's successful insurance business. One year later, he entered the New England Conservatory of Music as a special student and assumed the post of organist at a Congregational church.

In 1876, against his father's wishes, Chadwick accepted a one-year position at Olivet College, Michigan. The same year, Theodore Presser enlisted him as a founding member of the Music Teachers National Association. At the inaugural meeting in Delaware, Ohio, Chadwick delivered a paper titled "Popular Music--Wherein Reform Is Necessary."

Determined to have a broad music education, he traveled the next year to Europe. After studying for three months in Leipzig with Salomon Jadassohn, he entered the Leipzig Conservatory, where his success as a composer began. Chadwick's String Quartet No. 2 in C Major and concert overture Rip Van Winkle received critical acclaim, the latter work winning the Conservatory's award as the best composition of 1879. That autumn, he decided to gain additional training at the Königliche Musikschule in Munich, where he studied organ and composition with Joseph Rheinberger.

Chadwick returned to Boston in 1880, where one of his first private pupils was the young Horatio Parker. That year, the venerable Handel and Haydn Society invited him to conduct his Rip Van Winkle overture. During the next season, The Arlington Club performed his Margarita for men's chorus, and the Apollo Club presented The Viking's Last Voyage. In 1882, he accepted positions as organist at the Park Street Church and on the faculty of the New England Conservatory of Music. He assumed the directorship of the Conservatory in 1897, a position he held until 1930. Under his leadership, the conservatory modernized its curriculum and adopted a more European model. Chadwick instituted an opera workshop and a repertory orchestra. Orchestration and harmony courses were based on the study of concrete musical examples rather than abstract principles. His textbook, Harmony: A Course of Study (1897) experienced such success that it was reissued in 74 subsequent editions.

He devoted much time to administrative and teaching duties at the conservatory, composing mostly during the summers on Martha's Vineyard. He developed and regularly conducted the conservatory's orchestra and also served as director of the Springfield Festival (1890-99) and the Worcester Festival (1897-1901). He composed Phoenix expirans (1892) for the Springfield Festival and his largest score, the lyric drama Judith, for the Worcester Festival. In his later years, his verismo opera The Padrone was rejected by the Metropolitan Opera, but he experienced success with major choral and orchestral works at the Norfolk Festival. These include his Christmas oratorio Noël (1907-08) and a tribute to his Celtic heritage, the symphonic ballad Tam O'Shanter (1914-15).

Chadwick is often dubbed the dean of American composers because of his position as conservatory director, his textbooks, and his teaching. He directly influenced important turn-of-the-century composers such as Horatio Parker, Daniel Gregory Mason, Frederick Converse, and William Grant Still. He received honorary degrees from Yale (A.M., 1897) and Tufts (LL.D., 1905). He was a member of the National Institute of Arts and Letters (1898) and the American Academy of Arts and Letters (1909). George Whitefield Chadwick died on April 4, 1931.