In 1894, a young, quietly colorful Charles Ives enters Yale University. He enters with a strong musical foundation provided by his father and community and a vision of what he thinks music can be. Horatio Parker, Ives’s composition professor unashamedly informs Ives that his vision of music seems blurry, perhaps even nauseating, to the astute, cultured musician. Ives quickly develops anger towards Parker’s traditional tutelage and rarely recognizes the positive effects Parker has on his compositions. Here begins the battle between new and old that Ives and Parker embarked upon during Ives’s college years, however the story starts and ends far from their four short years together.
Horatio Parker was born in 1863 in Auburndale, MA, which was not a big town by any means. From a young age, he took piano and organ lessons from his mother before heading to Boston to study with George Chadwick. While in Boston, he became a member of the Second New England School, along with John Knowles Paine, his teacher George Chadwick, Amy Beach, and Edward MacDowell. According to Nicholas Tawa , the aim of the Second New England School was to develop an American classical idiom that stands apart from European ancestors. Based on Parker’s important role in the group, one might say they did not fully reach their goal. Looking at Parker’s compositions (his famous oratorio, Hora novissima for example), there is not much that is distinctly American about it, or non-European for that matter.
The Second New England School may have partially met their goal, whether or not they lived to see it. The First New England School (starting late 1700s) was developed by composers who had little to no formal training in the European tradition. They easily developed a native sound unlike that of Europe’s. It seems that European music was not that well known or available during the late 1700s-early 1800s in America. American composers, like William Billings, were able to write, for the most part, free from existing patterns.
It wasn’t until the mid 1800s that word came from Europe about these high-art composers, perhaps scaring these once-free New World composers. From then on, the trend of aspiring American composers was to make the pilgrimage to Europe for training. Composers such as George Chadwick were some of the first to make the trip. Chadwick describes his studies abroad as having to harmonize Bach chorales for four years . Correct voice leading and harmony was probably most accurate when confused with that of Bach. This type of analysis and composition was brought back as a trend, just as one might bring back the latest European fashion from Milan.
Even with composers writing one hundred years prior to the Second New England School, American music was still in its infancy, often turning to the far more advanced European model for guidance. I would imagine this to be similar to wanting to be taught how to hold chopsticks from someone directly from Japan as opposed to...