October 30, 2011

Playing with Paine

The Portland String Quartet today performs a never-heard-before 1850s piece by renowned musicologist and native son John Knowles Paine.

By Bob Keyes bkeyes@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

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.

click image to enlarge

Cellist Paul Ross and the other members of the Portland String Quartet open their 42nd season today.

Gabe Souza/Staff Photographer

Composer John Knowles Paine

Additional Photos Below



WHEN: 2 p.m. today, with a pre-concert talk at 1 p.m.

WHERE: Woodfords Congregational Church, 202 Woodfords St., Portland

TICKETS: $22; $20 for seniors. Free for students and people younger than 21. Tickets available one hour prior to the performance.

INFO: portlandstringquartet.org; larksociety.org

ALSO: In addition to the preconcert lecture at 1 p.m., state historian Earle G. Shettleworth will discuss composer John Knowles Paine during the concert

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.

Until today.

"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 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.

(Continued on page 2)

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Additional Photos

click image to enlarge

Ronald Lantz rehearses for today’s concert.

Gabe Souza/Staff Photographer

click image to enlarge

The Portland String Quartet is, from left, first violin Stephen Kecskemethy, second violin Ronald Lantz, viola Julia Adams and cello Paul Ross. Behind them is a signed portrait of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.

Gabe Souza/Staff Photographer

click image to enlarge

Stephen Kecskemethy rehearses for today’s concert.

Gabe Souza/Staff Photographer

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