IHAS: Composer
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ARTHUR FARWELL
(1872-1952)


Though his musical education was rooted in German Romanticism and his early composition training in the classicism of the Second New England School, Arthur Farwell eventually broke from these traditions to forge a distinctive personal voice. Despite the fact that he created over one hundred compositions, Farwell is remembered best as a crusader for American music free of European influences and as the founder of the WA-WAN Press, a not-for-profit music publishing venture based in Newton, MA, which issued the music of forty contemporary American composers, many working in an experimental vein.

Born in St. Paul, MN, on April 23, 1872, he studied violin as a boy, but it was not until he was an engineering student at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology that he realized his vocation. Taking his degree in 1893, he studied for a time with Chadwick in Boston, but rebelled against his teacher's academic drift. Encouraged by MacDowell, he sailed for Germany where he studied with Humperdinck, among others, before returning the States, teaching briefly at Cornell University, and eventually settling in Newton Center near Boston. Inspired by Dvorák's approach to folk material and impassioned by the belief that American classical music needed to incorporate native music, Farwell created in 1901 the WA-WAN Press, which he named for an Omaha tribal ceremony affirming peace and friendship.

Published eight times annually for the first five years and then increased to monthly editions in 1906, Farwell published beautifully designed and engraved vocal and instrumental compositions supported by program notes and essays to advance the cause of this "new music." Among the composers he published (in addition to himself) were Arthur Shepherd, Edgar Stillman Kelley, William Schuyler, and Henry F. B. Gilbert--all of whom had rejected the classicism of the Chadwick-Parker School. In 1912 Farwell became chief music critic for the Boston area for Musical America, and he turned the plates for the WA-WAN Press over to G. Schirmer on a royalty basis. Regretfully, Schirmer soon abandoned the project, and one of the most significant and idealistic efforts in our cultural history--an attempt to encourage American voices by publishing and disseminating their songs and poetry--disappeared. It is much to their credit, therefore, that Arno Press and the New York Times with Vera Brodsky Lawrence as editor issued a complete five volume reprint in 1970.

Indianist Movement


Farwell's own music was deeply inspired by the Indianist Movement of the late 19th century. Though his arrangements of tribal melodies (THREE INDIAN SONGS , OPUS 32, 1908) were colored by European harmonic practices, his later compositions departed boldly from the literal context of Native American music and responded, instead, to its spirit. This increasing sophistication is seen in his 1905 OPUS 21, IMPRESSIONS OF THE WA-WAN CEREMONY OF THE OMAHAS.

By the 1930's Farwell's music had developed a strikingly original, even avant-garde quality that continued until his death in New York City in 1952. A figure of controversy throughout his life, Farwell's artistic ideas--particularly his work in the Indianist Movement--still provoke discussion in a politically correct and largely myopic modern age that has difficulty understanding the contexts from which our artists come. Arthur Farwell's credo--that it is only by exalting the common inspirations of American life that we can become great musically with all its Whitmanesque resonance--surely stands at the heart of the pioneering spirit which has shaped all American thought and art.


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