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Thread: Frederick Shepherd Converse

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    Senior Member Joachim Raff's Avatar
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    Default Frederick Shepherd Converse

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    Frederick Shepherd Converse (January 5, 1871 – June 8, 1940)

    One of the first American composers to create large-scale symphonic poems and well-known for his brilliant orchestrations, Frederick Shepherd Converse began his music studies at the age of ten with piano studies. His formal composition study was initiated upon his entrance to Harvard in 1889 under the tutelage of composer John Knowles Paine.

    Upon graduation four years later, he briefly pursued a commercial business career, but finally opted for a life in music. He continued his composition studies with another well-known composer of the so-called New England School, George Chadwick. His piano training was resumed with Carl Baermann. He left for Munich in 1896 and entered the Royal Academy of Music in Munich, studying with Rheinberger until his graduation in 1898. His first developed works were created at this time, the overture Youth (1895) and his Symphony No. 1 in D minor (1898).

    Returning to the States, Converse became an instructor at the New England Conservatory of Music in 1900. His works of this time -- such as the orchestral piece Endymion's Narrative After Keats (1901), Night and Day (1901), two symphonic poems after Whitman for piano and orchestra, and the vocal work for baritone and orchestra La belle dame sans merci on a text by Keats (1902) -- began to show the influence of poetic imagery. Converse's personal life was filled with the various joys and responsibilities of raising a large family at his country estate in Westwood, where he farmed and enjoyed outdoor sports. Converse moved on to teach at Harvard from 1903 to 1907. His best and most well-known work, the symphonic poem The Mystic Trumpeter, is a fantasy after Whitman (1904). A year earlier, Converse had composed his first romantic (but undramatic) opera, The Pipe of Desire, which became the first American opera to be produced at Boston's Metropolitan Opera House in 1910.

    From 1908 through 1914, Converse was vice president of the Boston Opera Company and supervised the organization and administration of the company. He also oversaw the production of performances of both his first opera and its more successful successor, The Sacrifice (1910), with a text by both Converse and his close friend Percy MacKaye. Two other operas written with MacKaye, Beauty and the Beast (Sinbad the Sailor) (1913) and The Immigrants (1914), remain unperformed. This was followed with the composition of the symphonic poems Ormazd after the ancient Persian Bundehesch (1911) and Ave atque vale (1916).

    In World War I, Converse served in the Massachusetts State Guard and was a member of the National Committee on Army and Navy Camp Music. After the conflict, he began teaching again at the New England Conservatory and eventually became dean of faculty, remaining there until 1938. This period saw many performances of Converse's works, including the Second (1919), Third (1921), and Fourth (1934) symphonies, and several tone poems, including Song of the Sea (1923) after Whitman, Flivver Ten Million (1926), American Sketches (Seeing America First) (1928), and Prophecy for soprano and orchestra (1932).

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    Senior Member Joachim Raff's Avatar
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    Recommended listening:

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    American Sketches

    Recorded at Air Studios, Hampstead, London, 5-6 April & 18 September 2011

    BBC Concert Orchestra, Keith Lockhart

    Catalogue No: CDLX7278
    Label: Dutton
    Series: Epoch

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