Charles Wakefield Cadman – American Suite
(b. Johnstown, 24. December 1881 – d. Los Angeles. 30. December 1946)
First performance: September 18, 1937
American composer Charles Wakefield Cadman was one of the best-known American composers during the first third of the 20th century. He was one of the principal composers writing in an “Indianist” style – that is, using Native American melodies, often derived from scholarly works, as the melodic basis for his compositions. The “Indianist” phase of Cadman’s career made him perhaps the most famous classical composer in America beginning in 1909 (the date of the publication of the song “From the Land of the Sky-Blue Waters” and its subsequent championing by famed soprano Lillian Nordica) and for at least the following decade.1
The “Indianist” movement came into its own with Dvořák’s 1890s call for American composers to use American musical materials. One of the earliest and best-known results was Edward MacDowell’s “Indian Suite” of 1896. An important landmark for the movement was the founding of the Wa-Wan Press by Arthur Farwell in 1901. Wa-Wan Press was specifically created for the purpose of furthering American music, and Farwell himself had an abiding interest in Native American music, resulting in a catalog with a high percentage of Native American derived or themed music. Eventually Cadman would take his place as the leading composer of the “Indianist” movement.
Cadman was born in Johnstown, Pennsylvania, USA (near Pittsburgh) on December 24, 1881.
Perison (see endnote) noted five sometimes overlapping phases to Cadman’s career: juvenile works (to 1902); first commercial success (1902-1908); “Indianist” period (1908-1921); film music, operettas, and cantatas (1921-1935), and orchestral period (1935-1946).
Cadman claimed he was mostly self-taught. His formal instruction was an ad hoc affair, though his instructors included William Steiner (15 lessons on the organ), Edwin L. Walker (piano), violinist Lee Oehmler (theory), Luigi von Kunitz (orchestration), and Emil Pauer, the conductor of the Pittsburgh Orchestra (later renamed the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra). From the beginning Cadman was primarily interested in composing, and his published music dates from his mid-teens.
Cadman began collaborating with Nelle Richmond Eberhart (1871-1944) in 1902, and she would remain his principal librettist and lyricist until her death in 1944. A 1904 song, with a text by Eberhart (“The Tryst”), was the first of his songs to feature a Native American theme. The next four years saw the publication of Cadman’s works, especially songs with piano accompaniment, by some of the best-known music publishers in America: Schirmer, Ditson, White-Smith, and Willis.
Perhaps Cadman’s most successful song was published in 1906. Titled “At Dawning,” the song, with words by Eberhart, was sung by famed tenor John McCormack (1884-1945) and eventually sold nearly two million copies. …
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