A LETTER TO AMERICAN COMPOSERSby Arthur Farwell
Speaking for the little group of composers and appreciators that has worked faithfully with us for the past year and a half, to bring about more purposeful and advantageous conditions in our musical life, especially as regards composition, I take this opportunity of addressing all composers who feel the pulse of new life that marks the beginning of an era in American music, and who will see in this new movement a definite hope for their own artistic future and a reason for their entire devotion to their highest ideals. This group of workers, already mentioned, has striven to draw out of the dawning, though widely distributed realities and possibilities of American musical life, the elements and forces necessary to form a definite movement which shall make for the untrammeled growth of a genuine Art of Music. Such an art will not be a mere echo of other lands and times, but shall have a vital meaning for us, in our circumstances, here and now. While it will take the worthier traditions of the past for its point of departure, it will derive its convincing qualities of color, form, and spirit from our nature-world and our humanity.
No other country has matured, musically, without creating such an art for itself,--an expression of the temper of its land and people; and we feel that America will not be an exception to this universal way of healthful artistic life and growth. In fact, because of the distinctive qualities of our nature-world, and the unprecedented temperamental qualities which are moulding themselves about us, American music, as its true nature develops, must necessarily have the utmost native distinction, however broad and all-embracing that distinction may be. Only as this happens will our music ring true and convince; only then will it be the inevitable outcome of living needs, and only as it is an outcome of living human needs and present inspirations, will it be of any enduring interest or value to Americans or to others. Only then will it be universal and worthy the attention of those who are making musical history elsewhere. Europe is watching to see not how well we can imitate her, but to see what we are.
A complete and healthful musical life, making for unlimited progress, lies in a sympathetic cooperation of composer, publisher, artist, audience, and critic. With but little organization or cooperation, these interdependent factors have already gained, each for itself, some measure of freedom, and are clearing a way for true growth. And viewing this growing artistic force, and accepting it as a call to action, we have organized a movement which aims to bring these elements of musical life into closer touch at a common centre, to supplement one of the greatest lacks by a more liberal, progressive, and purposeful policy in publishing, and to launch out on a course whose direction shall be shaped by a whole-souled devotion to worthy artistic ends.
To this end we began in December, 1901, and are still continuing to publish under the imprint of The Wa-Wan Press, a number of compositions by American composers, representing in as great a degree as possible the ideals for which we are striving. Upon this as a basis, we have subsequently, and in an increasing degree, enlisted the sympathies of artists and critics, individual music-lovers, and audiences. The personal force of all who join us in this work is turned to the enlargement of these indispensable channels of progress.
For the composer there are two primary and immediate ends to be gained through this work. In the first place it aims to bring into the arena serious works heretofore existing in manuscript, or at present in process of composition, and thus to establish their place in the musical world. In the second, it offers encouragement and incentive to younger composers who may, under the existing conditions, feel that the highest possible development of their talents is not desired, and who would be deterred from the devotion to their highest ideals did they not have a positive demand for their most sincere efforts. For in the receptive, formative period of youth, with its countless radiant and bewildering perceptions, the ideal is yet but a shadowy reality, and the possessor of it, voicing it amid practical surroundings, may easily be led to believe it only an idle fancy. If we are to make the most of human worth, we must recognize ideals from their earliest appearance, and respond to them with genuine sympathy and fearless criticism.
Other ends to be gained, involving the interests of artists, music-lovers, audiences,--all who touch the musical world from standpoints other than the composers'--are too numerous to mention individually.
It remains of the first importance that we have a movement under way which will enable us to bring to a focus the growing forces of our musical life, and direct them toward the attainment of definite ends satisfying our deepest needs.
For the composer, this means a place where he can submit his work with the complete assurance that its acceptance for publication shall be determined solely by the height of its artistic aim and the degree of its artistic attainment. Either American composers must inspire some one else to build up this work or they must do it themselves. We have begun in the latter way as the most immediate, and the only one that would ensure the maintenance of artistic principle as the necessary foundation for all future developments. And such developments can be as broad and as important as we wish to make them through our united efforts.
Let us outline briefly what has already been accomplished. Thus far thirty-five new American compositions have been printed with every regard to the finest workmanship, in quarterly subscription editions, first at eight dollars, and the second year at six dollars per year, for musicians, music-lovers, and patrons who have wished to receive our entire output in an artistic form. Each issue has consisted of two books, one containing instrumental, and one vocal music, editorial note and comment also being a feature of the editions. The price of these subscription editions, approximating one hundred pages of music per year, at six dollars, is considerably less than that given for ordinary sheet music. Also, since the beginning of the second year, the individual compositions have been printed separately in sheet-music form, and sold at usual sheet-music prices. We have subscribers in seventeen States and in Europe, who have been rallied to our support by our composers and other friends, and are awakening interest in Russia, England, France, and Germany. Also we have special arrangements for carrying our compositions with dealers in New York, Boston, Cincinnati, Chicago, and San Francisco. Artists have come to our aid in the presentation of our works in different cities, and other persons have worked heroically here at Newton Center in the carrying out of laborious practical details.
Thus far we have published the works of but nine composers, wishing to begin in a quiet way, and largely with manuscripts already known to exist. With this little start and the personal efforts of these composers and certain other friends, and with a totally insufficient amount of advertising, so much success has been gained as to give us every reason for continuing, and every warrant for believing that here is the basis of a growing movement which can eventually be an unlimited power toward the realization of the hopes and ideals of American composers.
But now the time has come to put forth broader efforts, to leave experimentation and apprenticeship, and to begin the real work of representing American composition and of interesting the American people, North and South, East and West.
Speaking, therefore, for our whole movement, with its nucleus of workers at The Wa-Wan Press, Newton Center, Massachusetts, the writer appeals to every American composer for such active interest and help as lies in his power to give.
A composer may give this help chiefly in two ways; he may strengthen the artistic aspects of the work by submitting to us the best possible compositions; he may give material aid by gaining further support for the movement, both by interesting artists who may wish to present these new works, and by obtaining the subscriptions of music-lovers and patrons who show a real interest in the progress of American composition.
By the best compositions we mean those in which the composer truly expresses himself with relation to life as he sees, feels, or imagines it,-those which his innermost artistic ideal, as well as his simple manhood, approves,-and which he would give his life-blood to uphold.
With regard to artists there is no doubt that, at heart, they wish to have new and worthy works to perform, but do not readily find them under the existing conditions, amid the mass of unsignifying compositions published and placed before them. Unless we take pains to interest them, to call their attention in detail to the particular qualities and merits of the best new works, they are likely to go on repeating yesterday's approved programs forever.
With regard to material support, if every composer will lay this communication before as many persons as he knows will appreciate what this movement can accomplish for our composers, what an impetus it can give to the fountain sources of our musical life, and secure their support as subscribers for our complete quarterly editions, it will place a great and far-reaching power in the hands of American composers, and mark a most important step in the organization of what Mr. Lawrence Gilman has called in a critical article in Harper's Weekly for March 7, 1903, "probably the most determined, courageous, and enlightened endeavor to assist the cause of American music that has yet been made." All the energy of those now working for the mere support of the movement would be turned to the attainment of purely artistic ends, to enlisting the sympathies of artists, and securing adequate performances of the compositions in many cities. A number of experimental Wa-Wan concerts have already been given in New York, Brooklyn, Cincinnati, and Boston; and this work especially it is our purpose to carry forward and develop in the coming year.
It must be remembered that to amass manuscript compositions of a high order, in the present phenomenal period of America's musical awakening, is far easier than to publish them; and to publish them is in turn a slight undertaking compared with that of properly advertising them and introducing them to the musical world. The movement must grow normally in the exercise of its different spheres of activity, and for this reason must it appeal to composers for a balance of the artistic and the material support at their command.
The foundation is already laid, and the work which has been done, and which progresses daily, is already a definite force. With the added impetus of ten sympathetic associates, each contributing the fruits of a slight but real personal effort, it would become vastly greater. Let twenty, thirty, or forty unite their efforts--it would be an irresistible power for the upbuilding of American composition.
To determine the degree of rapidity and sureness with which this pioneer enterprise is to grow into a powerful movement, broad and deep as our needs, and answering them, lies with those to whom the writer is impelled to address himself,--with American composers.
Voicing the feelings of the present workers in the movement, he cordially invites comment and inquiry, and in advance extends greetings and offers hearty thanks to all who will be glad to join us in this work and to add the forces at their command to the broader realization of its purpose.
The Wa-Wan Press