“The Tempest,” Symphonic Poem, Op. 31 (1876)

By Leon Botstein

Written for the concert Shakespeare! Romanticism and Music performed on Sep 26, 1993 at Avery Fisher Hall at Lincoln Center.

John Knowles Paine is perhaps best known for being the first incumbent of a professorial chair in music at Harvard University. He studied in Germany and had the privilege of playing for Clara Schumann. By all accounts he became a pivotal member of the Boston and Cambridge community that included Longfellow, William and Henry James, Oliver Wendell Holmes, and Ralph Waldo Emerson. He was, among other things, the college organist. It is therefore entirely appropriate that the music building at Harvard is named for him. The early music by John Knowles Paine is truly conservative in its rejection of Wagnerian harmonic practice. In recent years some of Paine’s music has returned to the concert stage. Gunther Schuller recorded the St. Peter Oratorio in 1989. A wonderful Shakespeare overture to As You Like It from 1876, along with the first two symphonies in C minor and A major, were recorded by Zubin Mehta and the New York Philharmonic. Another fine work that recently has resurfaced is the overture to Sophocles’ Oedipus the King entitled Oedipus Tyrannus. Paine’s intimate involvement with Harvard led him naturally to participate in the active theatrical life associated with the university. Paine wrote music not only for Sophocles but also for a production of Aristophanes’ The Birds.

This symphonic poem was written at the same time As You Like It was composed. It is in four interconnected movements, some of which contain a variety of characters and events. The first allegro section describes the storm. A transition is made to an F-major adagio section depicting a “calm and happy scene before Prospero’s cell.” That is followed by on elegiac recitative, an adagio entitled “Ariel” that in turn moves gracefully into Prospero’s tale, which constitutes the third section. The last part of the work depicts three events: the love of Ferdinand for Miranda; Caliban, who is represented by the bassoon; and finally the triumph of Prospero.