Arthur William Foote was perhaps the first important
American composer to be wholly trained in the United States. He was
born in Salem, Massachusetts. His early musical influences came from
'Dwight's Journal of Music' published by music critic, John Sullivan,
who presented the most conservative of musical tastes. In it the works
of Berlioz, Liszt, and especially Wagner were dismissed for their harmonic
complexity, chromaticism and exaggerated expression. In 1867 Foote went
to Boston to study harmony with Emery at the New England Conservatory
of Music. In 1870 he was accepted at Harvard University where he became
Director of the Harvard Glee Club in his final year. It was at Harvard
where he studied under John Knowles Paine, a musician thoroughly trained
in the German traditions of composition.
After graduating he took organ lessons in Salem from
Lang, a former student of Lizst and now a choir director and concert
promoter. We owe it to Lang that works by Berlioz (Damnation of Faust),
Brahms (German Requiem) and Wagner (Parsifal) were introduced
to Boston audiences for the first time. Foote returned to Harvard to
continue studies under Paine and receive the first Master of Arts Music
degree ever presented at the University. On completion of his studies
in 1875, Foote opened a studio for piano teaching in 1875 and this was
to become his primary vocation for most of his life.
Visits to Bayreuth and elsewhere broadened his outlook
and influenced his writing. Despite continuing to be a church organist
in Boston, he became a composer of choral and chamber works, and in
particular an influential tone poem, In the Mountains (1886)
which was so popular that it was played at the Paris Exposition of 1889.
He found his musical vocabulary early in his career and held on to the
same style in the 20th Century. He became suspicious of jazz
when new ideas were beginning to appear in the 1930s.
Foote realised that he needed to write an extended
chamber work to establish his artistic reputation and with this purpose
in mind composed the Piano Trio No. 1 in C Minor. The work was
composed in a short period of time and after its first performance in
1882 was withdrawn for further revision. This was carried out during
a holiday in France in which many of the piano textures were simplified.
It was published two years later.
From the beginning we are aware of a well-structured
piece: a captivating opening with bright melodic line sweeps through
the rippling Allegro con brio. Then follows a bright and spirited
Allegro vivace, which shows how accurately the Arden Trio work
together. A romantic subject is introduced which then reverts to the
spirited opening. A ponderous Adagio molto provides a languid
interlude before momentum builds with a strong, highly textured Allegro
The Piano Trio No. 2 in B flat Major comes 25
years after Foote's first Trio. In it he reveals the refinement of a
mature artist and expands his harmonic language, yet in it provides
thematic material that is less memorable.
A cheerful Allegro giocoso carries a catchy
dialogue between violin and piano. A leisurely and poetic Tranquillo
holds our attention with a haunting cello theme set against piano accompaniment
before the violin joins in with soaring harmony. An Allegro molto
provides an energetic final movement with subtlety of instrumental texture.
The Melody for violin and piano was composed
in Foote's middle period and is a song for the violin. The piano accompaniment
we are told is derived from hymn tunes and parlour songs in equal measure.
The violin line hints at Schumann's Ich grolle nicht. A passage
based on a rising motif provides a contrast before reverting to the
original song theme. The violin (of superb tone, incidentally) is expressively
played in this piece.
Of his works for violin and piano Foote thought the
Ballade for violin and piano was his best. An influence of Dvorak
can be detected in the modal inflections of the melody line, yet it
is Foote's characteristic reserve and distinctive piano scoring that
dominates. The work opens with a song-inspired melody. This leads to
a more energetic middle section before returning to the first theme
and ending with a brief coda.
The Arden Trio are excellent musicians, who perform
with technical brilliance, using dynamics to good effect so that every
nuance is extracted from Foote's music. They were winners of the 1981
Concert Artists Guild Award and between 1987-94 have earned national
acclaim with their Saint-Saëns, Ravel, Haydn and Mendelssohn Trio
The notes on Foote are interesting and are written
in English, French and German. The Naxos recording quality of this disc
justly matches the expertise of its musicians.
ARTHUR FOOTE (18.53-1937) Chamber
Music Vol. 1 James Barbagallo (piano) Da Vinci Quartet Lamont School
of Music, Denver, Colorado, 27-30 August, 11-14 December 1995 NAXOS
AMERICAN CLASSICS 8.559009 [75.58]
ARTHUR FOOTE (18.53-1937) Chamber
Music Vol. 2 James Barbagallo (piano) Jeani Muhonen Foster (flute)
Da Vinci Quartet Lamont School of Music, Denver, Colorado, 27-30 August,
11-14 December 1995 NAXOS AMERICAN CLASSICS 8.559014 [71.05]