Gilbert, Henry


Gilbert, Henry

Riders to the Sea, symphonic prologue for grand orchestra

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Gilbert, Henry – Riders to the Sea, symphonic prologue for grand orchestra

The Composer

When American composer Henry F. B. Gilbert was ten years old, he heard Ole Bull play in Boston, and eventually formed a string quartet with Henry Hadley (later a well-known conductor/composer), Henry Haldey Sr. (viola), and Frank Porter or Arthur Hadley (cello). He gigged in the Boston area, at New Hampshire hotels, and on Cape Cod. Gilbert attended the prestigious New England Conservatory in Boston, and privately studied violin with Emil Mollenhauer and composition with Edward MacDowell.

In 1893, he attended the Chicago World’s Fair, where he transcribed hundreds of Asian and African melodies and played piano in the Bohemian and Russian exhibits (“The Bohemians have been very kind as they have placed a beautiful grand piano and hundreds of dollars worth of music at my disposal. The Russians have also opened their case of music for me several times.”). He became an advocate of Russian romantic music, and was one of the first Americans to follow Antonin Dvořák’s celebrated advice (1893): any truly American music must be based on native melodies.

He visited Europe three times (1894, 1901, and 1927), and he was a composer in residence at the MacDowell Colony several times between 1912-1926. From 1902-1911 Gilbert collaborated with Arthur Farwell on the Wa-Wan Press, an important publisher of American nationalist music. Gilbert has been called “a musical Mark Twain”: he had profound respect and admiration for folk and popular music, ranging from slave songs and blackface minstrelsy to Native American vocal music and sea chanteys. Early publications include the three-movement orchestral suite Americanesque on Negro-Minstrel Tunes (later called Humoresque, 1903); Shout (1912, later Negro Rhapsody); Dances in Ragtime Rhythm (1915); and the surviving Comedy Overture on Negro Themes (1905, rev. 1910-11) from his unfinished dialect-based opera based on the Uncle Remus tales. The Comedy Overture brought international attention to Gilbert after Reinhold Gliere featured it in Russian concerts in 1914.


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