APM: Composers Datebook

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Jul 11, 2018 Among the more enduring souvenirs of the Paris World Exposition of 1889 was an impressive tower designed by a gentleman named Gustave Eiffel. Originally blasted as a grotesque eyesore by leading French artists—including the opera composer Charles Gounod—it was a smash hit with those attending the 1889 Exposition. Another great hit with attendees, including the impressionable French composer Claude Debussy, was the chance to hear exotic music from around the world. In addition to strange sounds from Java, Siam, and Egypt, the audience at an orchestra concert at the Exposition’s Trocadero Palace on today’s date in 1889 could have heard the exotic sounds of music by several composers from the United States as well. It was something of a milestone in the history of American music. Charles Whitefield Chadwick was a 45-year-old composer whose tone poem entitled “Melpomene” was one of the works performed in Paris, along with orchestral pieces by Arthur Foote, Edward MacDowell, Dudley Buck, and John Paine, just to mention a few. A perceptive French critic noted at the time there seemed to be a veritable “young American school” of composers, obviously influenced by German models ranging from Mendelssohn to Wagner. “Except for the lack of originality,” concluded the French critic, “the workmanship is serious, correct, solid, and always practical. And these young Americans appeared blessed with much energy. Their school has scarcely been formed and already they have a significant repertoire.”

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