Fry, William Henry

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Fry, William Henry

Fry, William Henry, American composer and journalist; b. Philadelphia, Aug. 10, 1813; d. Santa Cruz, West Indies, Dec. 21, 1864. He was one of the most vociferous champions of American music, and particularly of opera on American subjects in the English language. Ironically, his own opera Leonora (Philadelphia, June 4, 1845), for which he claimed the distinction of being the first grand opera by a native American composer, was a feeble imitation of Italian vocal formulas in the manner of Bellini, with a libretto fashioned from a novel by Bulwer-Lytton, The Lady of Lyons. Leonora ran for 16 performances before closing; a revival of some numbers in concert form was attempted in N.Y. on Feb. 27, 1929, but was met with puzzled derision. Fry continued his campaign in favor of American opera in English, and composed 3 more operas, 1 of which, Notre Dame de Paris, after Victor Hugo, was produced in Philadelphia on May 3, 1864; 2 other operas, The Bridal of Dunure and Aurelia the Vestal, were not performed. He also wrote several syms., including The Breaking Heart (1852; not extant), Santa Claus (Christmas Symphony) (N.Y., Dec. 24, 1853), A Day in the Country (1853?; not extant), and Childe Harold (N.Y., May 31, 1854; not extant), as well as a symphonic poem, Niagara(N.Y, May 4, 1854). Fry’s various proclamations, manifestos, and prefaces to publ. eds. of his works are interesting as illustrations of the patriotic bombast and humbug that agitated American musicians in the mid-19th century.


W. Upton, The Musical Works of W.H. F. (Philadelphia, 1946); idem, W.H. F., American Journalist and Composer-Critic (N.Y, 1954).

—Nicolas Slonimsky/Laura Kuhn/Dennis McIntire