Fry, William Henry


American composer and writer, whose chief claim to distinction lies in the fact that he was the composer of the first American opera worthy of record. Fry was born in Philadelphia, his father being the publisher of the Philadelphia National Gazette. He received a good general education, and after graduating from college he became an editorial writer on his father's newspaper in Philadelphia. He also received a good musical education and devoted all his leisure moments to composition. He taught himself to play the piano by listening to the instruction given an elder brother. At the age of twenty he received a gold medal for an overture which was performed by the Philharmonic Society of Philadelphia. He went abroad in 1849 to collect musical specimens, and while in Paris studied with L. Meignen in harmony and counterpoint, became acquainted with Berlioz, and met several of the best known French composers. Upon his return to his native country five years later, Fry became musical editor and critic of the New York Tribune, and in a series of papers he attempted to prove the superiority of Italian music. He also delivered a series of ten illustrated lectures on music, assisted by a chorus of eighty performers and a military band of fifty. These lectures were held in Metropolitan Hall, New York. Fry paid for everything, chorus, orchestra and other expenses out of his own pocket. The venture was not a success. Fry's first opera and the first composition from the pen of an American composer worthy to be called an opera, was entitled Leonora, and was produced for the first time in Philadelphia by the Sequin troupe, and afterwards at the New York Academy of Music, with marked success, in 1858. Thirteen years later it was performed in Italian by a great opera company. Its music is melodious and pleasing and, like all of the composer s succeeding works, was in the form of the French grand opera, the ensemble, orchestration and dramatic arrangement being according to French tradition. Fry's next opera was Notre Dame de Paris, with the libretto written by the composer's brother, J. R. Fry, and was given its first performance at the Academy of Music, Philadelphia, in 1864, shortly before Fry's death. It was also well received. Fry's symphonies, Childe Harold, A Day in the Country and A Breaking Heart, have been much praised, although neither his operas nor his other works ever achieved any great amount of success. He does not rank with the great composers, but deserves consideration for his efforts to elevate the musical life of his country. He wrote beside the works mentioned many solo pieces, both vocal and in- strumental; cantatas; a Stabat Mater; and many songs.