- George Whitefield Chadwick: The Life and Music of the Pride of New England by Bill F. Faucett
Recent years have seen a welcome if modest revival of interest in composers of the Second New England School, and to this body of work Bill Faucett’s biography of George Chadwick (1854–1931) stands as an admirable and worthy complement. Faucett, former music critic of the Palm Beach Post and noted Chadwick scholar, offers the most comprehensive account of the composer to date, expanding on his earlier bio-bibliography (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1998), itself an imposing work, by presenting a narrative of the Yankee composer’s life and works in a manner both compelling and captivating.
Arguably the most innovative member of the New England group, Chadwick was a prolific composer whose output spans nearly every genre, including opera, chamber music, choral works, songs, and, most notably, orchestral music. Often dubbed the dean of American composers, Chadwick achieved iconic status as a music educator, serving for almost thirty-five years as director of the New England Conservatory of Music, where he revamped the institution into a full-fledged conservatory built on European models of instruction. Along the way, he authored an influential book on harmony, helped found the Music Teachers National Association, and succeeded Edward MacDowell as musical member of the venerable American Academy of Arts and Letters. When one considers the diversity, depth, and breadth of his contributions to succeeding generations of American musicians and his status as standard bearer of the American academic tradition in music, it seems all the more astonishing that his legacy has been diluted with the passing of time.
Faucett achieves commendable balance in his writing with an approach that deftly fuses the scholarly with the practical. Benefiting from a treasure trove of material recently acquired through personal interviews with the composer’s late grandson, Theodore, plus newly released primary sources including letters, diaries, and memoirs, Faucett navigates his way through a chronicle of Chadwick’s life with authority and perspicacity. The book’s fourteen chapters are organized largely but not exclusively by chronology. At times, Faucett departs from a sequential model to consider Chadwick’s works by genre or context. Musical examples have been omitted, although cursory analysis of selected works is presented, aided by the inclusion of tables detailing formal structure and key relationships. [End Page 124] Faucett states that his purpose in omitting examples is to make the book more accessible, although to this reviewer, the book is not strengthened by their absence. Indeed, inclusion of examples would arguably serve to make the music more accessible and its impact more potent, particularly since Faucett states in his preface that his focus is largely confined to two areas: instrumental music and stage works, both areas where examples could be helpful.
The polarity of Chadwick’s style represents a potential challenge for biographers, a task to which Faucett has risen admirably. Though there is a distinct academic underpinning to Chadwick’s music, abetted by his early formal study in Leipzig, his works also reflect a Yankee bluntness, hinting at the colorful peripatetic student days that softened his Teutonic bias. Other dualisms abound, addressed by Faucett in turn: the melding of old and original musical techniques into new and distinctive idioms, the homage to serious art amid the presence of popular and folk music elements, and the fidelity to established styles in the midst of novelty. Notable among the Second New England School for his interest—albeit unevenly reflected—in traditional American vernacular music, Chadwick also shows an earthy humor not shared by his patrician peers. Still another side of Chadwick is shown in his fascination with the Middle East, a trait often displayed in the poetry (and less frequently, the musical settings) of his nearly two hundred songs.
Faucett’s discussion of Chadwick’s symphonic works in chapter 8 is particularly salutary, since the composer was at his best in the major instrumental...