Foote, Arthur William


Eminent American composer, born at Salem, Massachusetts, of English descent. He received some lessons in piano when a boy, and was in his early teens a student of harmony at the New England Conservatory of Music under Stephen A. Emery. At fourteen he composed a new setting for the first chorus of Mendelssohn's Elijah, a work he greatly admired. During a course at Harvard University, from which he was graduated in 1874, his musical study was suspended, although he was active there as leader of the Glee Club and as musical chorister on Class Day. After graduation he renewed his music with more serious purpose, working at counterpoint, canon, fugue and composition under John K. Paine, then connected with the University, although there was no musical professorship in Harvard at that time. In 1875 Foote received his degree of A. M. for this special work. His translation of Richter's treatise on fugue, published at that time, was used for a text-book at Harvard. He also studied organ and piano under the well-known instructor, B. J. Lang, and began teaching the latter instrument in Boston the following year. In 1878 he became organist of the First Unitarian Church in Boston, in which position he still remains, having played there nearly thirty years. Between 1880 and 1895 he gave many chamber concerts and recitals in Boston, and has also given a number of organ recitals. He is president of the Cecilia Society, a mixed chorus in Boston, and a member of the American Guild of Organists; for a number of years he represented the musical department on the visiting committee of Harvard, and since 1880 has been a member and officer of the Harvard Musical Association. In that year he was married to Kate G. Knowlton, and has resided at Dedham, Mass., for the last ten years.

Although Foote's musical education was obtained entirely in this country, his compositions follow classical outlines, and he stands in the front rank of American composers. The influence of his two years' leadership of the Harvard Glee Club is seen in the ease with which he handles male choruses, the prevalence of these among his choral works, and his tendency to confine his compositions to the circumscribed compass and close harmonies suited to vocal music. Naturally enough, he has written numerous songs, and a large proportion of these are settings of verses from Shakespeare and other old English poets Suckling, Sidney.Herrick, etc. Instances of these are When Icicles Hang by the Wall; and It Was a Lover and His Lass, the light, gay words combined with a quaint minor tune which begins somberly. Other examples of delicately humorous song-settings are The Road to Kew; Ho! Pretty Page; and When You Become a Nun, Dear. The Irish Folk-Song, and I'm Wearing Awa', have become popular through the appeal of their pathos. Still others that are well known are The Eden Rose; A Song of Four Seasons; In Picarore; and Bisesa's Song. The solos number about sixty in all, beside vocal duets and quartets. Two suites, one in D minor and one in C minor, stand at the head of his piano compositions; the former, especially, has been highly praised, and comprises a prelude, fugue, romance and capriccio. Foote himself considers the five poems after Omar Khayyam next in importance. Beside these there are a number of smaller works for piano, making thirty in all, and including studies for piano pedal; an Etude Album; Additions to Buttshardt's Method of Pianoforte Technique; transcriptions of a sarabandc and courante of J. S. Bach; and a dozen pieces, largely in the old classical forms. Hughes speaks of two gavottes as "the best since Bach academic without being dry... -, I know of no modern composer who has come nearer relighting the fires that beam in the old gavottes and fugues and preludes." Foote's chamber-music includes a quintet for piano and strings, with an intermezzo strongly suggestive of Scotch folksong, which, as well as one of the two quartets for strings alone, has been given by the Kneisel Quartet and other organizations of stringed instruments with much success. For piano and strings there are also a quartet and two trios; for violin and piano a sonata which has won favor in England; and also three characteristic pieces, Morning Song, Menuetto Serioso, and Romanza.

The list of his orchestral works contains an overture, In the Mountains, which has been played frequently by the Boston Symphony Orchestra, and also by other orchestras; the suite in D minor for full orchestra is another favorite of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, and is considered one of the best of its kind; two smaller suites and a serenade are for string orchestra, and the symphonic poem, Francesca da Rimini, in the form of a prologue to Dante's story, is considered by some judges the greatest of all his works. These have been performed repeatedly by the orchestras of New York and Chicago, as well as of Boston, which has given Foote's works an equal showing with those of MacDowell, and second only to those of Chadwick and Paine. For the organ there is a suite in D and a number of shorter pieces. His sacred music includes a Te Deum in B flat and a Te Deum and Jubilate in E flat. Foote's secular choral works comprise Wreck of the Hesperus, for mixed voices, solos and orchestra; The Farewell of Hiawatha, for male chorus, barytone solo and orchestra; If Doughty Deeds my Lady Please; Into the Silent Land, for either male or female voices ; The Skeleton in Armor; Lygeia, a cantata for women's voices; a motet for mixed chorus, Mortal Life is Full of Battle, which has been sung by the foremost choral societies in this country, and is classed by Elson among Foote's larger works of special power. The same appreciative critic estimates him as a " conservative and classical composer, who never has written anything trivial or unworthy." W. S. B. Mathews has paid Foote a high compliment, reaching beyond and above his musical ability alone, in the words, " He fills in every way an honorable position in art and life. He is one of the men who lend distinction to the musical profession."