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
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.
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.