Composers Datebook®

William Henry Fry


On today’s date in 1813, William Henry Fry was born in Philadelphia. As a journalist, he was one of the most vociferous champions of American concert music, and put his money where his mouth was by becoming a composer himself, creating a number of programmatic works, including a “Niagara” symphony and another titled “Santa Claus.” Above all else, Fry was passionate about opera, and wrote several of his own.

Fry was a colorful—if understandably biased—music critic. Here’s an excerpt from his 1862 review of a New York performance of Verdi’s “Il Trovatore”—an opera only 9 years old at that time:

“Trovatore … has a wonderful plot, beyond human comprehension; though finally we learn in the last scene that [the tenor] is made into soup by the order of his brother [the baritone], who then expresses his emotion and surprise on learning of the transaction as the curtain falls. As to the music—there are some charming, popular, ingenious, artistic … points; [but] there are others egregiously vulgar and rowdy. The Anvil Chorus, for example, is about the equal to a scene of mending a sewer set to music; or repairing a pair of cast-off leather breeches.”

Music Played in Today's Program

William Henry Fry (1813 – 1864) Macbeth Overture Royal Scottish National Orchestra; Tony Rowe, cond. Naxos 8.559057

On This Day


  • 1813 - American composer and journalist, William Henry Fry, in Philadelphia; Some earlier sources list August 19 as Fry's birth date;

  • 1865 - Russian composer Alexander Glazunov, in St. Petersburg (Julian date: July 29);

  • 1893 - American opera composer Douglas Moore, in Cutchogue (Long Island), N.Y.;

  • 1932 - German-born English composer Alexander Goehr, in Berlin;

  • 1935 - Georgian composer Giya Kancheli, in Tbilisi, former USSR;


  • 1806 - Austrian composer Michael Haydn (younger brother of Franz Joseph), in Salzburg, age 68;

  • 1970 - German composer Bernd Alois Zimmermann, age 52, commits suicide in Königsdorf, leaving behind his posthumous "Requiem";

  • 1997 - American composer Conlon Nancarrow, age 84, in Mexico City;


  • 1949 - Milhaud: Octet for Strings, at Mills College in California, by the combined Budapest and Paganini Quartets;

  • 1965 - Wm. Schuman: "Philharmonic Fanfare," by the New York Philharmonic conducted by William Steinberg, at the orchestra's first outdoor concert in New York's Central Park;

  • 1968 - Grofé: "Virginia City: Requiem for a Ghost Town," in Virginia City, Nevada;

  • 1981 - John Tavener: "Akhmatova: Requiem," at the Edinburgh Festival in Scotland;

  • 1992 - James MacMillan: "Veni, Veni, Emmanuel" (Percussion Concerto), at Royal Albert Hall in London, with soloist Evelyn Glennie and the Scottish Chamber Orchestra, Jukka-Pekka Sarsate conducting;

  • 2001 - Per Norgard: String Quartet No. 9 ("Into the Source"), at the Sante Fe Chamber Music Festival, by the Orion String Quartet;


  • 1778 - Mozart finishes his "Eine Kleine Nachtmusik'" Serenade (K. 525) in Vienna;

  • 1788 - Mozart finishes his "Jupiter" Symphony in C Major (No. 41, K. 551) in Vienna;

  • 1825 - Mendelssohn, age 16, finishes his opera "Camacho's Wedding";

  • 1895 - The late-summer "Promenade" Concerts"(better known as "The Proms") are launched in London by Sir Henry Wood and Robert Newman.

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About Composers Datebook®

Host John Birge presents a daily snapshot of composers past and present, with timely information, intriguing musical events and appropriate, accessible music related to each.

He has been hosting, producing and performing classical music for more than 25 years. Since 1997, he has been hosting on Minnesota Public Radio's Classical Music Service. He played French horn for the Cincinnati Symphony and Pops Orchestra and performed with them on their centennial tour of Europe in 1995. He was trained at the Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music, Eastman School of Music and Interlochen Arts Academy.

About Composers Datebook®