Thanks to diligent research by Portland String Quartet violist Julia Adams, a forgotten piece of music by long-ago Portland composer John Knowles Paine will receive its debut this afternoon.
The quartet opens its 43rd performance season at Woodfords Congregational Church in Portland with the piece, written in the mid-1800s by Paine. A Portland native, Paine went on to become one of the most influential music educators in America, and also the first American composer to receive international renown for his orchestral music.
Before he left Portland to study in Germany and later teach at Harvard, Paine scored a string quartet for two violins, viola and cello as a teenager, most likely in the mid- or late-1850s. It was never published, and it apparently has never been performed.
“To our delight, we feel we have uncovered a real gem for Portland and for the string quartet repertoire,” said Adams, who obtained a copy of the manuscript score from the archives of the Houghton Library at Harvard.
She learned about the existence of the quartet while reading David Ewen’s popular book, “American Composers.” In a section about Paine, Ewen noted the existence of a string quartet by him, circa 1859.
That information struck Adams as both odd and exciting. She was familiar with Paine, but didn’t know that he had written a string quartet. The news piqued her curiosity, and she began poking around to find a published version.
But it didn’t exist.
Adams stayed on the case and reached out to Harvard for help. Indeed, Harvard had the score, and sent her a copy of it on the Internet.
“It looked quite interesting,” said Adams, who plays viola in the quartet. “We decided to go for it, so I wrote out all the parts. I tried to be faithful to the score. After that, we in the quartet put our minds and energies together to interpret what was meant by a dot or a line or a dash.
“It’s a good work. It’s a beautiful work.”
Adams promised that the four-movement piece would fit in perfectly on today’s program, which also includes works by two other New England composers: Walter Piston’s String Quartet No. 1 and Charles Ives’ String Quartet No. 1, “Revival Meeting.”
“Our audience won’t be scared off by not knowing anything about what to expect,” she said.
In addition to Adams, the venerable Portland String Quartet includes Ronald Lantz, Paul Ross and Steve Kecskemethy. Today begins the group’s 43rd season, making it the longest tenured string quartet in chamber music without a change in personnel.
THE KOTZSCHMAR CONNECTION
The story of John Knowles Paine runs deep in the history of music in Portland, said state historian Earle G. Shettleworth, director of the Maine Historic Preservation Commission.
Paine’s grandfather built one of the first church organs in Maine, and his father, Jacob, founded and directed the city’s first band. Jacob Paine also operated a music store in Portland, beginning in the 1830s. The Paine family moved to Portland from Standish at about that time.
Two of Jacob’s brothers — John’s uncles — were also musical. David Paine taught music, and William Paine played the trombone and wrote hymns.
In that respect, the Paine family can rightly claim the title as the first family of music in Portland, Shettleworth said. “It was a very remarkably musical family.”
Young John elevated the family name and reputation.
He was born on Oxford Street in 1839, and his musical education took off when German immigrant Hermann Kotzschmar, himself not quite 20 years old, arrived in Portland via Boston in 1848.
Kotzschmar, after whom the city’s famous organ at Merrill Auditorium is named, became the central figure in the musical life of Portland for the next 60 years, and Paine was his prize pupil.
“It was a fortunate confluence of circumstances that you have this 9-year-old just getting to the point where he can take music lessons, and then you have 19-year-old Hermann Kotzschmar, already fully capable of playing the piano, playing the organ, composing music and getting his training in Germany, which was considered the heartland of musical education and composition in the 19th-century world,” said Shettleworth.
“Kotzschmar becomes not only his teacher, but his great mentor.”
Paine gave his first Portland recital on June 1, 1857, at age 18. He performed on the piano at Lancaster Hall, which at the time was a two-story wooden building at Congress and Center streets. Tickets cost 25 cents.
Just six months later, Portland seemed too small for Paine. With Kotzschmar urging him on, he made plans to travel to Germany to study music.
He lacked money to pay for his trip, and scheduled a series of concerts to raise funds. Local audiences rallied behind him and purchased all available tickets. The following year, Paine made his overseas journey, arriving in Berlin in the fall. He stayed three years, returning to the states in 1861.
“He received the finest musical education available at the time,” Shettleworth said. “He was deeply vested in German style, manner and taste in music, and he brings it all back to Portland and to America. His German experience plays a role in his life work from that point on.”
Soon after his return, Paine gave one final Portland performance on the organ at First Parish Church, then departed for Boston.
A REVOLUTIONARY EDUCATOR
During the next 45 years, Paine became one of America’s most significant organists, composers and music teachers. He joined the Harvard faculty in 1862, and remained there until 1905.
His most lasting and significant contribution to American music may well be his radical approach to music education, Shettleworth said. Instead of simply teaching students to play an instrument, he taught them music history and music appreciation. The concept engendered great controversy, and Paine was the target of barbs from his peers.
But Harvard president Charles W. Eliot supported Paine loyally.
“It pays great dividends,” Shettleworth noted. “Not only does Harvard become the first academic institution in America to have this comprehensive approach to music education, out of it come many students who learn music history and appreciation. Several important composers of the next generation were inspired by Paine, and in addition to that, he makes Harvard the center of American music from an intellectual standpoint.”
As his reputation grew, Boston and Cambridge intellectuals gravitated to Paine. His circle of friends included fellow Portlander Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and Ralph Waldo Emerson, among many others.
Paine died in 1906 at age 67. At the time, he was working on a major symphonic poem about Abraham Lincoln. It remains unfinished.
Shettleworth said he enjoyed researching Paine. He learned a lot, and was pleased to find so much information — and music — readily available.
“The researcher of the modern age immediately Googles. To my surprise and delight, several major pieces are available for listening by John Knowles Paine,” he said. “I sat in my office one evening and listened to Paine’s music. It gave me a preview of what I am looking forward to hearing (this) afternoon.
“His work has rarely been played in modern times. I think it’s great we will have a chance to hear it.”
Staff Writer Bob Keyes can be contacted at 791-6457 or: