Charles Wakefield Cadman

Charles Wakefield Cadman

1881 - 1946

Cadman's music is marked by well-made melodies, if conventional harmony. He belongs to that group of American composers--which also included Farwell, Gilbert, Nevin, and Skilton--who idealized (i.e. set into a conservative 19th-century harmonic idiom) the music of the American Indians.

--Oxford Music Online

Photograph: Charles Wakefield Cadman, 1916, Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division, Digital ID: cph 3a45952


A prime mover in the American folk movement, Charles Wakefield Cadman's principal contributions to American music lie in his exploration of Amerindian music and his operas composed on American themes. Raised in Pittsburgh, where he worked as a boy messenger in the steel mills, Cadman pursued private musical studies. He served as a music critic for the Pittsburgh Dispatch and performed as an accompanist and conductor at the start of his career before turning his attention to composition.

Collaborating with local poet Nelle Richmond Eberhart in 1909, Cadman produced a series of songs on Indian themes, from which the lilting melody "From the Land of the Sky Blue Water" became an instant hit. Soon after, the famous tenor John McCormack programmed one of Cadman's earlier songs, "At Dawning," and his future as a composer was secured. Inspired by the various ethnological inquiries then in vogue in America's ill-fated quest to preserve the dwindling Native American culture, Cadman spent the summer of 1909 collecting and recording Omaha and Winnebago tribal melodies and studying American Indian music. With a Native American princess, the mezzo-soprano Tsianina Redfeather, he toured the country between 1909 and 1916, giving music-talks on Amerindian music. He finally settled in Los Angeles, where he devoted himself to opera.

His Shanewis (1918), based on Princess Redfeather's life, secured the distinction of being not only the first work on an American theme to be performed at the Metropolitan Opera, but also the first to have been successful enough to merit repeat performances the following year. Cadman also drew inspiration from American literature for his other stage works, The Garden of Mystery (1925), based on a Hawthorne story, and The Witch of Salem (1926). His last years were spent in California, where he enjoyed a liaison with English soprano Maggie Teyte, helped found the Hollywood Bowl, and continued to compose instrumental, choral, and chamber works, whose conventional style and sentiment became increasingly outmoded.

--Thomas Hampson and Carla Maria Verdino-Süllwold, PBS I Hear America Singing

Songs & Song Collections BY Cadman (entered to date)
POETS & Writers Set BY Cadman (entered to date)

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