Mason, William



Son of Lowell Mason; teacher and composer of church-music; born in Boston, Mass. He began the study of music under his father's careful direction, went to Newport, Rhode Island, in 1843 to study under the Rev. T. T. Thayer, and about 1846 began to take piano lessons of Schmidt. At the age of seventeen he had so far advanced as to play the piano in a concert of the Academy of Music. When he was twenty years old he went to Europe. While crossing the ocean Mason met a musical publisher named Schuberth, who was personally acquainted with Liszt, and who warmly recommended him as a teacher. He had intended going to Moscheles in Leipsic, but owing to the insurrection raging at that time he stayed awhile in Paris, then went to visit Schuberth. At Schuberth's suggestion he dedicated to Liszt one of his compositions entitled Les Perles de Rosee, at the same time asking permission to become his student. Liszt accepted the dedication, granted the desired permission and invited Mason to come to Weimar to the Goethe Festival, but Mason misread his letter, construing it into a refusal to take him as a pupil, and later on visiting Weimar took a casual speech of Liszt's as corroboration of this refusal. His mistake was not cleared up until almost four years later. Consequently he went to Leipsic to study harmony with Moritz Hauptmann, then cantor of the Thomasschule, and instrumentation with Hauptmann's pupil, Ernst Richter. In 1850 he went to Dreyschock in Prague. In 1852 Albert Wagner gave him a letter of introduction to his brother, Richard Wagner, at Bayreuth. Mason presented the letter and was most cordially received by the master. On parting from Wagner he requested his autograph and received from him the dragon theme from the Ring of the Nibelung, which was not heard by the public until twenty-five years later. In 1853 Sir Julius Benedict invited Mason to London to play at a concert of the Harmonic Union Society given in Exeter Hall. In his Memoirs of a Musical Life, Mason records that his choice of music for this occasion was Weber's Concertstuck. On his return from England he went to Weimar to see Liszt, and this time his former misunderstanding was straightened out and he was cordially welcomed by the great composer.


He returned to America in 1855 and shortly afterward was married to the daughter of George Webb, with whom his father had founded the Boston Academy of Music. He made a successful concert tour, the first exclusively piano tour ever undertaken in the United States, during which he introduced Liszt's Twelfth Rhapsody and Chopin's Fantasie Impromptu to American audiences. Mr. Mason found concert tour work too great a tax, so he abandoned it and took up teaching in New York. In this line of work he introduced several innovations, such as the application of rhythmic forms to finger exercises. He introduced Schumann to his students, and also played Chopin and Brahms. With the help of the orchestra conductor, Carl Bergmann, he organized a quartet to give matinee chamber concerts, which became famous as the Mason and Thomas Quartet. The members were Theodore Thomas, first violin; Joseph Mosenthal, second violin; George Matzka, viola; Bergmann, violoncellist, and after the first year Bergner as cellist in Bergmann's place. At a musical festival in New York in 1873 Mason played a triple concerto with Mills and Anton Rubinstein. In 1872 he was given the degree of Doctor of Music by Yale University. On his seventieth birthday an assembly of his pupils met and presented him with a loving-cup. For many years he has lived in Orange, New Jersey.


William Mason is regarded as the first American piano virtuoso, a man of brilliant technical skill and of great taste and refinement of interpretation. As a teacher he is second to none, and has formed some of our most successful American pianists, among them William Sherwood and E. M. Bowman. His books on pedagogy for music are Touch and Technic, a Method for Piano; A System for Beginners; and Mason's Piano Technics. His compositions show the influence of the classics in form and ideas and give evidence of sound training. Some of them are Amitie pour moi; Silver Spring; Ballade in B; Monody in B flat; Spring Dawn; Mazurka Caprice; Toujours, a waltz; Reverie Poetique; Berceuse, a cradle song; Danse Rustique, a la Gigue; Romance Idyll; Romance Etude, an Improvisation, besides many others.