Coming well before events that would at all qualify as The American Century, a few figures related to music are of such importance that it is desirable to introduce them as part of the cast of characters under the purview of American Century Music.
One such person was John Sullivan Dwight.
An ordained Unitarian Minister, Dwight lost faith in the power of the pulpit, rather finding it in the form of music – especially Beethoven. He was a significant contributor to the European foundations of American classical music.
He repurposed his spiritual and missionary fervor into writing, and from April 10, 1852 to September 3, 1881, Dwight’s Journal of Music: A Paper of Art and Literature appeared weekly or biweekly.
From his opening issue:
” The tone to be impartial, independent, catholic, conciliatory, aloof from musical clique and controversy, cordial to all good things, but not eager to chime in with any powerful private interest of publisher, professor, concert-giver, manager, society, or party. This paper would make itself the ‘organ’ of no school or class, but simply an organ of what may be called the Musical Movement in our country, of the growing love of deep and genuine music, of the growing consciousness that music, first amid other forms of Art, is intimately connected with Man’s truest life and destiny.”
Coinciding with American Century Music’s current focus on the Patriarch of American Music, John Knowles Paine (1839-1906), I thought it would be interesting to read an account of Paine’s first Boston concert after returning from Europe in 1861. Paine was taken with the Bach frenzy prevalent in Germany at the time, and regularly featured the German masters’ works on organ recitals. Dwight was thrilled and remained one of Paine’s biggest supporters throughout his career.
Besides the glowing comments on Paine’s playing, please enjoy Dwight’s light chastising of the American concert-going public, and the importance, he felt, of this recital in the cultural life of Boston.
Dwight’s Journal of Music
Boston, February 1, 1862
Mr. J.K. Paine’s Organ Concert
Not even Bach’s fugues could prevail against a storm like that of Saturday last, and Mr. Paine had to postpone his concert until Monday evening. The audience (of four or five hundred people) was quite as large as such a solid and unusual entertainment could be expected to draw, so little has our public yet been educated to the understanding of true organ music. But the company was select and intelligent, composed of persons who came to listen in the hope of learning, and whose good opinion is worth something. The modest bearing of the young artist, self-possessed at the same time. was largely in his favor. And the reputation of his earnest studies, of the pure and noble direction in which he has dedicated his powers, means, hopes to Art, and of the much that he has accomplished in a few years of real study at so young an age, ensured a respectful audience. Many, who seek the best in all things, poetry, painting, sculpture, &c., and who only felt perhaps that they had never heard music which seemed to answer to the great traditions of the Organ, but who had often been assured that they would find it in Sebastian Bach, and trusted the assurance as they would the world’s opinion of Michael Angelo or Raphael, before they had ever seen anything but ﬁfth-rate paintings, were naturally careful not to let an opportunity like this go by. We believe all who came felt themselves amply repaid. Few would profess that they had fully understood; but all are ready to confess that they enjoyed. To most it was a new revelation of the signiﬁcance and grandeur of the Organ. This time they heard it speak in tones, in combinations, in marvellous developments of inﬁnite variety out of unity, which seemed to justify the grand scale on which the instrument is built and which make it a temple of harmonies.
Mr. Paine’s programme was as follows :
|1. Prelude and Fugue in A minor||Sebastian Bach|
|2. Choral variations, for two manuals and double pedals||Sebastian Bach|
|3. Trio Sonata in E Flat||Sebastian Bach|
|4. Song, “Ave Maria”||Robert Franz|
|5. Toccata in F||Sebastian Bach|
|6. Grand Concert piece in G minor||L. Thiele|
|7. Andante and Allegretto from an Organ Sonata||Mendelssohn|
|8. Vocal, “Parting n Spring”||Esser|
|9. Concert Variations on the Austrian Hymn||J.K. Paine|
The concert-giver placed as it were his best foot foremost, in playing the most important piece ﬁrst. The Prelude and Fugue in A minor is one of Bach’s greatest organ compositions. Naturally enough it called out the least demonstration from the audience,—perhaps made the least impression on them; but it comes nearer to the mark, we think, to say that it was received with silent wonder, which implies that there was an impression, a pretty strong one, but one which did not understand itself and did not dare to utter a response. But it was plain to all that there was something beautiful and grand, as well as most artistically ingenious and involved. How suddenly and positively the Prelude (with the smart, penetrating, richly blended tones of the full organ) took us away from ourselves, and bore us along through the labyrinth of quaint, fantastic ﬁgures, with a sense that all was tending nearer to the heart of the true tone-world! Then the Fugue, the not disappointing answer to the promise – how curious and complicated the theme; yet how distinctly, positively answered and kept up in all the four parts, each individually alive, and full of it in its own way! The distinctness of each part in so much complication, and especially the evenness and smoothness of the pedal playing must have astonished many. And yet all this mechanism, this ingenuity in Bach is always subject to idea, to the poetic inspiration. No part in the working of this fugue is more beautiful than the middle portion, where it goes on for a long time without pedals; then how grandly they comc in again!
The Variation on a Lutheran Choral was played with a softer combination of stops, and is indeed a lovely composition, full of religious tenderness and rich suggestion. It is in fact a Quartet between the two hands and two feet, with the Choral melody thrown sometimes into a solo stop besides: as if the right hand played ﬁrst violin, the left hand second violin, the right foot tenor and the left foot bass in a quartet of strings, with solo obbligato superadded. It was a capital llustration of the utility of pedals in an organ. But the mechanical part, remarkable as it was, was nothing to the spiritual beauty of the music in itself, which all appeared to feel.
The Trio Sonata was another instance of the way in which Bach makes the several keyboards play individual parts in concert. Here the two Manuals used were Soprano and Tenor, while the Pedal was Bass. The composition comes remarkably near to the developed Sonata form of Haydn and Mozart; the three movements being contrasted in like manner; each is full of beauty and of novelty (for Bach is always new and in exhaustiblc in fancy); and the Adagio and Allegro were especially admired. The Tocaata (a name given by those old masters to a concert piece, in which the subjects are only touched, as it were, but not worked up – a sort of free fantasia in fact}was a brilliant, not unmeaning, triumph over immense difficulties; those strong bold chords, which double handfuls, were as sharply deﬁned in their beginnings and their endings, as crisp and emphatic, as if played on a piano.
The selections of the second part were less severely classical. The Concerto by Thiele (a talented pupil of Haupt, who died full of promise), is extremely difficult, brilliant and full of deep, passionate unrest, rather than of imaginative invention. We have heard more interesting pieces by him; but this placed the great executive ability of the young organist in a strong light. The two movements by Mendelssohn were delicate and beautiful—fair specimens too of the quality of his six Organ Sonatas, which really sound tame after Bach.
Mr. Paine showed not a little contrapuntal skill and felicitous invention in his variations on the Austrian Hymn; they were not mere mechanical variations, but developed the subject-matter with new interest, and led it to a digniﬁed close in regular fugue form. Being warmly recalled, he surprised us by a similar, and even more successful, treatment of the “Star-Spangled Banner,” which was noble and inspiring throughout. One would hardly have supposed that the leading motive of that patriotic melody could have been turned into a subject for a Fugue, as it was, without sacriﬁcing sense to ingenuity. Mrs. Kempton rendered valuable assistance with her expressive singing of Robert Franz’s Ave Maria, a touching, noble melody, which sounded particularly well with organ. The song by Esser, though pleasing, was not so well suited to an organ concert.