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Gilbert, Henry F(ranklin Belknap)

Gilbert, Henry F(ranklin Belknap)

Gilbert, Henry F(ranklin Belknap), remarkable American composer; b. Somerville, Mass., Sept. 26, 1868; d. Cambridge, Mass., May 19, 1928. He studied at the New England Cons, of Music in Boston and with E. Mollenhauer; from 1889 to 1892 he was a pupil of MacDowell (composition) in Boston. Rather than do routine music work to earn his livelihood (he had previously been a violinist in theaters, etc.), he took jobs of many descriptions, becoming, in turn, a real estate agent, a factory foreman, a collector of butterflies in Fla., etc., and composed when opportunity afforded. In 1893, at the Chicago World’s Fair, he met a Russian prince who knew Rimsky-Korsakov and gave him many de-tails of contemporary Russian composers whose work, as well as that of Bohemian and Scandinavian composers which was based on folk song, influenced Gilbert greatly in his later composition. In 1894 he made his first trip abroad and stayed in Paris, subsequently returning to the U.S.; when he heard of the premiere of Charpentier’s Louise, he became intensely interested in the work because of its popular character, and, in order to hear it, earned his passage to Paris, in 1901, by working on a cattle boat; the opera impressed him so much that he decided to devote his entire time thereafter to composition. In 1902 he became associated with Arthur Far-well, whose Wa-Wan Press publ. Gilbert’s early compositions. From 1903 he employed Negro tunes and rhythms extensively in his works. The compositions of his mature period (from 1915) reveal an original style, not founded on any particular native American material but infused with elements from many sources, and are an attempt at “un-European” music, expressing the spirit of America and its national characteristics.


DRAMATIC Opera : Uncle Remus (c. 1906; unfinished); Fantasy in Delft (1915-20). I n c i d e n t a l M u s i c : Cathleen ni Houlihan (1903); Pot of Broth (1903); Riders to the Sea (1904; rev. 1913; symphonic prologue, Peterboro, N.H., Aug. 20, 1914); The Twisting of the Rope (1904); The Redskin, or The Last of his Race (1906; not extant). ORCH.: 2 Episodes (c. 1895; Boston, Jan. 13, 1896); Orlamonde, symphonic poem (c. 1896; not extant); Summer-day Fantasie (c. 1899); Gavotte (n.d.); Americanesque (1902-08; Boston, May 24, 1911; retitled Humorescjue on Negro-Minstrel Tunes); Comedy Overture on Negro Themes (1906; N.Y., Aug. 17, 1910); 3 American Dances (c. 1906); The Dance in Place Congo, symphonic poem (c. 1908; rev. 1916; as a ballet, N.Y., March 23, 1918); Strife (1910-25); 6 Indian Sketches (1911; rev. 1914; Boston, March 4, 1921); Negro Rhapsody (1912; Nor-folk, Conn., June 5, 1913, composer conducting); To Thee, America for Chorus and Orch. (1914; Peterboro, N.H., Jan. 25, 1915); The Island of the Fay, symphonic poem (1923); Dance for Jazz Band (1924); Symphonic Piece (1925); Nocturne (1925-26; Philadelphia, March 16, 1928); Suite for Chamber Orch. (1926-27; Boston, April 28, 1928). CHAMBER: Gavotte for String Quartet; Scherzino for Piano Trio; Quartette; Waltz for String Quartet; Tempo di rag for Flute, Oboe, Cornet, Piano, 2 Violins, and Cello; String Quartet (1920); piano pieces. VOCAL: Many songs, including Pirate Song, after Stevenson, Celtic Studies, 4 songs after Irish poets, and The Lament of Deirdre. OTHER: Pilgrim Tercentenary Pageant for Band (1921; orch. suite, 1921; Boston, March 31, 1922).


K. Longyear, H.F. G.: His Life and Works (diss., Univ. of Rochester, 1968).

—Nicolas Slonimsky/Laura Kuhn/Dennis McIntire

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