Following the successful premiere of his First Symphony in 1876, the New England composer John Knowles Paine finished a Second, to which he gave a German subtitle: “Im Fruehling” or “In Springtime.” In 19th century America, “serious” music meant German music, and “serious” musicians like Paine all studied in Germany. Returning home, Paine became the first native-born American to win broad acceptance as a symphonic composer, and, accepting a teaching post at Harvard, that school’s first professor of music.
On today’s date in 1880, Paine’s “Spring” Symphony was premiered at Sanders Theater by the Boston Philharmonic, and warmly received by its first audience. You might even go so far as to say that the normally staid Bostonians went nuts. One critic who was present recalled that “ladies waved their handkerchiefs, men shouted in approbation, and the highly respected John S. Dwight, arbiter in Boston of music criticism, stood in his seat frantically opening and shutting his umbrella as an expression of uncontrollable enthusiasm.”
Paine’s music remained tremendously popular in his own day. In 1883, George Henschel, then the conductor of the Boston Symphony, was sent the following poetic suggestion about his programming:
Let no more Wagner themes thy bill enhance
And give the native workers just one chance.
Don’t give that Dvorák symphony a-gain;
If you would give us joy, oh give us Paine!
Music Played in Today's Program
John Knowles Paine (1839 - 1906)Symphony No. 2New York Philharmonic; Zubin Mehta, cond.New World 350