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Biography Daniel Gregory Mason (1873-1953)

Daniel Gregory Mason, n.d.
Daniel Gregory Mason, n.d. George Grantham Bain Collection. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress.

Daniel Gregory Mason was born in Brookline, Massachusetts, November 20, 1873. He was the son of Henry Mason (a cofounder of the Mason-Hamlin piano company), nephew of pianist-composer William Mason, and grandson of pioneer music educator Lowell Mason. Mason and his three brothers participated regularly in chamber music performances in addition to school music activities.

Mason attended Harvard University from 1891 to 1895, where he studied with John Knowles Paine, one of the first American-born composers to be recognized for his large-scale orchestral works. After two years of music studies, however, Mason's academic attention turned toward a more general curriculum in the humanities. After his graduation from Harvard in 1895, Mason traveled to Europe with William Vaughan Moody, dramatist, poet, and author of The Great Divide.

Upon his return, Mason moved to New York, where he became acquainted with a number of prominent musicians of the day. Those included Ignaz Paderewski, a Polish pianist, composer, diplomat, and the third Prime Minister of Poland, as well as Ossip Gabrilovich, a Russian-born pianist and conductor. In New York, Mason studied piano with Arthur Whiting and Ethelbert Nevin. He also studied theory and composition with Percy Goetschius, an internationally acclaimed teacher.

Following some minor financial troubles in New York, Mason returned to Cambridge, where he taught English at Harvard University for a brief period. He became a prolific writer on music topics and published his first book, From Grieg to Brahms, in 1903. In 1905, he was appointed lecturer in music at Columbia University, where he remained until 1948. Mason authored or co-authored eighteen books and numerous scholarly articles, often criticizing "modern music" in his writings. He also accused European-born conductors, such as Arturo Toscanini, of slighting American composers in their concert programs.

In 1913, Mason studied in Paris with Vincent d'Indy, who became his primary compositional influence. A fervent classicist, Mason's instrumental works include three symphonies, more than a dozen chamber pieces, several keyboard compositions, and other orchestral works and transcriptions. He is best known as a composer for his festival overture Chanticleer (1928) and his three symphonies, especially the Lincoln Symphony (1936). His vocal output includes more than ten song cycles for various vocal and choral forces, some with orchestral accompaniment. He also wrote more than fifty songs without opus numbers. Mason died in Greenwich, Connecticut, on December 4, 1953.