With our festive weekend behind us, we continue a brief tour of the orchestral music by the 19th-century American composer John Knowles Paine. He was America’s first music professor, earning that post in 1875 at Harvard, and was the senior member of a group known as the “Boston Six,” which also included his colleagues George Chadwick, Arthur Foote, Amy Beach, Edward MacDowell, and Horatio Parker.
In the late 1800s, the nascent American orchestral voice was in early development, and Paine was sent to Berlin to study the German musical tradition. It’s not too surprising, then, that his symphonies have tinges of Mendelssohn, Schumann and Brahms.
Volume 2 of Paine’s orchestral works, played by the Ulster Orchestra, led by the American conductor JoAnn Falletta, includes the second symphony, which was his last such work, and said to have been his favorite of all his compositions. Two pieces inspired by Greek mythology complete the set. First is the prelude to his incidental music for Harvard’s 1880 presentation, in the original Greek, of Sophocles’ Oedipus Rex. Finally Poseidon and Amphitrite, also known as his Ocean Fantasy, which was his final orchestral work.