John Knowles Paine

John Knowles Paine (1839-1905), American composer and music educator, was especially instrumental in organizing music courses for the college curriculum.

John Knowles Paine was born on Jan. 9, 1839, in Portland, Maine. At 18 he made his debut as an organist and shortly afterward went to Berlin to study organ, composition, and orchestration. Before leaving Europe in 1862, he toured Germany as an organist. Upon his return to America he was made organist and music director of Harvard University. He soon offered to give a series of free lectures at Harvard and, after some debate, was granted permission. Before long Paine was offering, without pay, noncredit courses in musical form, harmony, and counterpoint. His courses eventually were approved for degree credit, and in 1873 Paine was appointed assistant professor. Two years later he was promoted to full professor.

The music school at Harvard evolved largely out of Paine's work, and Harvard's example was shortly followed by other universities. Through his students Paine influenced American composition for decades. He held his chair at Harvard for 30 years, then resigned to devote himself to composition. He died on April 25, 1905, while at work on a symphonic poem dealing with Abraham Lincoln.

Paine was one of the earliest Americans to have his compositions frequently performed. By 1899 the Boston Symphony had played his works more than 18 times. For the Philadelphia Exposition in 1876, Paine was commissioned to write a "Centennial Hymn, " and in 1893 he composed "Columbus March and Hymn" for the World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago. Paine directed the first performance of his oratorio St. Peter in his hometown of Portland in 1873. His cantata Song of Promise was presented in 1888 at the Cincinnati Festival. In 1904 his music for Sophocles's Oedipus Tyrannus won a gold medal at an international concert in Berlin, and that same year he composed "Hymn to the West" for the St. Louis World's Fair.

Paine's First Symphony was premiered in Boston in 1876 but was not published until 1908. His Second Symphony, Spring, reflected the composer's fondness for program music. He wrote a number of symphonic poems based on Shakespeare and an overture to As You Like It. His opera Azara was never staged, although it was given twice in concert form. Paine wrote his own libretto for Azara, which did not prove particularly effective theatrically, although his ballet music from the score and the three Moorish dances have been performed occasionally on orchestral programs.

Further Reading on John Knowles Paine

Authoritative accounts of Paine's life and work are contained in John Tasker Howard, Our American Music (1931; 4th ed. 1965), and in Gilbert Chase, America's Music, from the Pilgrims to the Present (1955; 2d ed. 1966). Irving L. Sablosky, American Music (1969), and H. Wiley Hitchcock, Music in the United States: A Historical Introduction (1969), discuss Paine briefly.

Additional Biography Sources

Schmidt, John C., The life and works of John Knowles Paine, Ann Arbor, Mich.: UMI Research Press, 1980.