De Koven, Reginald (Henry Louis)


One of the best known and most prolific of American composers of light opera. He was born at Middletown, Conn., of distinguished parents and enjoyed unusual opportunities for study, going abroad at an early age. He is the son of the Reverend Henry De Koven, a clergyman of the Protestant Episcopal Church, who took up his residence abroad in 1872 and there prepared the boy, Reginald, for Oxford. He entered St. John's College, Oxford, and was graduated with the highest honors in 1879, being the youngest Bachelor of Arts of the year. His musical instruction had been begun when he was seven, and after his graduation, was continued under Speidel, Lebert and Pruckner at Stuttgart. Later he studied at Frankfort with Huff, who taught him counterpoint, and he studied singing with Vannucini at Florence. De Koven also made a special study of light opera with Von Suppe and Richard Genee of Vienna, both distinguished composers of comic opera. De Koven's first opera, The Begum, composed in 1887, was brought out by the McCaull Opera Company and was a success. He also wrote a light opera, entitled Cupid, Hymen & Co., which was rehearsed but never produced. While in Vienna he composed Don Quixote, which was produced in 1889 by the Bostonians, and which gained him immediate recognition. He next wrote Robin Hood, (1890), which won instant success, and immediately took rank with the standard light operas, the first by an American composer to be admitted to that list. It had a long run in New York and other cities in this country and ran for three years in London under the title, Maid Marian, afterwards being taken through the English provinces, to South Africa and to Australia. After Robin Hood came The Knickerbockers, The Fencing Master and The Algerian, which were all successes. The Tzigane, written for and sung by Lillian Russell, was distinguished by much local color and great melodic beauty.

De Koven lived in Chicago in 1882 and, two years later, married Miss Anna Farwell, the oldest daughter of Ex-Senator Farwell. Mrs. De Koven has written a number of successful books, and their daughter, Ethel De Koven, now a young woman, has a number of poems to her credit. Shortly after his marriage Mr. De Koven moved to New York, where he became musical critic for the New York World. He has never, in any of his productions, carried American operetta beyond the mark set by that most successful opera, Robin Hood, although all have met with popular approval. The Highwayman is considered by some his best work and it had a long and successful run. His latest operatic works are Happyland, written for De Wolf Hopper and sung by him and his company continuously since 1905; The Student King; and The Snow Man. He has written besides, many ballads and songs of unusual merit, his settings of Eugene Field's Little Boy Blue, of Burns' My Love Is Like a Red, Red Rose, and of Marjorie Daw being of unusual beauty. The best known of his songs are O Promise Me, which was made famous by the late Jessie Bartlett Davis; The Indian Love Song and A Winter Lullaby. In all he has written about one hundred and thirtyfive songs and incidental pieces, including an orchestral suite and a piano sonata. Other operas besides those mentioned are Rob Roy and The Mandarin, The Three Dragoons, Papa's Wife, The Paris Doll, Foxy Quiller, The Little Duchess, Red Feather, and Elysia, later re-named Happyland.