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

(Continued from page 1)

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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

"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.


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:


Twitter: pphbkeyes


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Additional Photos

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Ronald Lantz rehearses for today’s concert.

Gabe Souza/Staff Photographer

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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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